I came across this fascinating cultural artifact recently on YouTube: It’s an interview with Simon and Nick from October 1984 for a music news show called Kulture Shock, which apparently aired on Tyne Tees Television in North East England. There’s not much of an online record for Kulture Shock; after doing some hunting, I could only scrounge up a whopping total of four relevant search results. There’s this video, there’s a performance by Duran Duran of “Girls On Film” circa ’81 or ‘82, back when Andy had shock-white hair and everybody favored those blue-and-white striped shirts, there’s an interview with the members of UB40, and there’s a performance by UB40. That’s it. While there’s an obvious explanation for the lack of an electronic trail—not everybody held onto grainy VHS copies of local television programs for thirty years before uploading them to YouTube, more’s the pity—I prefer to think Kulture Shock catered to a very selective pop-culture niche and, indeed, only produced episodes that focused on either Duran Duran or UB40. Because that would be kind of awesome.
The interviewer is the late English television personality Paula Yates, whose path would cross with the Durans several times throughout her short life. Two years after this interview, Simon would serve as the best man at her wedding to Live Aid cofounder Bob Geldof; nine years later, she’d leave Geldof for Simon’s close friend, INXS frontman Michael Hutchence (Simon wrote the song “Michael, You’ve Got a Lot To Answer For” on Duran Duran’s Medazzaland album specifically about Hutchence). Following Hutchence’s 1997 death from suicide, Yates died of an overdose in 2000; her daughter, writer/model Peaches Geldof, died of an overdose as well in 2014. All that bleak, gutting future tragedy is tough to reconcile with this video, in which Yates is carefree and vibrant, sitting in a rowboat on the French Riviera while chatting and giggling with a pair of beautiful, bubbly young Durans at the height of their fame. Tempus fugit.
Enough melancholy contemplation on the ephemeral and oft-tragic nature of life. On with the interview! Nick and Simon are in Saint Tropez for the First International Music Video Festival, which took place from October 8-11, 1984, just a couple weeks before the release of “The Wild Boys.” John, Andy, and Roger are nowhere in sight, which makes sense; at this time, John and Andy were already occupied with their side project, The Power Station, while Roger, who’d grown increasingly disenchanted with mega-celebrity during the grueling Sing Blue Silver tour earlier in the year, was presumably off somewhere having a polite and unassuming nervous breakdown.
The interview takes place in a rocking rowboat beneath overcast skies on a blustery fall day. Despite his heartfelt and much-discussed hatred of boats*, Nick seems to be totally game for this nonsense. He looks pale and fragile and cold as hell, swaddled in some kind of weird black, draping, asymmetrical garment, but he’s good to go. In fact, he seems downright chipper about the whole ordeal, even though their dinky little boat really is rocking and pitching like crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile this much.
Simon is wearing a jaunty beret, which was something he did often during this time. It works for him. Dude can rock a beret. Not many men can say the same.
Paula asks them about their feelings on the festival. Naturally, they’ve got opinions. Nick: “I think the thing is, this year the actual competition is a farce.” Nick’s pronunciation of “farce” is a thing of glory: “faaaahce.” I envy Nick’s ability to convey both world-weary boredom and blistering outrage with a single syllable. He continues: “Because there’s videos in it… ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen is in the competition. I mean, it’s, what, nine years old or something. I mean, it was great nine years ago, maybe, but…” A billion Freddie Mercury fans are shooting you dirty scowls right now, Nick.
Simon agrees, pointing out that the judging process seems “incredibly arbitrary”, as most of the judges are competing as well. Nick quotes one of the judges, who told him that, out of a scale of twenty, “I marked everything six, unless there was a dwarf in it. Then I marked it seven.” Ah, so I see “Safety Dance” was competing. Excellent. Yeah, I love “Safety Dance”, but if I were judging a music video festival, I’d probably give that video about a seven on a scale of twenty, too.
(Lest you think Nick and Simon are being too critical here, rest assured their impressions were correct and the festival was indeed a disaster. Per Billboard magazine, August 31, 1985: “Last year’s St. Tropez Video Music Festival not only drew complaints due to a disorganized schedule and an overloaded and overly complex jury, but saw at least one company go bankrupt and the majority of firms participating in the event go unpaid for their efforts.” Whoops.)
While on the subject of music videos, Paula asks them about their own glamorous, exotic videos. “We got that slagging for it,” Simon moans, referring to the critical pushback they received for filming in far-flung locations like Sri Lanka and Antigua. Chalk this up to another prime example of Things From the Eighties That Make No Damn Sense in 2015: It’s crazy that Duran Duran got so much crap for: a) flying to exotic locations to film videos, and b) ponying up huge chunks of cash for those videos. Pop stars making videos that depict a decadent and expensive lifestyle? Who’d ever heard of such a thing? To put this in context, Duran Duran’s 1984 “Wild Boys” video, which was notorious at the time for being the most expensive video ever made, is now only the twenty-eighth most expensive video of all time, and that’s with the cost adjusted for over thirty years of inflation.
Paula wonders if the criticism has inhibited them—as a result of the outcry, are they more cautious about making ostentatious videos? Simon cheerfully replies, “I think it’s made us more pretentious, if anything.” Bless you, Simon.
On the subject of their infamous “Girls on Film” video, which was banned by MTV, Nick tries to take a moderate approach: “It was tastefully smutty,” he claims. Paula calls bullshit on this: “It wasn’t!” She lets him off the hook far too soon, which is a shame; I would’ve loved to hear Nick’s attempt at defending the, uh, tastefulness of that video: “It was classy! The nice ladies dumped French champagne over their bare breasts after slithering crotch-first along that pole covered with shaving cream!”
