Let’s start as friends
My friends, think back to the beginnings of the band’s career. For me, 1982 puts me at about eleven or twelve – which was during middle school. As I’ve asserted on any number of occasions, I was a nerd. An awkward, frizzy-haired, clarinet player in the band, potential good student sort of nerd. I was not only a nerd, but I was absolutely an underdog in every sort of way.
Much of sixth grade is murky for me. The memories are dim. I I know that maturity-wise, I was way behind my peers. Boys? They were fine for being friends or even playing kickball, baseball or tetherball, but as actual BOYS? Gross. I didn’t even know how to flirt!
Frog seeks Princess
I can remember sitting in social studies in Ms. Beck’s class though, and getting into the first (of many) arguments with another kid. My face flushed, I argued until the final bell. I grabbed my books and ran out of class, embarrassed because he had been one of the “cute, popular boys”.
Eventually, he asked me to “go around” with him, which was middle-school speak for being his girlfriend. I said yes, and then had no idea how to behave. Hold his hand? As if I liked him??? Ew. Sit next to him at lunch? Uh, I have friends for that. Slow dance with you at a school dance?? Not a single chance, buddy. Keep your hands off of me, or my dad will kill you.
I was not prepared for boys.
Our romance lasted for about three days, two of which included Saturday and Sunday, days where I didn’t see him. After that, he went out with another girl in my class also named “Rhonda”. That romance lasted for a lot longer, lucky for her. The entire memory still makes me chuckle and blush over my own naivety. Poor John. We are still friends on Facebook, and every so often he has to remind me about sixth grade. As if I could really ever forget. (I’ve tried!)
The other part of sixth grade that I do remember though, was music. First, I was a clarinet player. I sat through my regular classes in order to get to band at the end of the day. My real “academic” success, at least that year, was in band. In particular, I hated 6th grade math and science – in fact I got my first “D” notice in math from Mr. Thompson that year, who openly told my father at parent/teacher conferences that I’d probably never amount to much.
(I TAUGHT TWO OUT OF THE THREE OF MY CHILDREN, MR. THOMPSON – AND ONE OF THEM IS NOW MAJORING IN PHYSICS – A SCIENCE NO LESS – AT A UC. HOW’S THAT FOR NOT AMOUNTING TO MUCH???)
Second, I loved the radio once I figured out what stations I preferred. I would walk into my room and snap on my small, portable AM-FM radio/tape deck combo unit (not quite a boom box just yet), and let the music fill the air. It was during one of those moments that I first heard Duran Duran, in fact.
Soul sister hippy chick
I had very few close friends. While I wasn’t being thrown head first into a trash can every day, I wasn’t one of the popular girls, either. I’d avoid the mean girls like they had the plague, as they’d stand in the middle of the hallway lockers. If they saw me, they’d make fun of anything they could find about me that was “off” that day. (There was generally plenty to choose from. Fashion wasn’t a strong point and my hair was even worse.) So the girls I chose to spend time with were more like me, I guess.
When I marched to school the following morning after hearing Duran Duran on the radio for the first time – I thought I’d rock their little worlds. I had grand visions of my teeny group of friends thinking that I was some sort of secretly cool girl who knew all of the up and coming artists. What I didn’t expect was for my friend Marsha to roll her eyes and announce to all of us that she’d already heard of Duran Duran. I also didn’t expect for her to tell me that I actually already owned one of their songs on one of those K-Tel compilation records my parents bought me for my birthday. That girl knew everything!!!
What did happen though, was that everyone in that group, including me and Marsha, went home and tried to find as much on Duran Duran as they could find. We came back to school armed and ready to discuss the band, sharing pinups, interviews and anything else we’d come across. Eventually, we’d find t-shirts, hats, pins, and anything else that denoted we were fans. Sometimes, other slightly less nerdy girls would notice and comment on how cute the band was (I always enjoyed it when they’d screw up the names of the band members, because then I’d show my expertise by correcting them. Wow, how was I not trash-canned??), or they’d gush over how “cool” the band was. I felt in turn that if the band was cool, I must be semi-ok too. It was the closest I’d ever come to NOT being a nerd.
Where are you
What I don’t think I really paid much attention to until later was that while it was cool for me to like them, it was the opposite for boys. Admittedly, I didn’t care one bit about that back then. Boys? Who needs them?!? They had a plethora of other, more “rock” sounding music to choose from anyway. I never thought twice about it.
