Duran Duran’s John Taylor Could Never Really Play Well on Cocaine

Back in the carefree pre-Internet days, videos were only shown on TV. If you had a favorite video, you had to sit and wait and hope MTV played it at some point. You had to be patient. Remember patience? If you weren’t alive in the ’80s, trust me, you have NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT PATIENCE IS! You watched whatever was on MTV, and Duran Duran was on MTV a lot. I love Duran Duran not because they were my favorite band, but because I saw the “Rio” video 12,000 fucking times between 1983 and 1987. It entered my system by osmosis. It’s still in my pores.

Thirty or so years after Double-D had the undivided attention of the crispy-hair-and-parachute-pants nation, the band’s bassist and resident pretty boy John Taylor has written a memoir. You know, he was the one with the blonde bangs. The one your girlfriend or wife wanted to sleep with when she was 17, and probably still would today, if given the chance. Yeah, THAT guy — he’s written a memoir. It’s called In the Pleasure Groove, and it’s got everything you’ve expect from a book with a ridiculous title like In the Pleasure Groove. There’s recreational sex with strangers and rampant cocaine snorting and more sex and then more cocaine and then rehab and recovery (boooo), peppered with just the right amount of humorless rock star hubris.

When I called Taylor to talk about his book, two things were immediately apparent. One, he’s charming and well-spoken, in an educated British Catholic sort of way. You almost forget that he was (and is) in a band responsible for the song rhyme “shake up the picture/ The lizard mixture.” But also, it’s hard to miss that he thinks Duran Duran was a bigger deal than maybe it actually was. At one point, he described their body of work to me as an oeuvre, and he said oeuvre with a faux French accent. I have every frame of “The Reflex” video burned into my subconscious, but I would never claim it’s part of anybody’s oeuvre.

Eric Spitznagel: In the book, you wrote that the “Hungry Like the Wolf” video had “shades of Apocalypse Now.” Were you being ironic?

John Taylor: In a way, sure. But that movie was very much in the ether at that point in time, during the spring of ’82. Apocalypse Now and Raiders of the Lost Ark, those were the two big films. The idea that we could make a three-minute micro-feature that evoked any kind of aspect of those films was pretty audacious.

You replaced Marlon Brando with a hot model painted like a tiger. So in a way, you improved on Coppola’s film.

Well, obviously it wasn’t a literal re-imagining. It was a mood. If we were going to do a video for “Hungry Like the Wolf” today, I’m not sure what it’d be influenced by.

Did Duran Duran videos generally have narratives?

It was always about finding the appropriate level of narrative. It’s like a porno movie.

Duran Duran videos were like porno?

Very much so. We didn’t really want that much of a narrative. We needed just enough. Audiences didn’t want a story. They were like …

“Get to the good stuff.”

Right, yeah. They wanted the beauty shots. It was quite easy to write a semi-narrative around Simon Le Bon. He wasn’t afraid to act. You see so many artists, so many giants of the industry, like Rod Stewart, David Bowie, who never really could make a video.

I think David Bowie made a few decent videos.

He could do performance videos. But it took a new generation of artists to understand the possibilities of the video medium. With Simon, you could take him anywhere, put him in any situation. “Hungry Like the Wolf” is the perfect example. He probably did more in that video, in terms of acting, than any singer had ever done in a music video medium.

Duran Duran were certainly innovators when it came to hair architecture and rolled-up jacket sleeves.

[Laughs.] I suppose we were.

Do you look back at your hair glory days with pride? Or are there haircuts you wish could be erased from our collective memories?

I’m still in therapy regarding all of that. It’s funny, a lot of things came out while writing this book. I was untangling a lot of the knots, and thinking, “Oh yeah, I understand why we did that now.” We put together so many looks during the ’80s, how could some of them not be god awful? But sure, there were a couple of looks I wish we’d never done.

Did you feel pressure to come up with a new hairstyle for every video?

Oh, yeah. Every three months we had to come up with a new look. And it wasn’t just videos. There were album covers and picture discs and posters. We had to come up with a new identity, a new band persona, for every photo shoot. There were four years in particular, from “Planet Earth” to “A View To a Kill,” where we had to completely reinvent the look of the band at least four times a year. And that’s a lot of work.

It sounds exhausting.

And sometimes you’re not going to get it right. We didn’t have stylists. We didn’t have anyone shopping for us. We figured it out for ourselves, and I think we did a pretty good job.

Are younger bands today making the same mistakes that Duran Duran did?

