How many of us, back in the day, faithfully read any circa-1980s teen magazine with Duran Duran on the cover? Each week, I’d accompany my mom to the grocery store. I’d go up and down the aisles with her until she’d reach the produce section. In our neighborhood grocery store, the magazine aisle served as a type of border to the apples and oranges. I’d vanish down the aisle, and take care to look at each magazine, reassuring myself that I hadn’t missed anything. Some weeks, I’d come up with a few magazines, having to choose (because there was no way my mom was paying for all of them), and others, I’d come out empty-handed. Many times, I’d have read the articles before I’d even left the store, but I still had those pin-ups to hang!
When I think back to that time period, I don’t remember the magazines mentioning much about the music. It was always the fashion, the lifestyle, the idea of being a celebrity, the idea of marrying a celebrity. Those magazines were selling a fantasy life (in many respects) to teens and preteens like me. Nothing ever went wrong for anyone, their lives were sunny and perfect in every way. Wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, happy, filthy rich, and way the heck out of my league. Even if a celebrity or band member had sadness in their lives, it was always written in a way that tied up the loose ends: tears and despair, with a big red happy bow on the end. Then it was back to sunny, carefree days of champagne wishes and caviar dreams, right? Every article was written with a dreamy, “don’t you wish you could have him?” voice. I bought it all, hook, line, and sinker. But the music? The real reason for this band being in our record collection? Very little was ever really said.
I think about this today because one of my friends on Twitter (@guyfansofDuran, I’m talking to you, here) mentioned something today about Star Hits, a magazine that he characterized as being the kindest to the band, commenting that even that magazine never really reviewed the show, just included pictures of the guys. Not finding fault with fans, he was merely commenting on the state of the media itself back then, and he’s right.
What is sad is that I don’t think I ever really even thought about there being a problem with that during my trips to the grocery store. It never occurred to me as I was hanging up poster after poster of Roger on my wall, that someday, I would acknowledge that I was a part of the problem.
I suppose I was, in some sense.
I never demanded that those magazines review their shows. I never sent an angry letter, or muttered a cross word about their coverage, or lack thereof. I bought the magazines because they had pretty pictures and sometimes even had interviews. They didn’t talk about their music, they asked about John’s favorite car, the name of Nick’s cat, their moms, and their favorite vacation spots. I don’t think the magazines covered much of their musical career, so to speak, beyond asking whether or not they were working on a new album at the time.
I never even thought about reviews of their shows back then. I was on a relentless hunt for their posters, though. In 1983, 84 and most of 85, I didn’t think about going to their concerts beyond that first time when I asked my mom about going to see them at the LA Forum. That didn’t go over any better than a lead balloon in my house, so after that I didn’t even try. I did what I was able, which was collect their albums, buy my weight in teen magazines, wallpaper my room with their posters, and wear whatever band t-shirts I could find and convince my parents to buy. It didn’t occur to me that I had any other choice, or that I should aspire to know more about their musical process.
It is difficult to sit here and write this blog, mostly because I want to be able to stand up and say that while sure, I noticed the band was good looking—I was in it purely for the music. It is somewhat embarrassing for me to admit that I wasn’t. I’d love to say I was “above all that silly teen stuff”. Nope. Though it was their music that I couldn’t get out of my head after I first heard it on KROQ, I would be lying if I said that I never bothered with their appearance. You bet I did. I fawned over their posters, and sighed audibly when I would watch their videos.
Even more painful, here in retrospect, is the knowledge that the only reason those teen magazines didn’t go into a lot of detail about the music, or do reviews much beyond printing a limited number of performance pictures, is because their audience was primarily female. Young females, under 18. At the time though? I never thought twice about it.
I suppose I could say that it wasn’t my fault. I was a product of the times. I didn’t know I could be interested in the music (make no mistake, I was interested. My point here is that the magazines didn’t believe that girls could be) because magazines like Star Hits, Teen Beat and others taught me I needed to be more concerned with the fantasy-life, fairy-tale, starry-eyed dream aspect. I needed to worry more about how to find and marry one of those band members, and less about the artistry or technical merit of their music. I could say all of that. But is it true?
I am just not so sure it is that simple. Nor do I think it needs to be.
I wish that I’d known magazines other than Spin and Rolling Stone that would have covered more about the music back then. I have no doubt whatsoever that I would have read them and learned everything I could. That doesn’t mean though, that I’d have given away my Tiger Beat collection. As embarrassing as it might be to admit, I’m not sorry that I plastered my walls in Duran Duran. That was a legitimate part of my childhood (and honestly part of my adulthood). I have very happy memories of organizing those posters and giggling over the articles with my friends at school.
Part of fighting sexism is being proud of who you are as a person. I am as proud of being a female, teen Duranie as I am of being one-half of the Daily Duranie now that I am growing ever closer to the half-century mark. Consider that done.
I do have to wonder how it all might have been different had the band been taken seriously from the beginning. It took the David Kershenbaum mixes to get them any sort of regular radio play here in the US, and that happened in 1982. The pinups came a few months later here in the states. It was never only the music or only their looks that made them into the biggest band in the world. They had it all, combined with luck and timing.
Sure, the teen magazines never did much to legitimize them, musically speaking. I’m not sure that any critic would have taken the words to heart even if they had. However, those teen magazines opened up a whole new world to kids like me. I don’t know how long or how closely I would have followed Duran Duran had it not been for 16, Bop!, Teen Beat and many others I’ve since forgotten. They were my window into their world.
Yep I was definitely part of the problem.
I’ve decided that I’m not sorry.