A Madcap Video Shoot in Paris Yields a View to Kill For: The Five Faces of Duran Duran
A sun-washed, breezy afternoon on the Eiffel Tower, and Duran Duran's 15th video is aborning—this one, a romp keyed to the theme music for the Bond thriller, A View to a Kill, a song that will hit No. 1 by midsummer. Playing undercover agents armed with an arsenal of Bond-style weapons, rock's most fabulous faces will give chase as a black-robed Grace Jones (an assassin) tries to take a flying leap from the tower. Keyboardist Nick Rhodes, 23—slight, pale, with arresting green eyes and perfect, pouty lips—leans on a rail on a second-tier catwalk, sucking on the forefinger that was burned when a prop malfunctioned. Ignoring the heights, Simon Le Bon, 26, the group's strapping lead singer, swings on the iron struts as if he were a kindergartner on a jungle gym. Simon has a speaking part in this opus, and he repeats his line mock dramatically, as the 007 of rock. "Bon." Pause. "Simon Le Bon."
On the landing just below the directors, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, shout genial instructions at John Taylor, 25, who is behind a telescope fitted up with a hidden machine gun.
"Okay, start with a nice tight shot, start with the trigger finger," Creme says. Looking self-conscious, the tall, supernally handsome John squints into the eyepiece and gingerly shakes the telescope as if firing.
Godley stalks over, grabs the gadget and rattles the bejesus out of it, making little-boy war-game noises. "Oh, God, oh, yes," Creme shouts. The Frenchmen on the crew look perfectly blank; the Brits erupt in laughter.
When John seizes the contraption again, he rat-a-tats it for all he's worth, doing an apt send-up of Godley. Everyone on the landing applauds, and Simon and Nick, who are finished for the day, abandon their perch and head for the vehicules des loisirs (a/k/a Winnebagos) parked below. "How do we get out of here?" Nick asks idly. "Do we have to get in a lift with a lot of school-kids?" Before anyone can respond, a cry rises from the landing. Laughter, groans and a shout from Godley: "You've got to have film in the camera, you know."
While their work may look like play, videos are a serious business for Duran Duran: A less photogenic quintet might not have made it solely on the strength of revved up Muzak like Rio. With the help of expensively produced clips set in Sri Lanka and Sydney and Antigua, Simon, Nick, John and confreres Andy Taylor and Roger Taylor (none of the Taylors is related) have become millionaires with a string of commercial—if not critical—triumphs: four best-selling albums, hit singles, like last winter's The Wild Boys, and two world tours that had their multitudinous groupies fainting in the aisles from Europe to Japan. At last weekend's high-profile Live Aid concert (a sprawling benefit whose proceeds will be used to combat hunger in famine-stricken Africa), the prettiest boys in rock were allotted a respectable chunk of stage time—as Duran Duran, and also as Power Station, an independent project of Andy's and John's that teams them with vocalist Michael DesBarres and Chic drummer Tony Thompson.
The uninitiated, of course, may have trouble distinguishing one Duran from another; their common-denominator good looks have a certain hypnotic quality, and the band lacks a Jagger-style cynosure. But behind the tangle of Taylors are five discreet performers with a wealth of idiosyncracies—and yes, intelligence: Simon, the compulsive adventurer; John, the loquacious charmer; Nick, the savvy peacock; Andy, the rebel-turned-family man; and Roger, the stolid rocker. As the prepubescent set knows, Simon, John and Nick are first among equals; Andy and Roger are more comfortable in the background.
They live, variously, in Paris, New York, London and the English countryside, and they may go for weeks without seeing one another. Conflicts arise within the band, but the group is held together by its collective ambition. During the three-day shoot in Paris, they assembled in one city for the first time in two months, and like the members of any family they quickly lapsed into their given roles.
A lot of people see the wrong side of Nick. I don't think I've seen him without makeup in five years, and you could find him very pretentious. But he's actually quite straightforward.
When John Taylor, 11, met 10-year-old Nick (then Nicholas Bates), it was at a swap meet where kids in their Birmingham suburb were trading pictures of rock stars. Even then their tastes were remarkably similar. Both were devotees of glam rockers like T. Rex and Gary Glitter ("We wouldn't buy records by ugly groups," says John), and they often bought the same clothes even when they shopped alone. Another thing they shared was a complete lack of interest in making music. When Nick left school at 16 and the two decided to start a band, "we had vivid ideas of what we wanted to look and sound like," Rhodes says, "but we looked at the instruments and said, 'Do we have to learn to play these things?' "
Sitting on a lime-green banquette in the Winnebago where the group performs its toilette, Rhodes speaks slowly, almost sleepily, in marked contrast to his dandified demeanor. He is wearing a baggy white silk suit, and a makeup artist has prepared him for the video camera with plum blush, black eye pencil and liner by Clinique and coral lipstick by Christian Dior.