So, when my friend David O. from The D Side Podcast (check it out at the link!) discussed his theory in episode 4 that being underdogs kind of brought us to Duran Duran, it got me thinking. On one hand, indeed – I was a geek. It wasn’t just that I was a geek, but for the most part, I was invisible. It wasn’t until I made the local papers because I was the youngest person asked to join the California Junior Philharmonic that other students noticed I was even alive. The only thing aside from being in the paper that even sort of made me cool, was my love for Duran. Being a Duranie made me an instant part of a group. So while I was definitely still an outcast or an underdog – Duran Duran made me a little bit less of one.
On the other hand, I knew plenty of girls who liked Duran Duran that were not geeky at all. They might not have been in the upper echelon of popularity at my school, but they sat firmly on that second rung down the ladder. They were still cool to begin with. Duran Duran just made them all the more edgy.
Shake me up wild girl
The cool girls had more fashion sense in their pinky than I did in my entire body. They wore black eyeliner. I struggled with convincing my mother that it was OK for me to wear tinted lip balm. Their hair mimicked the styles I would see on male or female new wave artists in Tiger Beat or Smash Hits. Mine was this strange concoction of frizz and waves that could only be tamed by cutting the sides short and layering them to hell and back….a style I kept until the second year of high school.
In my head, being a Duran Duran fan made everyone seem cooler. But did it really?
Clearly, the trajectory for boys was different, although I’m the first to admit that in 1980-something, I didn’t even begin to notice. I didn’t care. A boy might have been cool until they mentioned Duran Duran in any sort of sentence that could have been construed as complimentary. Any self-respecting male wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to “Rio, much less “New Moon on Monday” or “Save a Prayer”. Once discovered, the G-word was thrown around liberally, whether the word fit or not. Looking back, I’m ashamed to think about how the boys who really were gay and struggling with their identity must have felt.
I don’t think the idea of gay or straight quite registered with me back then, at least beyond the near-constant name calling I’d hear in the halls. However, I did recognize the differences of black clothing, eyeliner, and sleek hair from the heavy metal, mullet-mania that was taking shape elsewhere around us. In seventh grade, I began to take more notice of the males around me. To me, the boys who liked new wave, and then the even smaller group that would admit to being closet Duranies really were cool – something I still believe to this day. I never saw those guys as underdogs in sixth or seventh grade, because I admired them. They were brave in a way I could never quite live up to myself.
Even so, I knew that the only boys who would even quietly admit under their breath to liking Duran Duran’s music were usually different from the other boys I knew. They were nicer to me, first of all. They didn’t try to snap my bra, or tease me about my hair, or even my body shape. Their interest in me started and ended with music. I was totally on board. Music was one thing I knew I could manage.
The funny thing, at least to me, was that I didn’t fit into THAT crowd either. I didn’t wear black. There was no way I was going to be cutting my hair in some “weird, asymmetrical style” (my dad was such a stickler). Fashion? “You don’t go to school for a fashion show, Rhonda Lynn. You go to learn, and you’ll wear the clothes in your closet.” I looked like Holly Hobby trying to fit in with The Cure. Even so, I liked Duran Duran. I had made it at least partway through the door marked, “You’re not half-bad”.
Someone is perfect for you
My friend David also believes that Duran Duran are underdogs. When I think about it, I agree. Whether due to their own looks, the androgynous fashion, hair and makeup choices of the 1980’s, their fans, or their music, they’ve never been completely accepted. They’re the band that everyone outside of Duranland thinks went away, but has actually been quietly working their asses off. We love them for that, too.
I tend to believe women have a harder time seeing that we might also be drawn to Duran Duran as a result of our geekiness. After all, I’ve met many women in the years I’ve been a fan that exude anything BUT geekiness. They’re far more “in-touch” than I’ve ever been, and I highly doubt they’d agree with David’s assessment that they’ve somehow bonded with the rest of us nerds as a side benefit of being a Duran Duran fan. Being a Duranie included me into a group I might never have found otherwise, and I don’t think I’m alone.
I also buy into David’s theory that, had the band made it in the same way as some others (like U2) – with the same sort of critical success, they might have hung it up already, out of boredom. Maybe fans would have done the same. Instead, there’s been a sort of “fuck you, we’re still here” attitude that has settled in. I admire that in-your-face tenacity. Not only do they tell us not to count them out, they show us.
Here’s looking at you
I like the idea that when it comes down to it – we’re all the same and have bonded together over this band, whether we’re male or female. I appreciate that when I chat with David or anyone else about Duran Duran – they don’t automatically assume that my experience and knowledge is different or less worthy because I’m female (or vice-versa). Perhaps our perspectives are different, but the end result is the same. We’re all fans, gathered together for the love of Duran Duran.