Duranalysis is back! Let’s take a look at Sing Blue Silver, the 1984 documentary about the 79-day North American leg of Duran Duran’s 1983-1984 world tour. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the rarified lives of the band on the road, which seemed to consist mostly of performances and photo ops and interviews, to say nothing of endless hours spent moving from gig to gig in limousines and private planes. And being screamed at by teen girls. Oh, lordy, plenty of screaming teen girls. It’s a hoot.
There’s far too much material here to go over everything, but I’ll try to hit some of the highlights. Here we go:
The tour kicks off with a press conference, in which Andy gets the ball rolling when he gives a cheeky, innuendo-laden response to a soft-lob question (“When did you learn an instrument?”—you can sort of guess where Andy takes it from there). The remaining Durans follow his lead and chime in with naughty replies… until it’s Roger’s turn. Being naughty and cheeky is not in Roger’s wheelhouse, at least not during a blasted press conference. He looks panicky and embarrassed, until Simon jumps in and bails him out (“Roger needs two hands for his!”).
Props to Andy for bringing the awesome throughout this entire documentary. While some of the Durans appear to be fast running out of enthusiasm for life on the road (hi, Roger!), Andy’s clearly in his element.
Showtime! The Durans cease their green room hijinks (helium-sucking and general chaos-making) and head for the stage. Except for Nick, who refuses to abandon his terribly important arcade game for something as trivial as a live performance. A member of their inner circle (who surely has a more important function than Official Nick Wrangler, but he’s never identified by name or purpose, so I have no clue as to his identity) comes up behind Nick, grabs him around his tiny chest, and lugs the wailing pixie off toward the stage. The enduring weirdness of Nick Rhodes continues to be a source of great joy in my life.
I won’t dwell too long on Sing Blue Silver’s excellent performance scenes, of which there are many. Both the video for “The Reflex” and the Russell Mulcahy-directed concert film Arena (An Absurd Notion) were filmed during this tour, so if you’ve seen either of those, you know what you’re in for. Because it will become relevant later, I’m just going to quickly point out how Nick is off in his own little corner of the stage, surrounded by his synthesizers and sundry equipment (including his then-state-of-the-art Fairlight CMI synthesizer, which came complete with a light pen and monitor). For parts of the show, he’s standing in total darkness. Anyone who thinks Nick is going to sit back and quietly accept this situation is unfamiliar with the ways of everybody’s favorite high-maintenance pixie.
This is Roger’s special post-performance ritual:
1. Walk directly in front of the nearest camera.
2. Whip off shirt.
Why, thank you, Roger. Much obliged.
Backstage, the boys are introduced to Mike Davis and Marcus Allen from the Raiders. This is worth seeing for: a) the fetishistic sight of leggy knockout John Taylor in a football jersey, and b) the shots of Andy and Nick playfully roughhousing with each other.
B) is significant in light of Andy’s memoir (Wild Boy: My Life In Duran Duran), in which he depicts his relationship with Nick as an unbroken series of snubs, slights, shouting matches, passive-aggressive bitchery, icy silences, and hurled pork pies. I don’t doubt Andy’s account—I’m sure it was all of that—but from what we see throughout Sing Blue Silver, their dynamic was more complicated than simple mutual animosity. Unless they’re keeping up an elaborate masquerade for the cameras, Nick and Andy seem to genuinely get a kick out of each other. They even appear to be—brace yourselves—buddies. It’s cute.
Hotel room interviews. This is what John Taylor looks like when he first rolls out of bed.
Disgusting, isn’t it?
The boys have some free time in New York, so Nick dons his best French Foreign Legion hat, grabs his best girl (future wife Julie Anne Friedman), and strolls off on a magical adventure down Fifth Avenue. Much of the tour takes place in cold, wintry cities, which provides Nick with the opportunity to sport an amazing array of outerwear: crazy hats and scarves and bulky layered coats with huge padded shoulders.
Andy, meanwhile, hoofs it to the nearest pool hall and has himself a fine old time playing billiards. We don’t get to see how the other Durans enjoy their downtime, but I’m betting Roger’s day involved a locked door, an unplugged phone, and earplugs.
The tour continues. Another city, another performance. Nick is still plunged in darkness, and seriously, I’m half-convinced at this point that someone’s just screwing with him. And who could blame them? It’d be fun to mess with Nick’s head. Muck up his lighting, leave him groping around for his keyboards in the darkness, then sit back and wait for the fireworks.
(A quote from Simon, taken from a 2003 Tatler profile of Nick, about his bandmate’s legendarily control-freaky nature: “He’s very analytical and that can be a pain in the arse. He cares about everything, and I mean everything. He feels it’s his business to choose my socks and underwear.” Along those same lines, here’s a quote from Nick, as related in Steve Malins’s Duran Duran Notorious: The Unauthorised Biography, as to why he’s the scourge of lighting directors everywhere: “I’m horribly particular about colours. The arguments I’ve had with lighting designers about shades of magenta…”)
Backstage, Nick goes full-tilt Norma Desmond about the lighting: “It’s so depressing, that black stage. It’s terrible. Horrible. Vile. It’s got to go. I kept looking at it all through the set. Horrible. Horrible.” In the background, his bandmates quietly get snockered, as though the thought of getting through one of Nick’s tirades cold sober is too much to bear (Roger’s thousand-yard stare is especially poignant). Andy backs Nick up on the lighting situation: “It’s turning me to drink. I never usually drink.” This is what I mean about Andy bringing the awesome.