"I don't like the clichés about rock," Rhodes is saying. "Drugs, fast women, not working, partying all night and looking like you're 55 when you're 22. People don't understand how hard we work. We're constantly under a horrendous time pressure. Once an album's done, there's a video and a photo session—it never ends."
Though a tad flamboyant—this is a man who celebrated his marriage to American department store heiress Julie Anne Friedman, 26, with a rococo reception at the Savoy that featured live pink flamingos—Nick has a strong sense of family. His parents, Sylvia and Roger Bates (a contractor), are ringleaders in the "Durannies parents' association," as Nick calls it. "There are a lot of people who don't talk to them now, and some who've started talking to them because of us," Nick reports. "When they walk around the corner to get a Sunday roast, somebody always says [he affects a crabby tone], 'We hear your son takes cocaine.' "
And while Rhodes (an only child) still visits Birmingham, the grimy town where Duran Duran was born seems a little more alien every time. "You try to keep your friends, but it sounds like name-dropping when you talk about what you've been doing and who with. It's only been five or six years since we left," Nick says, "but they've been incredibly long years."
John's great with his mouth.
By reputation, John is the playboy of Duran Duran, the buoyant, voluble sensualist who parades a different model past the paparazzi every night. A Fleet Street favorite, he has turned up in the tabloids discussing one-night stands, and his words have come back to haunt him. Ensconced in a lavish hotel suite ripe with the smells of sweat and cologne, Taylor is the engaging, self-indulgent, little-boy charmer. Half-full packages of Cadbury's chocolate biscuits, copies of Architectural Digest and Interview, a videocassette of Body Heat and unmatched dirty socks are strewn about him. It is two full hours until dinnertime, and he is working on a takeout lunch to tide him over: whole wheat rolls, chicken salad, coleslaw and oversize tomatoes that he is tearing into as if they were apples. "I'll probably regret having this conversation," he says. "Not only do I eat too much chocolate, but I talk too much. But now I read some of the things I've said and they look cheap."
Taylor admits that some of his public revelations have been prompted by entrepreneurial impulse: "Being a rock star is like putting a sign in a window, 'For Sale.' I did an interview with Penthouse and they said, 'What's your idea of a great woman?' I said, 'Someone who could tie me up and whip me and make great bacon sandwiches.' It's part of playing to the gallery."
Still, John is no mere exhibitionist. One of Duran's most accomplished musicians, he collaborated with Andy et al on Power Station's hard-driving, funk-inspired album, and the LP—which went gold shortly after its U.S. release in March—has given him a credibility denied him as a Duran.
If there's anything that disturbs him, it's the threat of losing his perspective. Moving to New York, where he has an apartment on the Upper West Side, has helped. So has keeping in touch with his mom, Jean. "Sometimes I think, 'Oh, God, man, I've been through so much in the last five years. But when you stop listening to your mother, you're really up the junction.' "
And while he'll still flog himself to push the band, he's trying to "cultivate a sense of vagueness" now. "I used to open up at the drop of a glass. I think I have to maintain some mystery." John refuses even to identify his current lover (reportedly, Danish model Renee Simonson). "She's above all the public discussion, and if I start talking about [the affair], it will seem like every other relationship I've had."
It's difficult to imagine Taylor practicing moderation in any form. "I'm a bit flashy," John says. He is sitting in the window now, his glossy black locks stirring in the breeze. "But I can switch to pensive if you like...." Simon is the adventurer—he does things just because they're hard.
At first glance Le Bon is an unlikely pop idol. The black brogans and white socks that he favors give him a farm-boy mien, and his short blond hair accentuates the pudginess of his cheeks. (He was once known to the band as "Lardo.") Lying on his belly in the grassy park beneath the Eiffel Tower, he seems unaffected—more the straightforward craftsman than the guarded artiste. But there is an unexpected courtliness about him. Simon is the Duran who doles out hugs and opens doors for females of all ages.
"If you can imagine an English Teri Shields, that was my mum," he says. "She wanted me to fulfill her ambitions. She was a brilliant singer who got married to my dad [a water utilities executive of Hugenot ancestry] at 17 and had me at 18. When I was a little boy she put me in the choir at Pinner Parish church, and I later did my first record—O for the Wings of a Dove and Ave Verum."
At 6, Simon made his debut as a model; later Anne hustled her oldest son into commercials, plays and TV shows. But Simon was never a mama's boy. As an adolescent he cultivated a certain rebelliousness. "I never knew the good kids; they were at home playing soldiers while I was experimenting with the darker side of human nature."
Skipping off to Israel after graduating from high school, he worked on a kibbutz for several months until he was accepted into Birmingham University. He ditched his drama studies after a year. "I got really drunk at a party where there were a lot of drama queens and I decided I'd had enough."