Paula reminds them they also ran afoul of MTV more recently: The network demanded alterations before airing their video for “The Reflex.” Nick: “There was a silhouette of a nipple that I spent about three days looking for on there, and I couldn’t find it.” It’s at 1:25, Nick. The silhouetted nipple is at 1:25. I’m not sure how you had trouble finding it, since it’s one of those things you simply can’t not see, like Simon’s armpit hair in the “Planet Earth” video.
All this talk of nipples segues into a broader discussion of the Puritanical nature of Americans. As Simon puts it, “America seems to have gone through a much bigger Victorian period, which lasted a lot longer as well, than England ever did … You go to places in America like… it’s called the Bible Belt, and it’s really stiff, and like, rednecks who go around bashing up anybody who doesn’t look like a good god-fearing human being.” Paula gets straight to the point: “Did you get smacked?” Simon immediately replies, “We didn’t go there!”
Huh. Didn’t they? Did Duran Duran somehow manage to tour the United States without dipping their pale English feet anywhere below the Mason-Dixon line? Let’s take a quick glance at some tour dates from 1984’s Sing Blue Silver tour, cribbed straight from the band’s official website:
- February 10, 1984 – Frank Erwin Center, Austin, TX,
- February 11, 1984 – Reunion Arena, Dallas, TX,
- February 13, 1984 – The Summit, Houston, TX
- February 14, 1984 – LSU Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, LA
- February 16, 1984 – Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City, MO
- February 18, 1984 – Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, MO
- February 29, 1984 – WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, WV
- March 1, 1984 – Roanoke Coliseum, Roanoke, VA
- March 23, 1984 – Carolina Coliseum, Columbia, SC
- March 25, 1984 – Jacksonville Coliseum, Jacksonville, FL
- March 26, 1984 – Lakeland Civic Center, Lakeland, FL
- March 27, 1984 – Hollywood Sportatorium, Hollywood, FL
- March 29, 1984 – The Omni, Atlanta, GA
- March 30, 1984 – Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC
- March 31, 1984 – Civic Center, Charleston, WV
- April 9, 1984 – Myriad Convention Center, Oklahoma City, OK
You went there, Simon. Oh, yes, you went there. You sang and danced your merry way all across the Bible Belt.
Nick, for his part, deflects Paula’s question about getting smacked with a tense smile and a not-really-joking response: “That’s a personal question.” Here’s Nick, as quoted in Steve Malin’s Duran Duran Notorious: The Unauthorized Biography: “I never minded being thought of as homosexual. I’m sure a lot of people still think I am. I never thought things like that mattered. It’s like, why? But no, I’ve never shagged a man. When we get to the Midwest and I’m standing next to a few truck drivers discussing life, things can get interesting.” Translation: Yeah, Nick’s probably been smacked, or at least has come close to it.
It’s 1984, and Nick Rhodes—pretty, petite, makeup-wearing Nick—is bringing major-league androgyny and fluid gender identity to Middle America in a big way, broadcasting it straight into the heart of the Bible Belt, and he’s doing it with panache and unflappable confidence. I know the band members were probably insulated from the public to a good extent by their fame and money, but even still… well, I sort of hate to use the word “ballsy” to describe Nick, because I don’t like reinforcing the notion that bravery and independent thought are the sole provenance of manly men, but… the kid had balls. Big, juicy, dangling balls.
Simon has a whole lot of Very Deep Thoughts on the subject of America: “You can’t take that place seriously, because it’s totally plastic and commercially-orientated. If you really start taking it seriously, you end up like Vidal Sassoon.” So if you take America seriously, you’ll end up with a multimillion-dollar hair industry to your name. Got it, Simon.
Paula brings up their latest magnum opus, “the big film”, i.e. their sprawling, surreal concert film Arena (An Absurd Notion). Of Arena, Simon says, “It’s brilliant! It’s the best thing ever!” Monsieur Le Bon, you are lying through your beautiful teeth. Arena is awful. Fascinatingly awful, with moments of dazzling awesomeness, sure, but awful nonetheless. They elaborate a little on Arena: Live tigers! Conceptual footage involving members of the audience! Milo O’Shea reprising his Barbarella role as the band’s namesake, Durand Durand! Nick: “There’s also this imaginary thing underneath the stage at the (Oakland) Coliseum.” Simon: “It’s symbolic of the subconscious mind, you see. The subconscious keeps dragging people out of the audience and off of the stage and pulling them into this hellhole.” At this, Nick quirks his eyebrows and sneaks a quick peek at the camera, checking to see if anyone’s buying into whatever Simon’s yammering on about. Nope. Nobody is, Nick.
On the subject of their upcoming single, “The Wild Boys,” Simon says, “There’s a lot of honesty in it.” Paula wants to know what’s so honest about it. Here’s Simon’s verbatim reply: “It’s not an I’m-in-love-with-my-girlfriend-next-door kind of song. It’s about anarchy, just about the way people seem to be heading these days, without saying things like ‘war is stupid.’”
Paula inhales sharply and lets out a low “Oooooo….”, interpreting this (correctly) as a slam on Culture Club’s “War Song”, which tore up the pop charts a few weeks before the release of “The Wild Boys.” “The War Song,” if you recall, featured lyrics like, “War, war is stupid / And people are stupid / And I heard them banging / On hearts and fingers.” Simon defends himself from Paula’s outrage: “That’s not bad at all! People have different ways of saying the same thing.” And Simon’s way of saying the same thing as Culture Club is through lyrics like, “Your telephone’s been ringing while you’re dancing in the rain.” To each his own.
The interview ends abruptly at this point, which is a shame. I could’ve happily spent all day listening to Simon and Nick gab with Paula in a rowboat.