John Taylor’s memoir, In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death & Duran Duran, hit US bookstores this week. It’s a good read—John’s a thoughtful and witty fellow—but how does it compare to the other Duran memoir of note, erstwhile DD guitarist Andy Taylor’s Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran?
To state the obvious, John and Andy are two very different people, and thus they’ve written two very different books. If sensitive, introspective John is Duran’s Marcel Proust*, then cheeky, rough-and-tumble Andy is its Irvine Welsh. John’s book is controlled and contained, written to expose some of his personal demons—drugs, girls, the perils of mega-celebrity, the deaths of his parents—while conscientiously refraining from splashing mud on his nearest and dearest. I attended a discussion John held about his book earlier this week (he’s lovely and charming in person, by the way), in which he stated that, as his life in Duran Duran is going quite well at the moment, he felt no need to throw anyone under a bus. This is in contrast to Andy, who wrote his memoir to settle a few scores (throughout it, there’s a persistent sense that the bus he’d ideally like to throw Nick Rhodes under might not be a metaphorical one).
(*Please note: John Taylor is no Proust, and Andy is no Irvine Welsh. Bear with me while I attempt to make my point through hyperbole.)
So who wrote the better book: Raggedy Andy, or Gentleman John? Let’s compare passages to examine how each author treated key moments in Duran history:
On meeting Simon Le Bon:
ANDY: So there we all were, in the Rum Runner, when in walked this tall, good-looking guy with long legs and lots of confidence … The first thing I thought was, Fuck me—he looks just like Elvis! He reminded everyone of a young Presley because he still had a lot of boyish puppy fat around his face… You knew straightaway that he would be a hit with the girls. The only slightly unfortunate thing was that he was wearing skintight pink leopard-print trousers! … He was perfect, our own ready-made Elvis (albeit one who looked like he’d been to the chip shop a few times)! … Simon was the eldest of three brothers… and he loved attention. In fact, he was totally up himself—but I mean that in a nice way, because the one thing you need in a good front man is for him to be self-obsessed in a theatrical manner.
JOHN: He was two years older than me, and our relationship, as it developed, would often feel to me like I was one of his younger siblings. But at that first meeting, what struck me most violently about Simon was his presence. He was tall and well spoken, and there was something noble about him. His Huguenot blood perhaps. And then there was that name. Quite fantastic. Hair cut short, bleached dirty blond; it gave him an edge. I can’t forget what he was wearing for our first meeting, as it’s become part of band legend: skintight leopard-print ski pants with loops under the boots … He was lean and he was punk, and he was ready to move on, like the rest of us. … I wrote in my diary that night, “Finally the front man! The star is here!”
WINNER: Ah, Simon Le Bon, the chip-shop Elvis. Confess, Andy: You were the one who gave Simon the infamous “Lardo” nickname, weren’t you?
This one is close. Both of these passages are pretty evocative—they give readers a good sense of Monsieur Le Bon, the man, myth, and legend. As much as I dig Andy’s gonzo, conversational, stream-of-consciousness prose (I had to giggle at him stressing that he means “totally up himself” in a nice way), I’m giving the edge to John for the reference to Simon’s “Huguenot blood,” and also for calling Simon “lean” in what I like to imagine was a fiercely loyal attempt to neutralize Andy’s fat jokes.
On meeting Roger Taylor:
ANDY: But I soon sussed out that Roger wasn’t the sort of person who liked confrontation. In fact he was quite shy and definitely not one to be pushing his views into your face all the time. He didn’t say much, he just went over and started banging the drums. Roger had a classic James Dean look; he was quite muscular and he reminded me a bit of the Fonz in Happy Days (except instead of saying “Hey” all the time, Roger would go “All right” in a Brummie accent). One thing Roger definitely had was a fantastic ability as a drummer.
JOHN: Roger Taylor is one of the nicest guys anyone could ever meet … For a guy who liked nothing better than beating the hell out of his drum kit, Roger had a very laid-back, easygoing manner. There was something casually fifties about him, with his James Dean hair and preppy style. And his reputation preceded him … I never imagined Roger wanting to play with us. I thought of him as being on another level.
WINNER: It’s a tie. What comes through loud and clear in both passages is the affection and respect John and Andy share for Roger—mild-mannered bad-ass, James Dean look-alike, and all-around great guy. In his book, Andy takes plenty of potshots at his former bandmates—Simon is arrogant, John is self-destructive, and Nick is a snot with terrible taste in women—but he doesn’t breathe a word of ill about Roger.