Having heard that a local band called Duran Duran was looking for a front man, Le Bon—with exactly one performance as a rock singer behind him—arranged to meet Nick and got the job, at least partly because his pink leopard-skin trousers made an indelible impression on Rhodes. "My mother said, 'Well, Simon, anything you want to do, but don't you think it's too bad to give up drama studies for something as frivolous as this?' "
What Simon does take seriously is sailing. He will spend nearly four months at sea beginning next winter, crewing on his yacht in the fiercely competitive Whitbread Round the World Race, and he talks about the joys of being a nomad. "It's like being a stream of water...you're not vulnerable the way you are when you have a fixed abode." Not the sort of life that makes it easy to sustain a relationship—he has a three-year involvement with live-in lover Claire Stansfield, a 20-year-old Canadian model—but Simon shrugs off the risks. "You just say, 'Look, I'm going to disappear for a while. Soldiers' wives are used to it, sailors' wives. Pop stars' girlfriends are used to it as well."
Which is not to say that Simon isn't a romantic. About his current disenchantment with drugs—an early enthusiasm—he says dreamily, "The worst thing they do is diminish your ability to savor sex. The thing I like is that time when you almost touch souls. Not that French crap about 'Let's make love under the stars...' I hate that. I just think sex feels so good."
Andy's a rebel.
Duran Duran press agent
At 11, Andy Taylor came home from school one day to find that his mother had left the ramshackle family home in the fishing town of Whitley Bay. "I was the only one at school without a mother, and I grew up young," he says. By 13, he had joined a rock band and was staying out all night, partying and playing music.
Only a little sun is coming through the window of the Winnebago, but Andy—in a knee-length Kansai jacket that makes him look even shorter than his 5'9"—is masked by dark glasses precisely like Simon's. "I'm very anti the system," he says. "I don't want to fit in, and I won't answer to anybody about anything. I don't give a crap about image...if I want to get drunk and dance on the table, tough. There's no way I'll turn into Michael Jackson. Is it worth having $100 million and not having your own life?"
At this point, it would seem, Taylor's life is his own: He has a wife (Tracy, once the group's hairdresser), a 10-month-old son and the freedom to brush critics aside. By his own reckoning he is one of the biggest landowners in Great Britain—his holdings include a London loft, a couple of thousand acres in Scotland and a 16th-century cottage on a wooded farm in Shropshire. For Andy the hard part of his job is spending so much time away from his wife and child. Duran Duran was on its six-month world tour while he and Tracy were preparing for the arrival of Andrew James (known as Andy or Bear), and Taylor spent his free time absorbing books on childbirth and parenthood. He was on hand for the birth, when "all the nurses were looking at me instead of my wife."
For all his rebelliousness, Taylor can sound remarkably conservative: "I love the idea of taking care of my wife as a husband, and I love the Royal Family. We've met Diana and Charles at charity do's, and they were sparkling."
Roger—he's dead quiet, like a rock, a firm character.
When Roger was at school in Birmingham, he was "the quiet one who sat in the back." The position suited him, and it's easy to see the shy schoolboy in him still. Behind the splashy Claude Montana jacket and the modish spiked haircut is a musician who finds his fame "quite unreal."
Late on a Friday afternoon the three-day Eiffel Tower shoot is over. Roger is glad to see it end. ("It's been hectic—waiting around with gel caking in your hair.") Sitting in a park where the shadows are lengthening and swans are gliding over a little pond, he says: "When I was about 15, I was in a band called Crucified Toad. My parents wanted to settle me down. But my father worked in the car industry on an assembly line, and the idea of taking an eight-hour-a-day job scared me. And drumming was the only thing I could do. I tried other jobs, but I always got the sack."
In 1978 he auditioned for Duran Duran. He was attracted to the group as much for its style as for its sound. Although bashful offstage, he had no problems with wearing makeup or decking himself out in the requisite performing regalia. "I'd be into fashion even if I wasn't into music." The fame that descended in 1981 has been more than Roger bargained for. His 1984 marriage provoked a barrage of hate mail, and he and the former Giovanna Cantone are moving from their spacious North London house because "every fan in Great Britain has found it."
Like the others, Roger has begun to branch out as a musician. Recently he began working in Paris with Simon, Nick and an all-star backup roster including Sting and former Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmore on an LP that will be released this October. That project fueled rumors that the band was headed for a breakup.
"Even my mum's worried now. Every time she rings up she says, 'Are you all going to split up?' "Roger laughs. "A lot of people think this is the end of the band, but that's rubbish—we start a new album in September. We may do things outside the group, but Duran Duran is the most important thing in our lives. It controls our lives, whether we like it or not."
They will go their separate ways tomorrow. But for now the five are together on the steps of a walkway bordering the Seine, posing for a group shot with the Eiffel Tower at their backs. A jostling horde of photographers is huddled at their feet, and it takes no more than three minutes for a crowd of fans to materialize. The girls hang back, shyly watching every move; while Nick arranges his lips into the proper wry pout, Andy sticks out his chin, John offers a pinup-perfect smile, Roger stares down the cameras, and Simon manages to flirt with every female within shouting range. "It's a rotten job," John says later, "but we figure somebody's got to do it."
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