As promised, we have started our discussion of Andy Taylor’s autobiography, Wild Boy, My Life in Duran Duran
With the very first note, Andy makes it very clear what his intention will be with this book. His life IN Duran Duran. That is very pertinent, particularly because while it is an autobiography, most people are not aware of Andy beyond is work as a musician in Duran Duran as well as his solo work thereafter. (or in between his “tours of duty” in the band. To make things even more interesting, Rhonda’s notes will be in the standard black font and Amanda’s additions/comments are in blue.
R: Andy begins the book discussing what is ultimately Duran Duran’s last appearance together as the “original five” at Live Aid, July 13, 1985. Not in the UK of course, but in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA…a grace note that has always somewhat ruefully amused me. I don’t think many, if any of us who were fans back in the 80’s really knew the end of an era was taking place that day. I certainly didn’t, even if I remember being slightly deflated by the performance. I suppose the humor, if there really is any, to be recognized in that moment is simply that it could have been in any city, in any state, in any country. As good of a statement as any that it happened in Pennsylvania than anywhere else, simply reinforcing the notion that you just never know when it will be the last time.
Andy chose to open his book with the what is the ending to the first act of his career in Duran Duran. The encore of course comes much later, but I found it rather telling that he chose to open with an account of performance that was not only the last, but also highlighting on a bum note. This recount is profoundly negative, if not for Andy, then at the very least for the fans who followed them along the way. I don’t personally know of any fan who looks back on that Live Aid performance with feelings of triumph and joy, if the performance itself didn’t bother us (and how could it not? It wasn’t only Simon’s note that fell flat – there was zero charisma and connection going on that stage that day.), hindsight tells us that the performance was DD’s last as the original five, and for many, it still remains a bittersweet memory. In many ways, the description of this performance sets the tone for the book – bittersweet.
One section of the prologue describes the ride they took to the venue, “We drove to the venue through streets packed with excited rock fans, but inside the bus the atmosphere was if were were on our way to a funeral.” (page 5) Immediately following the recount of that bus ride describes the scene of Live Aid as a giant party scene. Not only is are the two “scenes” diametrically opposed, what I found poignant is that the only partying to be done – the festivities, so to speak – were found only when Andy is on his own, away from the band. Although Andy admits that his heart just wasn’t in the mood to party as he tries to fall into bed that night.
A: When talking about this party lifestyle, Andy wrote, “But the lifestyle we had aspired to, and for which we had worked so hard, became the very cancer that was starting to destroy us.” Clearly, Andy wanted to really show how problematic he found the life that he had created by describing it as “cancer”. Word choice can be everything. It also reminds me that so many people who become famous question if fame is really a good thing.
R: Andy closes the prologue with a question – “Was it all worth it?” Keep that question in mind for later discussion.
R: Andy begins this chapter with one of the saddest things I’ve ever read – the day his mother leaves he, his brother and his father. It is quite obvious that this single event changed Andy forever, and I think the aftermath of this abandonment proves to be something Andy struggles with to this day. I think that while perhaps not many of us have experienced something similar, we can all certainly feel empathetic. I think that after reading this section, I felt some sort of connection to Andy. My mom never exactly left – but there was a time when I was very young (about five years old) that my mom was away for six months. I know that for me, the worry of having my mom leave again played a huge part in the person I became. I followed the rules and tried to be a “perfect” child, just to make sure she wouldn’t leave again, no matter the reason. Those feelings follow me to this day, and so I have no doubt the same holds true for Andy. Later in the chapter Andy comments that he has difficulty saying “good-bye” to this day, and I have no doubt this taps into the ways that he and the band have parted…twice.
A: I also noted the importance this event must have had for him. I took particular attention to the steps leading up to his mother’s departure. At one point, he stated that he had no idea that there was trouble with his mother then he starts to discuss the horrible arguments his mother and father had. Then, part of him was relieved when she left. I wondered how much, if any of this, influenced his own behavior and his way of dealing with problems.
