Book Review: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran – Rob Sheffield

Well, I was not aware of this book until my wife, who works in a library, and sort of knows me, asked if I had wanted to read it. With a loaded title like that, how could I resist? After all, the title covers years of my life. At first she thought it might be an example of the “Chick Lit” genre, (don’t ask) but as luck would have it, it’s a memoir.

Unlike the author, Rob Sheffield,  I was a fan of Duran Duran from the time of their debut single. The band began their life as a highly derivative New Romantic combo playing synth rock that took all of their cues from the much superior group, JAPAN. To the extent of their debut album sounding as much like JAPAN’s third album, from the year before, as is possible considering that there were about 12 sampling keyboards in the world at that time; none of them in Nick Rhodes’ personal stash (yet). Their album had spirit; all of it stolen from JAPAN, but the efforts indicated that the seeds of something that might grow with time.

I was unprepared for the group to become a teenybop sensation a while after the release of their vastly improved second album, “Rio” in 1982. That felt weird because no groups that I liked had ever achieved this level of notoriety. Especially with an audience of manic teenaged girls. That they did it with what was to my ears a huge creative leap and a record that deserved to sell by the truckloads (in my reality, at least) was doubly strange.

My friend Jayne, whom I met in 1981 and then lost track of shortly thereafter, was a screaming fan of the band when I re-connected with her in early 1983. So, literally, I spent the next two years of my life “talking to girls about Duran Duran.” Or conversely, “listening to girls talk about Duran Duran.” A lot. I spent uncounted hours with Jayne on one end of the phone hearing about the minutiae of the Fab Five’s day-to-day existence. Particularly about her major crush, he of the chiseled cheekbones himself, John Taylor. Ironically, the most talented member of the band in my opinion. I was just happy to be talking to a girl about anything! That it was music we both loved was a bonus. Ironically, by the time that 1984 rolled around, Duran Duran lost me completely with their awful third album, “Seven and the Ragged Tiger.” Now that was a crappy album that might sell millions to my disdain. I blew the group off until a musician friend (Brian – not a girl) recommended “Notorious” a few years later.

But that didn’t mean that I still didn’t hear a constant stream about DD from Jayne in the meantime. Much like Sheffield in the book, my geek youth was also spent with females enjoying my friendship on a strictly platonic level as we (Orchestral) maneuvred our way through the potholes of growing up. Jayne was like my “surrogate girlfriend” for a couple of years and my friendship with her taught me a lot. So a big “thanks” to double Duran for giving me a way I needed to interface with the wonderful female gender, for the first time ever, as mixed up as it was.

A decade down the line and Duran Duran had managed a huge comeback with their excellent self titled 1993 album (a.k.a. “The Wedding Album”). By that time I was out of my room in my parents house and met a whole plethora of women who lived for DD. A shout out to Sandra and all of her friends, many of whom I can’t remember their names, but it was lots of fun and my superbad promo package of the hideous “Liberty” album is now autographed by Nick Rhodes as a result of those hijinx. So ’93-’94 was a huge return to talking to girls about Duran Duranwith 3-D Quadrophonic, Dolby-synchronized optic audio Sensurround-d-d-d-d-d!®*

Where my life diverged from Sheffield’s was that I didn’t discover all of this fantastic New Wave music by taking trips to Europe in my teens. I just slogged it out in Central Florida, where I’d lived for years. Buying imports and competing with my friends for the cream of the bins. Meanwhile Sheffield was reading UK pop mags like “Smash Hits” and poring over the penpals in the back pages. I only saw UK pop mags to the extent that Jayne religiously bought them and lived her life through them. Given the choice, I’d always spend my scant coin on actual music, rather than magazines with the musicians featured. It’s the difference between boys and girls (another blog post, there).

Sheffield builds a chapter around a song title and sometimes only obliquely, relates a life experience to the song in question. Disclosure, some of the chapters are not built around New Wave music even though his text makes a big point of dropping terms like “New Wave” and even “New Romantic.” Had I been editing this sucker, chapters built around 80s rap/rock/R&B would have been deep sixed for better focus. Truth be told, it’s more of an “80s music” book, but with that caveat, the chapters use the music of the time to outline Sheffield’s experiences in growing up, in particular his relationships with his many sisters.