I don’t know that we made a lot of mistakes, really.

I mean the drugs and the groupies. The stuff you write about in the book that were apparently unhealthy or something.

Well for me, I just didn’t have the off switch. Nobody could tell me, “You need to cut down, you need to get an early night tonight, John.” I was like, “Fuck you!” I had to keep going until I hit a wall. And I definitely see that with a lot of younger artists. Fame can be very intense.

It can inflate a guy’s ego.

Oh yeah, absolutely. In just a couple of years with Duran Duran, we went from writing songs to writing number one songs. So everything had to be bigger, everything had to be better, everything had to sell more.

Are you familiar with the boy band One Direction?

Yeah, sure.

They got into some trouble a few weeks ago when their publicist gave a radio interviewer a list of banned questions.

Banned as in they couldn’t be asked?

Couldn’t be asked, right. Would you mind if I asked you those twelve banned questions, and maybe you could answer them as if it’s 1983.

Oh, okay. Sure, I’ll try it.

Banned question number one: Who is your celebrity crush?

That’s easy. I would probably have said Debbie Harry.

Banned question two: Who came up with the band’s name?

Ah yes, that’s a tricky one, isn’t it? Well I handled that quite graciously in the book.

You did, so let’s leave it at that. Banned question three: Anything X Factor-related. Well, that should be easy enough.

I’m all for that. The less we talk about the X-Factor, the better.

Banned question four: Worst habits about each other? I don’t know what that means.

Well, those questions are always tricky, when you have to define your band mates in some way. I’m not sure how to answer that. What would a worst habit be?

Too much makeup, maybe?

As a bad habit?

Yeah. Boy George had a great quote about you guys. He said, “In spite of their looks, Duran were very straight.”

I think it’s because we were not a particularly macho band. I was never into the whole macho culture. I was raised on Bowie and glam rock, guys who had a flamboyant presentation of themselves, and they were very ambiguous about their sexual personas. I found that appealing.

You wanted to dress like Bowie, or imitate his sexuality?

For me, Bowie was never gay. He was bi. The ’70s were a very bisexual period. A lot of the artists I was into were embracing that lifestyle. It’s like Velvet Goldmine, that kind of thing. I think it was as much a reaction against machismo and identifying strongly as a male. I don’t know. [Long pause.] I’ve always liked women’s clothing, what can I tell you?

Banned question five: Do you guys fight?

Well, like with any team, you have your differences. But you can’t afford to let the fighting get out of hand. Our worst fights happened when we were making videos.

Were you fighting for screen time?

We were actually, yeah. It was quite tricky making videos with five band members who were all jockeying for position. “More of me, please.”

Banned question six: Best prank someone pulled on you? Oh, I think I know this one.

You do?

There was a bit in your book about the touring itinerary. There were numbers in the corner, usually 18, 21, or 20, which you wrote, “referred to the legal age for sexual intercourse in that particular state.”

That’s right.

I was doing some research on this, and I don’t think there were any states in the U.S. where the age of consent was as high as 20.

Even in the early ’80s?

I really don’t think so. Most states set the limits between 16 and 18.

How great a variety was there? Was it 17 anywhere?

I don’t think so.

So you’re saying it was either 16 or 18?

I guess that’s what I’m saying.

[Long pause.] Well you know what I always say? Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Fair enough.

All I know is, there were numbers in the corners of those pages.

Is there a chance Simon Le Bon put those numbers there, to mess with your head?

As a joke?

Or maybe to scare you away from the 20 year old groupies.

It could be. Maybe the tour manager was playing a joke on everybody. I was talking to a photographer friend of mine who was on that tour, and he told me, “I remember one of the pages said ‘Don’t even think about it.’”

Banned question seven: Describe each other in one word.

No, I don’t want to do that. I understand why the One Direction kids don’t want to be asked that. Finding a word that describes another band member that’s not going to upset them? It’s impossible.

That’s true. You call them funny and all of a sudden they’re Joe Pesci. “Funny how? How am I funny?”

Exactly. I don’t think anybody likes to be defined by one word. I’ve been on the phone with you for twenty minutes now, and I couldn’t even define you in one word.

Banned question eight: Funniest fan stories. Wow, that’s boring even to me.

Next.

Banned question nine: If not in the band, what would you be doing? Pass!

Agreed. Pass!

These are terrible, terrible questions.

They really are.

We’re almost done. Banned question ten: Pre-show rituals. Oh wait, I read the book, I think I know the answer to this one.