On meeting Nick Rhodes:
ANDY: Nick Rhodes was the next person to arrive. He turned up about an hour or so later than arranged, and I would soon discover that was Nick all over, because he was always late. … Nick was the youngest member of the band and he hadn’t quite turned eighteen, but he’d been childhood friends with John. Nick was naturally androgynous even without makeup; he had a sort of boy/girl look about him that was to become one of the hallmarks of being a New Romantic. His voice was slightly flat and nasal, and his real surname was Bates. … As a keyboard player he was a bit of a genius in the sense that he had the ability to see some things in a completely different way from anyone else. Having said that, he didn’t seem to want to understand the traditional structure of music, and he didn’t care about knowing the difference between a major and a minor scale.
JOHN: Nick, “the man who would be Rhodes,” always was and always will be someone entirely settled at the center of his own universe. He is an extraordinarily creative individual blessed with good fortune. … I knew from the beginning of our relationship that if I stayed close to him, life would be exciting. I first met Nick in the winter of 1973. I was thirteen, he was eleven. … Nick and I both wore chiffon without needing much encouragement, and we both loved the clothes, the hairstyles, and the makeup that helped make Britain’s glam-rock era so great. … We often drew insults from construction workers.
WINNER: As much as I admire the elegance of John’s description of Nick as “someone entirely settled at the center of his own universe,” and as poignant as I find his image of these two idealistic boys setting out in lipstick and chiffon only to get taunted by construction workers, this one goes to Andy for the way it constructs a very specific picture of Nick (the chronically-late genius androgyne who scoffs at music theory), and for the way it subtly creates the first filmy gossamer fibers of what will become the dominant narrative thread of his book—namely, that Nick is an insufferable hell-beast devoted to making Andy’s Duran Duran experience as miserable as possible.
(Is Andy’s account fair and accurate? Eh, probably not, or at least not entirely—by other reports, Nick is friendly and personable and not at all an insufferable hell-beast—but Nick is scrappy enough to weather a little attempted character assassination. For all the knocks he takes in Andy’s book, I don’t think its release did him any harm.)
On the origin of “Rhodes”:
ANDY: I used to call him Master Bates and he later changed his name to Rhodes for “aesthetic reasons.”
JOHN: “Rhodes” seemed to have the right blend of high and low culture, drawing as it did from the Clash’s manager, Bernie, and fashion’s high priestess, Zandra.
WINNER: Andy. Mind you, I’m not at all convinced his tale of how Nick shed “Bates” is the truth—I have it in my head that Nick had already adopted “Rhodes” by the time Andy joined the band, and anyway, Andy surely wasn’t the first to taunt him with the “Master Bates” zinger—but it makes for a far more entertaining anecdote than John’s dull Bernie-Zandra explanation.
On filming the “Rio” video:
JOHN: Once again, the Antony Price suits were in the frame—incongruous on a yacht, but on film it worked, giving an impression of a bright and decadent sophistication. It was a surprisingly controversial, polarizing video. It became our most iconic video, making MTV’s all time Top 10, but it was also perceived by many in Britain as an arrogant portrayal of the worst traits of Thatcherite self-interest.
ANDY: The most spectacular scenes showed us all in our latest Anthony [sic] Price suits aboard a breathtaking yacht as it skimmed through the waves, with Simon singing his heart out on the bow. … Simon and Roger took to being on the yacht immediately. When you watch the video, you can see they’re having a great time as we sailed along. John and I were more than happy to go along for the ride, too, but Nick looked distinctly uncomfortable, probably because he was seasick most of the time.
WINNER: Andy by a landslide. While John gives a detached analysis of this iconic moment in Duran history as though he played no role in its creation, Andy yammers on for several highly entertaining pages about the rambunctious good times the boys all had cavorting on that yacht in Antigua. It’s a bonanza of Duranecdotes. Bonus points for his gratuitous and spiteful reference to Nick getting seasick, thus conjuring up an indelible mental image of everybody’s favorite glamorous pixie barfing all over his fancy Antony Price suit. Nice. Well played, Andy.
On the band’s association with Andy Warhol:
JOHN: We had been introduced to Andy Warhol on our first visit to New York and had got to know him a little. Over the years to come, Nick would become great friends with him. After our performance, I was drinking at the bar when Andy wandered over, sipping his drink through a straw. He leaned into my ear and whispered conspiratorially, “You should be the singerrr.” “No thanks, Andy,” I said.
