My Renewed Fascination with Duran Duran

When I was young, I was insulated from “rock and roll” music.  My father strongly disliked it (and still does).  More importantly, I grew up in a fundamentalist religion, and I was lead to believe that it was sinful.  I just wasn’t exposed to it, and I was less-than-subtly discouraged from embracing it.

However, I was a bit of a Radio Shack geek.  When I was about thirteen years old, I spent a few bucks to buy a pocket transistor radio.  A very low-fidelity, monaural device that operated on a 9 volt battery.  I just thought it would be neat to have and use, and I was completely unsuspecting of the world it would open up for me.  Inside the package was an ear plug.  This turned out to be very important, because it meant I could listen to the radio in bed, at night, without my parents knowing.  Several times, I woke up in the morning, having fallen asleep with the radio on, the battery by that time dead.

It was the summer of 1984.  I had found the pop stations.  I had started learning the names of songs and bands.  My favorite thing was Casey Kasem’s countdown, because he was always careful to announce the name of the song and band both before and after each one played.  It wasn’t long before I knew what was popular, and some of it really resonated with me.  The hottest thing that summer was “The Reflex” by Duran Duran.

I started buying albums (on vinyl, because all I had to play them on was my Donny & Marie record play that my parents had bought for me when I was even younger).  I joined the Columbia House record club.  I bought Rio and Duran Duran’s first self-titled album.  I listened to them over and over, and I even sang.  “The Chauffeur” is single-handedly responsible for my vocal range for years to come.

Then I joined a new youth group at a different church, and there was this girl a couple years older than me.  Not only did she love Duran Duran, but she knew the names of the band members.  So I stepped up my game.  I started buying magazines with coverage on Duran Duran, I hung up posters, and I learned to recognize each of the band members in the photographs.  I read interviews and gossip and everything there was to know about the band.

I was fascinated by their use of keyboard and synthesizer, and I wanted to be Nick Rhodes.  I begged my parents for years, every birthday and Christmas to buy me a synthesizer (though I largely ignored the electric organ we had in the house).

I never did this with any other band.  There have been several other hands that I’ve really liked, but I’ve never been obsessed with any of them.  To this day, almost thirty years later, I can’t name all the members of any other band (except for The Beatles, if you give me a few minutes).

About a year ago, I bought a guitar, and I started taking lessons.  Then I bought a bass, and started taking lessons for that.  I’m still not very good, but I’m beginning to think of myself as a musician and a bass player.

About this same time, John Taylor, the bass player for Duran Duran, published an autobiography.  I have lately enjoyed a few autobiographies (I highly recommend George Carlin’s), so there was no question about reading In the Pleasure Groove.  It is a very intimate and unvarnished view into the person of John Taylor, and I found myself admiring and feeling close to him.  Because of this, he has become my favorite member of the band, whereas before I was more interested in Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon.

The ironic thing about me and the bass is that I had never really noticed the bass line in songs before (unless it was right there in your face).  Even when I tried, I struggled to pick it out.  Learning the bass, I am becoming much more cognizant and aware of the bass parts.  I am noticing bass lines that are interesting, that sound like they would be fun to play, that really make the music.

These days, I mostly listen to newer music.  I grab new stuff from iTunes and put it into a playlist called “Newest Downloads”, and that’s almost all I ever have playing in the truck.  However, I recently created a new playlist of high energy music for an MP3 player I used on a long bike ride.  I had thrown on a few Duran Duran songs, and some of them inevitably came up during my ride.

“Rio” was the first to come up.  It was as if I was hearing it for the first time.  I was astonished.  The fact is, I always heard the bass line, because in many ways, it is the song.  However, I had never really thought about what was the bass line and what was everything else.  I had never thought about how good it is, how it contributes to the overall harmony of the song, and how fun it must be to play!

So now I’m learning to play “Rio” on the bass.  I will be learning other Duran Duran songs after that.  And as I’m doing that, I’m thinking about how this is played by the man who wrote his book, a guy I really respect, who I have under-appreciated for all these years.

Thanks for making my bass learning experience that much deeper and more enjoyable, John!