R:The austere and rough beginnings from Andy’s childhood seem to be far more blue-collar than what the rest of the band experienced. Not being from the UK myself, I can’t decide if this is in fact the case, or rather just the way Andy writes. No matter, Andy still talks about where he is from with pride – and as someone who grew up on the “wrong side of the tracks” myself, I still speak of my neighborhood with pride. I am well-aware of who I am and where I came from, and I think most of us can appreciate that, especially since we all know that he’s experienced far more luxury in life than most at this point.
When I think of Andy Taylor, I think of someone who just isn’t going to be forced to follow the rules. He’s going to do what he wants to do, when he wants to do it. Call it stubbornness, call it whatever you’d like. I laughed when he described various “rules” in his house – not going into specific rooms, not touching certain things – and of course Andy still did what he liked. Somehow I think we’re going to find that carrying over into his tenure in Duran Duran. Call me crazy.
One extended note to carry for later discussion: Andy carries much of his feelings about his mom leaving with him, choosing not to discuss but rather keep it all bottled. He is fairly silent about much of it until he is in his adult years. Many fans have mentioned how fairly “silent” both the band as well as Andy have been regarding the events leading up to his departure(s) from Duran Duran. Granted, none of us are on the inside and know just how much talking was or wasn’t done, but it is certainly something that should be thought of for later on in the book. Is that “silence”, the lack of finality, the lack of “good-bye” something that Andy continues??
A: On the topic of keeping his feelings to himself, I noted that Andy seemed to try to focus his energy or feelings towards other things. In this chapter, he obviously turns to music, but he also mentions that he played sports, aggressively, and got into fights. In his view, music was the best of these as they kept him out of trouble.
R:In this chapter, Andy talks about The Rum Runner. The scene of the crime, so to speak! Again, coming to this story as one who didn’t grow up in the UK – I always took what people said about Birmingham for granted. I’d always heard it was a very industrial sort of town, not very nice, not some place to spend time. In fact, just two years ago when I was coming into the UK to see Duran Duran for the ill-fated shows that ended up being canceled, I was headed to Birmingham straight from Heathrow. The customs official that stamped my passport wanted to know “Why on earth” I was going to Brum. He told me it was not a nice city and that I should pass it by in my travels. I smiled (what else am I going to do with a customs official? Argue??) and went on my way, not really knowing what I was getting myself into – but I figured it would be an adventure. I have to say – I LOVE BIRMINGHAM.
A:Ditto, says Amanda!
R: Sure, it has a certain industrial feel to it, not at all unlike where I grew up. I think that’s why I fell for the city – it feels like home to me. (Sans the canals. The closest thing the “Charter Oak” area of Glendora/Covina had when I was growing up was “The wash”, a place I was strictly forbidden to go and play. I guess it was a “sort” of canal…it was a big concrete gutter lined with chain link fence that collected the runoff water and funneled towards treatment plants or the ocean!) Anyway, in reading the book what struck me was how, compared to Cullercoats, Birmingham was the utmost in trendy. I still don’t think anyone would actually say that about where I grew up, unless you want to talk about the downtown area that has been used for various movies over the years…but that’s OK.
A: Ditto again! My childhood was also spent in a place with an industrial feel (south side Chicago), adds Amanda.
R: Another sight that comes into plain view during this chapter is Andy’s feelings for Nick. Even on a musical level, it’s pretty obvious that there is no love lost here. Andy talks about how Nick only played the black keys on his keyboard – something that Kate Bush was known for doing at the time – and that it only amounted to playing one key. “Nick’s interpretation of doing music was very obviously going to be different to mine. Playing seemed to be the last thing on his mind, but he wanted to make keyboard sounds and textures and layers of sound – and in that sense he wanted to do something different that had never been done before.” (page 40) I’m not sure at the time that Andy recognized the significance of what Nick was trying to do – but I think it’s clear in the tone of his writing that he felt Nick was on a completely different musical planet. Of course, it’s that difference between the two that helped to create the most iconic sounds of the 1980’s….
A: I, too, took note of Andy’s comments regarding Nick, especially when Andy said that he didn’t want to understand traditional structure of music. Besides Nick, I thought it was interesting that he took time to describe first impressions of each band member in some detail.