ANDY: It was obviously a huge honor to be seen with Warhol and it caused quite a stir. He latched on to us immediately, and I remember him saying to me over and over again, “Oh, Andy, you’ve got to wear pearls. You gotta wear pearls, Andy!” Then it was Nick’s turn. “Oh, I like that Nick and I got a photo at home to prove it!” screeched Warhol. … I could see the beauty in what he did, but I really wasn’t from that school—unlike Nick, for whom Warhol was a real source of creative energy. At times it seemed like Nick was obsessed with him.
WINNER: John. Sometimes the simplest anecdotes are the best. Andy’s compulsion to take the piss out of Nick backfires here, because, hell, it really was cool that Nick and Andy Warhol were so instantly taken with each other and became such close friends. Also, Andy, babe, please try not to describe gay men as “screeching.” Really. Later in Andy’s book, Elton John also “screeches” about something, which: No.
On the “New Moon on Monday” video:
JOHN: After a two-day video shoot in Paris for a long-form 12-inch video version of “New Moon on Monday,” the tour started up in Japan.
ANDY: “New Moon on Monday” was our least favorite video of all. Everyone in the band hates it, particularly the dreadful scene at the end where we all dance together. Even today, I cringe and leave the room if anyone plays the video. … Our management convinced us to theme it on the French Revolution, and it also had historic references to the French Resistance—but, to be honest, it was just a load of gibberish. The set was dark and cold, and we spent most of the day drinking alcohol. By the time we were dancing at the end I was half-cut. It is one of the few times I’ve seen Nick dance (watch his shoulders moving up and down if you ever get another chance to see it!).
WINNER: No, really, that’s the full extent of what John had to say about the video in his book. Andy wins this one easily (and shoehorns in a quick snipe at Nick in the process). Personally, I love the “New Moon on Monday” video, warts and all; knowing the boys were drunk and miserable during that interminable and mortifying dancing scene at the end just makes me love it even more.
On the “Union of the Snake” video:
JOHN: The video for “Union of the Snake” didn’t work too well; it was too high-concept, overstaged, and overdressed, and it lacked direction.
ANDY: The “Union of the Snake” video, in my view, wasn’t much better. … The video certainly has a reptilian theme, but amid all the footage of lizards chasing people there are lots of meaningless images, too, like the juggler who suddenly appears for no apparent reason. For all I could see it might just as well have been about wandering around with a stiffy!
WINNER: Andy again. John seems to have some kind of weird mental block about discussing their videos in any kind of detail (given what John was up to during this time, it’s possible he honestly can’t remember much about filming them). Andy doesn’t have much to say either, but at least he manages to work in a crude quip, and that’s enough to give him the win.
On Nick’s relationship with Julie Anne Rhodes:
JOHN: Holy shit! Now Nick was getting married? I thought we were married!
ANDY: [A]s for Julie Anne, I remembered something that (Duran manager) Paul Berrow had told us before we’d left for the States. “Ooh, when those bloody American birds get a hold of you, you won’t catch your breath,” he warned. “Different set of values.” … Julie Anne was very pushy because of her social standing, and she was used to being at the top. She wasn’t a bad person, but we weren’t used to having an outsider in our midst. To me, her presence in the group was like a bomb.
WINNER: Oh, those wealthy American heiresses and their different values! Always trying to sink their pushy claws into unsuspecting British pop stars. John wins this one for capturing the confusion and angst of losing his closest friend to someone else while simultaneously providing valuable fodder for Duran slash-fiction aficionados, all in a few well-chosen words.
On recording “A View to a Kill”:
ANDY: John Barry turned out to be a hilarious character. He was a very posh old composer who played the piano with a tumbler of whiskey by his side. John Taylor and I were both heavily into booze ourselves at the time, and we set about heavily leading him astray with more drink. … Working with Nick, however, was not so easy. He absolutely hated cocaine, so he wasn’t appreciative of JT’s and my behavior. … Nick seemed to be resentful of the whole project because it was organized by John Taylor. At times it was impossible for all of us to be in the studio together without having a row, and it was Nick who seemed to be swimming against the tide. John Barry challenged him a few times about things he’d done musically, which seemed to annoy Nick. “I’m fucking not doing that,” Nick would say flatly.