Do you?

Cocaaaaaaaaine.

Yes? What about it?

Wasn’t coke your pre-show ritual?

No, it was never a pre-show ritual. I could never really play well on cocaine. I’m quite particular about that. I would never have taken cocaine before a show. But at one point it started creeping into the encores. That was different. It was like, the work’s over and this is the victory lap. Theoretically you can do an encore easily. But it’s a slippery slope.

Banned question eleven: No questions about money or religion.

I get why they banned that. You can’t afford to get too individual. You’ve got to have a band party line. Kids may identify with different members, but you all have to be part of a unit. They’re all members of One Direction. Nobody wants to hear that they’ve got different religious views.

Does having different religious beliefs make them less cute?

It makes them more divisive as a group. Leave religion out of it. It just complicates things. And quite honestly, who knows if they even have their religion sorted out. We would have hated that question back in the ’80s. We would have said, “We’re not a political band and we’re not a religious band.” But me as an individual, if you’re talking to me personally, I’m happy to answer questions about religion. But if I’m sitting in a room with my bandmates, that’s not a direction we want to go.

You were raised Catholic. Do you still consider yourself Catholic?

I’m not a practicing Catholic. Just because my mother was a Catholic doesn’t mean I need to be a Catholic.

When was the last time you went to confessional?

I have no idea. I haven’t done that sort of thing in many, many years. I don’t practice any aspects of Catholicism.

Okay, we’re on to the final banned question. It was actually the second question on the list, but I saved it for last because it’s my favorite.

Oh no. [Laughs.] Now I’m worried.

Which of you have girlfriends?

Back in the day? Well, we all had girlfriends.

How are you defining “girlfriend”?

The usual way.

According to your book, you had quite a few girlfriends when Duran Duran went on tour.

Oh yes, there were definitely groupies. Plenty of them to go around.

Chris Andersen, who just published a new book about Mick Jagger, claimed the singer slept with 4,000 women. Are you anywhere near that number?

4,000? I find that pretty hard to swallow, quite honestly. I think that’s a wild exaggeration.

Gene Simmons said he slept with 4,897 women.

Gene has got a slightly different story. He’s a Holocaust surviver. He’s come from a very complex background. And I’m pretty sure he’s in an open marriage, or used to be.

I think Shannon Tweed put a stop to that.

Well whatever, he’s got a very different story. He very much could be the sort of man who sought out safety in numbers, shall we say. But I’d be surprised if Jagger was. Jagger’s had several quite well-balanced relationships. So I’m not quite sure how between Marianne Faithfull, Bianca and Jerry Hall he’s managed to fit in another 3997 women.

So what’s your number?

I have no idea. It was never about the numbers for me. Each little relationship, each one night stand, was a serious emotional entanglement. I had to be in the Neurotic Outsiders (a mid-90s supergroup with Steve Jones, Matt Sorum, Duff McKagan and Taylor) before I saw anybody get head on a tour bus. Duran Duran was never that kind of band. We were all kind of suburban and gentlemanly and it wasn’t about numbers.

Have you read your reviews?

My what?

There’s this thing on the Internet called GroupieDirt.com, where groupies review the sexual performance of rock stars.

Oh, they did that before the Internet.

They did?

Well, there was the Plaster Caster. That was the most famous one. Cynthia Plaster Caster, who used to cast the cocks of the famous guys she slept with. She used to cast them in plaster and she had this collection. You heard about her?

I am familiar with her work, yes. But do plaster cast cocks count as reviews?

Well …

I guess in a way. They seemed more like homages.

We also had the GTOs and the whole groupie scene in Los Angeles that Pamela Des Barres wrote about. Her book had plenty of reviews. So I don’t think we can thank the Internet for that.

Fair enough. My point is, you could easily Google your name and find some rather intimate accounts of your sexual technique. Have you ever done that?

No. No.

You’ve never read the reviews? They’re quite kind.

I wasn’t aware of that, but you just made my day.

Here’s my favorite line, if you don’t mind me sharing it. “His sucking abilities during oral sex are said to be like an anteater’s.”

[Silence.]

I guess that’s a compliment, right? I mean, do you take it as a compliment? Was anteater the sexual metaphor you were going for?

I don’t know. I wouldn’t … I don’t think I could comment on it. It’s a strange, a very strange line.

When your book comes out on paperback, maybe you use it as a back cover blurb.

[Awkward pause.] Okay. Sounds good.

(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on MTVHive.com.)