R: I did as well, Amanda. What I noticed though was that in nearly every description – Andy poked fun, and of course the now-infamous LeBon Leopard pants, in pink, were mentioned as well. I suppose a reader could take his gentle ribbing about his first impressions of each band member as a sort of “dig”, but I really think Andy reflects back on that time with fond memories, thinking that when they all first met – they were really all just normal kids – the farthest away from being rock stars than we could imagine. Things changed very, very fast!
The chapter ends with the band getting signed to EMI. “It felt strange and unreal to be at the headquarters of EMI negotiating a new beginning at the same time that John Lennon’s death brought to a close a huge chapter in the history of rock and roll. We didn’t know if it was fate or a bad omen.” (page 56) In my opinion, this continues that bittersweet tone of the book. The passage reads so negatively, I can’t honestly believe Andy feels that way about his career in Duran Duran. This edition of the book was published in 2008, and I have to think that not enough time had passed from his second tour of duty to allow the sharpness of the more angered or painful memories to dull…does the negative tone overshadow all the good??
A: It is fascinating to me that they agreed to split the royalties equally as John and Nick could have easily asked for more as the founders. To me, that shows something about their characters.
R: I didn’t even think about that, Amanda. I think it’s because I’ve heard for so often that they always split things equally that I read right over that without noticing. I’m not sure it really says that much about Nick or John’s character as much as it shows their naivete and youth at the time. They were probably so excited by the very prospect of being signed that they didn’t give any thought to whom had been around longest. Ego probably didn’t crop up until a bit later.
R:The chapter opens with Andy talking about the first time he tried cocaine. We all know by now that the band and cocaine were fairly synonymous back in the day. Apparently Andy felt (and perhaps this was widespread belief at the time) that cocaine was a “rich man’s drug” and that it was harmless. I have to be honest, as a kid – I never thought about their drug use and I’m not even sure I was aware. I think that for me, it was the beauty of being far removed. I didn’t *see* all of those things. I heard the music, saw the (eventual) videos, read the articles and didn’t know about the rest. I’ll go one step further and say that I’ve never tried cocaine. That’s right. I really am one of those good kids to this day! I just never saw the point. I think I was fairly judgmental about people who did any kind of drug when I was young – alcohol aside – and so for me, I’m really kind of glad I never paid much attention to the murmurs of drug use by the band. For me it probably would have made a difference (keep in mind that we’re talking about me at the age of twelve or thirteen) because drug use scared me, apparently for really good reason!
One thing that I find fascinating is how Andy describes the recording of Planet Earth and his role that he shared with Nick in being the two that made most of the commercial decisions at the time. Knowing the tension that seemed to exist between Andy and Nick makes it all the more…humorous, perhaps…that they were the most involved on the business-end. Of course Andy explains their backgrounds and why this made sense, but I have to wonder if this didn’t just add to the friction.
A: I noted the same thing and was surprised by that. Why wouldn’t John have been involved more?
R: In reading this chapter, I noticed that Andy takes the time to point out the tiny fissures already forming. In one part he talks about the lack of confidence in Simon’s vocal quality while recording Planet Earth, at another point he says though that as far as he was concerned, Simon was the vocalist. Fair enough. Management always has different ideas than the band and record company, it seems. Andy talks about how the label chose to promote John first (He was the most photogenic. No, really?) in Japan and that he (Andy) thought this would upset Simon. He talks about the competitive nature, notably between John and Simon, of meeting the most girls, this of course being the beginnings of the much-publicized hedonistic lifestyle of the band. Andy goes on to point out that this lifestyle goes completely against what was happening in the rest of the country at the time, with rioting in the UK, the height of the cold war, nuclear bomb fears, etc. Yet the band known for excess everything grew beyond the limits, meeting Warhol, taking a bus filled with crazily dressed fans from The Rum Runner into Paris. I think Andy continues to make his statement simply by juxtaposing the good times with the rougher moments that fans like me never really saw or experienced. Bittersweet.
A: Adding that this focus on fun, partying, and statements about being the band dancing when the bomb dropped did not help Duran get critical acclaim. Instead, it led many people to look at them with scorn, according to research I have done.