JOHN: Nick and John Barry didn’t click. They found it hard just being in the same room. They were both stubborn and had very specific visions of how things should get done. I was caught in the crossfire: friend to Nick, adjutant to John. Many times I received late-night phone calls from John, admonishing me to “sort out this bloody bullshit.”
WINNER: Andy, for making this all clearly Nick’s fault. Stop being so reasonable and diplomatic, JT! Start wildly pointing fingers!
On performing at Live Aid:
JOHN: Andy and I met up with Simon, Nick, and Roger at our hotel in Philadelphia two days before the event. We had some rehearsing to do, never having played “A View to a Kill” live onstage before. There was nervousness in both camps; our relationships had not gotten any better since Paris. If anything, things had gotten worse. And yet, in that ugly, stinking downtown rehearsal room, away from all the media and the bright lights, the girls and all the wedges that had come between us, the tensions melted away. Playing with Duran was fun. I had forgotten how much.
ANDY: At that moment, everything should have been perfect, but privately we were screwed and in turmoil. When we came offstage in Philadelphia there were no congratulatory hugs or friendly smiles. It was like we were completely foreign to each other, and it would be the last time we played together for almost two decades. Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, we had quietly (in our ever-so-English way) been falling apart at the seams for many months before Live Aid. In truth, we could barely stand to be in the same room.
WINNER: John, for bravely declaring that playing together at Live Aid was “fun” in the face of heaps of evidence to the contrary.
On why Andy is no longer a member of Duran Duran:
ANDY: We’d all been to a nightclub, and Nick and I were both fairly drunk when we returned to the house in St. Tropez. For some reason the mood had turned nasty on the way back—probably due to an excess of booze—and Nick started to accuse me of being an embarrassment in the nightclub.
“You fell asleep in the club,” he moaned. Ever the Head Boy.
“Well, you were drunk and made a twat of yourself also,” I hit back. “You know you can’t fuckin’ dance, and even if I did fall off the table, at least it was in time to the beat, pal.” I probably sounded like a proper smart arse, but my attitude was Fuck you, you Revlon-wearing tosser.
Suddenly we were in a heated argument as each of us continued to accuse the other of being out of order. “Don’t talk to me like that, Nick,” I said. “I didn’t fall asleep.”
“You fell asleep,” he insisted, squaring up to me aggressively.
I thought, Does he seriously want a fucking slap?
“Nick, don’t wind me up or I’ll fuckin’ whack you, and you are drunk,” I snarled back, and then I physically pushed him out of the way. We were now close to coming to blows and Nick shouted something back along the lines of if he’d had a baseball bat handy he’d have been willing to hit me with it. Ooh I was racked with fear—not. I knew he would never break a nail, and I told him where I would firmly insert the bat if he ever tried something like that. In truth, I wanted to break his bloody nose, but I restrained myself, because I didn’t have the heart to hurt him.
JOHN: I’m sorry if I’m being a tease, but it’s not my place to go into all the issues and problems we had. My friendships with all of my bandmates, future and past, are my highest priority. Suffice it to say there had been a lot of water under the bridge, and none of us were great swimmers. … Why did (Andy) leave? Let’s not call it “musical differences” for once; let’s call it what it was: Differences!
WINNER: Andy, obviously. John does the mature and responsible thing and takes the highest possible road to preserve his valuable relationships with his friends; Andy aims straight for the gutters. That passage marks the point in the book where Andy loses the plot, and his ever-present-but-mostly-under-control frustration with Nick (“He shows up late to everything! He brings his girlfriend on tour! He carbon-copies the entire band on his bitchy emails to Simon! He’s snobby and bossy, and he can’t even dance!”) boils over into foaming-at-the-mouth insanity. It’s not an especially sympathetic breakdown (I love that Andy’s idea of a scathing insult is “Head Boy”; yeah, you sure told him, Andy!), but it is entertaining. While Wild Boy is a perfectly apt title, part of me is surprised Andy didn’t just go for broke and name his book Fuck You, You Revlon-Wearing Tosser.
OVERALL WINNER: While both books have merit, I’m awarding the title to… Simon Le Bon. Oh, sure, Simon has yet to write a book, and has not announced his intention to do any such thing, but between his zest for life, his way with words, his disregard for decorum, his unerring ability to get himself into trouble, his feverish imagination, and his lack of an internal censor, I feel safe in proclaiming that his memoir, whenever he gets around to writing it, will be the Best Thing Ever.