While the boys get ready for a shoot with famed photographer Francesco Scavullo, Simon ruminates on the dangers of getting undressed when journalists are in the vicinity: “‘Cause if you take your trousers off in front of people, they’ll write things like, ‘Simon Le Bon wears yellow underwear,’ and they’ll accuse you of having chubby legs and a gut.” This is in reference to a cover story on the band in the February 2nd, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone, in which journalist James Henke writes, of seeing Simon sans pants, “It was not, frankly, a particularly awe-inspiring sight. Le Bon, you see, is no John Travolta when it comes to physiques. Not a slob, just slightly chubby legs, a little bit of a gut.” Oh, ouch. Knife to the heart! Not that anybody should ever lose sleep fretting about long-past blows to Simon’s robust ego, but it’s hard not to wince at that.
Especially considering how whippy and lean he was in 1984. “Bit of a gut,” nothing doing.
In Atlanta, the boys attend a banquet in their honor at the headquarters of one of the tour’s big sponsors, Coca-Cola. The event chairman spontaneously calls upon John to make some off-the-cuff comments. Always ready to add a fun chaotic element to any situation, a somewhat blurry John takes the stage and cheerily declares his preference for Pepsi.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s neither Coke nor Pepsi in John’s glass.
So after the show, Nick sits down with a couple of the lighting guys to hash out the problem with the overly-dark stage. The lighting guys—you know, I really wish Sing Blue Silver had done a better job of identifying all the various staff and crew members running around, so I could refer to people by name and/or title—do their best to placate him. They’re obviously treading delicately around their wee dainty 21-year-old millionaire pop-star employer, and thus their responses come across as a bit condescending: “You’re bright up there, I thought, so it is a psychological thing, too… Problem is, all night long we were taking readings with meters and stuff, and you’re the brightest one on stage 90% of the time.” Nick—totally calm, totally polite, totally intractable—goes straight to the heart of the matter: “But I couldn’t actually see.”
While this is taking place, Roger waltzes in front of the camera and, oh gee, his pants appear to be sexily unbuttoned.
Roger Taylor: stealth exhibitionist.
The boys go on a tour of FBI headquarters at the Hoover building in DC, where they’re treated to a lecture about the Bureau’s past accomplishments. The Durans all display varying degrees of polite interest and/or mild ennui. Except for Andy, who’s mesmerized. Andy is a heartbeat away from abandoning this whole guitar-legend-in-the-making business and embarking on a bold new career as a G-Man.
No. No. Jesus, no. FBI agents, mark my words: No matter how much they plead and whine and beg and bat their pretty eyes at you, do not let the gaggle of hyperactive, accident-prone pop stars handle your guns.
New Orleans: Nick and Julie Anne stroll around Bourbon Street, where Nick receives an impromptu tap-dancing lesson from a young street performer. I appreciate Nick’s moxie, but his dance skills have not noticeably improved since the “New Moon on Monday” video.
It’s the home stretch of the tour. Irrepressible prankster Simon feigns a broken arm during rehearsal.
Afterward, he reveals the charade. The Durans find it uproarious. Well, sixty percent of the Durans find it uproarious, anyway—Nick is nowhere in sight, and as for Roger…
Yeah. Not too hard to tell what he thinks of all this.
Okay, this part is sort of ghastly: During the last leg of the tour, John had some kind of accident in his hotel room that resulted in a badly lacerated foot. The exact cause is still shrouded in mystery, but let’s clear our brains of speculation and accept John’s explanation in an article in the April 1985 issue of, ahem, BOP magazine (“John Taylor: ‘I Nearly Killed Myself!’”): “I had been dancing on broken bottles without realizing it and I had to have 20 stitches in my foot.” Dancing on broken bottles! Could happen to anyone! After that, John was in no shape to prance about the stage, but they couldn’t afford to cancel the gig and reschedule the very expensive shoot for the Arena concert film, so… well, here’s a quote from Andy’s memoir about how they got John ready for the show:
“In the end, John had to be fired up at both ends. The doctor gave him huge amounts of morphine in the foot. Then John took pharmaceutical cocaine through the nose to keep him awake. It was the only solution; otherwise, the morphine would have knocked him out.”
I was originally going to remark that you can’t tell the difference between the performances where John is uninjured and the performances where he’s tripping balls to take away the crippling foot pain, but then I started sorting through screengrabs, and…
Yeah. Yeah, you sort of can.
Backstage after the final concert, an emotional Simon and John and Andy all mash themselves together into one big, clingy, sweaty, meaty, tear-soaked mess.
Once again, Nick is nowhere to be seen (teary, sweaty, shirtless group hugs are not, repeat, not his scene). Roger glances at his hugging bandmates, then opens a beer and sacks out on a nearby couch, looking like he’s had quite enough of Duran Duran, thank you.
And that’s pretty much it. Entertaining stuff. It’s strange: As glamorous and exotic as they all seemed during this time, for all the weirdness that came with their monstrous fame and fortune—the drugs, the egos, the excesses—they still basically come across as a bunch of nice kids. Kids with great bone structure and awesome hairstyles and flashy wardrobes, sure, but nice kids nonetheless.