As many of our readers know by now, I’m an avid reader. There isn’t a single day that goes by that I’m not reading something, whether books on music (of which I am in the middle of several – my goal this year is to finish them!), or “for pleasure” books that I listen to while working around the house. It should surprise no one that I purchased Please Please Tell Me Now: The Duran Duran Story by Stephen Davis. I thought I’d do a bit of a review for this week’s Memorabilia Medley.
To begin with, I have not read any of Mr. Davis’ prior work. So his particular brand of writing was unfamiliar. His choice to not bother citing where he found individual quotes really annoyed me. For one, it was incredibly clear that many of those quotes were not primary sources, or from interviews he conducted himself. He certainly did not get them from talking to the band because they were quotes I recognized directly from other sources (that he did not cite directly, but rather casually listed in paragraph from in the back of the book – completely unlike any valid biographer would include). I recognize that he did in fact interview the band, or at least some members of the band back in 2004 when he claims Wendy Laister approached him to write the band’s biography. (note that the book is not titled as a biography though, rather a story. I’ll get back to that point in a bit) I’ll also make note that he does take the time to cite Steve Malins book, Wild Boys as a source…which in turn cites hundreds of news articles, magazine stories, books, videos, interviews, etc. He also makes it clear that he was not a fan of Duran Duran as he started out writing in 2004.
It is at this point though, when I begin to have serious questions regarding the validity. To begin with, the band has done nothing, and I do mean nothing, to promote this book. That’s odd, given that according to the authors claims, Wendy – the bands own manager – approached him. There are very few (literally startlingly few) pictures included, as well. It just seems odd.
Then, there is the writing itself. Here is the thing: if we are comparing writing styles – Steve Malins book on the more difficult to read end, and then Davis’ book. The lack of properly cited quotes and footnotes does make it easier to read. The book reads more like a “Based on actual events” type of fictional work – a story – than a true, factual, biography. The question YOU should be asking yourselves at this moment, dear readers, is why.
Let’s face it, we all have opinions. If I asked each of you to write your own story about the reunion of the original five members of Duran Duran, my guess is that I would read some very different stories with a variety of different facts, and likely, quite a few different opinions as well. What might change the tone of the story you’d write?
Well first of all, I think your degree of fandom would make a difference. Are you a huge fan that knows every single bit of detail about their career, or are you someone who knows the hits and doesn’t really care about the rest of it. Either way, it probably changes your point of view. Were you a big fan of their early music, or were you more of a fan during the years after Notorious? What else might make a difference? Perhaps your favorite guitar player? Maybe the number of shows you’ve attended, and the eras in which you became a fan might matter. Maybe the country you live in makes a difference too. What about your age, would that matter? How about your gender – don’t you think that would change your point of view as well? My point is, all of those things slightly change our perception, and they might even change how we consume and recount facts, too.
The debate here, though, is should we take this book as pure fact? No. Not even remotely. Even the title gives that away by calling it a story. It is his perception of the band’s career, in some sense. Sure, I think some, perhaps even much of it, is based on fact. Yes, the band was formed in Birmingham. Yes, they have a song titled “Pressure Off” (which was not recorded for All You Need is Now, as he claims, but instead for Paper Gods, released in 2015) Many facts seem correct, but I also believe he filled in what he didn’t know with a lot of grand assumptions as to what happened so that the book reads like a story, and not a series of disjointed facts. That’s great for the reader if they don’t know much about Duran Duran, I guess…except that many of the little details are just wrong, and most Duran Duran fans—or Duranies as we are correctly called (and spelled)—can spot the mistakes from any distance.
For example, a particularly stupid mistake was the comment made fairly late in the book that Roger “was holed up in the country with his second wife, Gisella Bernales, and no longer gave interviews.” Call me crazy, but Roger still gives interviews. Maybe not to Stephen Davis, but he’s certainly given interviews in recent years.
Then there are what I can only characterize as wild assertions, such as this one found on page 110, “The next night, Duran played at the Channel in Boston, a mob-controlled club (whose affable and popular manager was murdered a short time later). A guy from WAAF gave the band the strongest pot they had ever smoked, so the show was a little off.” These are laden upon every page of the book, and while I can’t say they’re lies, I also cannot say they’re truths. They aren’t quoted, there’s no way to know who shared the information with him, and in many cases, they are details I’ve never heard before. My point isn’t that I know every detail of their history, only that without proper quotations, it’s impossible to know where these details came from, or who shared them.
Other opinions are dressed up in costume to be overall consensus, such as this one “Duran Duran finished the best album of their career, Rio, in the late winter and spring of 1982. (Some think Rio is the only great album they ever made.)” Did any of you get the survey about this? I surely did not. This is just poor writing. If you have bias, then say so (as he did at the end of the book when he mentioned that he was not a “fanatic” for Duran Duran)…but don’t pepper a work of fiction parading as biography with your own opinion and pretend you’ve asked around to get a general consensus. That is ridiculous.
It is those details that I struggle with most, throughout the book, because they seem to come out of nowhere much of the time, and it is difficult for me to imagine that the band directly shared these feelings, factoids, or anecdotes with a biographer. So who did, and why? More importantly, so many of them tend to paint the band in a poor light, if not a terrible one. Was the point of the book to tell an accurate story, or to disparage the band? I’m not sure.
There are far too many inaccuracies and typos to count. I don’t know that the book was ever edited, and if it was, that person should be fired. Then again, I get the feeling it didn’t matter enough to bother.
There are plenty of other examples I could cite, but the bottom line is that I can’t trust the narrative. I suppose it comes down to basics: if you are reading the book for entertainment value, full-well understanding that the book isn’t necessarily all that accurate, then okay. However, if you are a fan of Duran Duran hoping for a true-to-life, accurate and (most importantly) unbiased tale, this is not your book.
I’d go to the mat for Duran Duran many, many times over, but if there was one statement/opinion in the book that sent me over the edge (outside of calling them a “boy band”, a comment not dissimilar to the snide, dismissive, pot-shot smear that “music journalist” Paul Morley enjoyed flinging at the band back in his day), it is this one on page 245, “New lead guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, a graduate of Brooklyn’s Canarsie High School, was on his native ground and quickly began to assert himself as the band’s new pair of balls, replacing Duran Duran’s original testicles, Andy Taylor.”
This is why word-choice matters. It is cringy, off-putting, and crude, to say the least.
Very little of the book focuses on the time period after the Taylors leave, which I suppose for rudimentary fans that know next to nothing beyond Rio, is fine. However, there is quite a career that takes place during that period between 1985 and 2021. It seems to me (and yes this is purely opinion), that Stephen Davis was more interested in that earlier time frame, even though at his own word – Warren took right over and was wholly responsible for steering the band to success immediately following his induction as guitar player. Davis did not do the band or their fans any justice here. He paints them as lazy, disinterested musicians that were simply lucky. While I have no doubt the band was lucky, there is a tremendous amount of energy, joy, brotherhood, and passion that is mostly left out of this, “based on actual events” tale.
Unlike many who reviewed this book, I didn’t set out hoping to enjoy the journey, or to further congratulate the already heralded music writer. I wanted to read an excellent, factual biography on the band. Apparently, that book is still out there somewhere. I remain hopeful to one day read it.