He gives each chapter a song title and I was gobsmacked to see Haysi Fantayzee’s “Shiny Shiny” turn up as one chapter as he waxes eloquent on how much this song meant to him. Good gawd! This third-rate Maclolm McLaren rip-off band is perversely fascinating in a car-wreck sort of way. Somebody obviously heard “Duck Rock” and thought “I can do that!” Perhaps, but they didn’t have Trevor Horn producing, did they? You’d be hard-pressed to listen to more than 2 of their songs in a row but the jaw-dropping “John Wayne Is Big Leggy” is the rare example of a song so bad, its good!

Though I’d rather have a gun in my mouth than hear the extended version of that song ever again in my life, the short version is perversely compelling listening. Once heard, it will never be forgotten, I assure you. It just doesn’t sound like anything a sane person would imagine existing. I’ll admit, I own the 7″ single of it. But considering hearing an entire album is just a step above Guantanamo treatment. I foolishly tried, once. One could imagine only Dick Cheney getting off on this album – as an instrument of torture!

So, minus 10 points for unwarranted Haysi Fantayzee worship, and the chapters on Bon Jovi and Bobby Brown, were uncalled for, but I have to admit, that I certainly saw aspects of my so-called maturation in the anecdotes of Sheffield’s life. Most of the soundtrack is also a part of my life and having read this somewhat trifling tome in a fast weekend, it still makes me want to check out Sheffield’s earlier book, “Love Is A Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song At A Time.” This book is also a memoir, albeit one with much more gravitas, detailing his marriage and his subsequent loss of his first wife to a pulmonary embolism – all to a personal soundtrack of songs he could never listen to again in the same way. Reading this book is not unlike reading a Nick Hornby tome, except that the protagonist was an awkward, late-blooming geek just like myself (instead of a cool guy who owns a record store).

* special thanks to Charles for the use of this trademarked term…

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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4 Responses to Book Review: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran – Rob Sheffield

  1. ronkanefiles says:

    I did DD in real time from the beginning. I think they were working with someone who had worked (or was working) with Magazine, Howard Devoto’s band. I lost interest after about 3 or 4 singles, never made it all the way to “Rio”. My own path had me going to New Zealand right around this time, so I never did the “talking to girls about DD” penance.

    I think I have a 12″ of “Shiny Shiny” found recently for a pittance, and that’s my whole HF collection, bar something on an unremembered UK sampler LP. I definitely have videos for HF, both BBC / TOTP and actual clips. They were one of the bands that was being pushed when I worked at a record distributor, circa ’80-’82. Not my style, folks.

    I’m all for have a soundtrack to one’s autobiography; just never read one yet that I agreed with 100%.

    RK

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  2. postpunkmonk says:

    Strange as it may seem, as connected with music as I am, I don’t really associate music with my life’s events. Maybe it’s because much of my life was so uneventful for so long. The whole idea that listening to a song brings back memories only really has associations for my life when I met my wife. Prior to that, the music seems to exist in a vacuum. I have lots of emotional associations with music but they don’t map to personal emotional events. Maybe it’s because there were no emotional events, apart from the music I was listening to.

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  3. ronkanefiles says:

    I never let a relationship wreck any music for me. There was stuff that was special to me when I was married before, but…it didn’t wreck the music, when I got a divorce. I think I first realized that I have nostalgia for music about 20 years ago, playing a Frank Zappa LP that reminded me of being 9 years old. More than a decade ago, I actually cried as I played “Technodelic” by Y.M.O. – reminding me of being 23 years old, and hungry for more music. I strongly associate with music by artists that I have met, or known personally (The Nits, Mam, Roland Bocquet etc.) – all of whom still walk the Earth.

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  4. Brian Ware says:

    A most interesting post and comments guys. I have major emotional connections with specific songs even going back to the 60s and 70s, and I relish the memories, even those that weren’t so great – I was a major nerd in high school, and not with the cool connotation that term has now – I was pretty pathetic. All the ups and downs of the ensuing years have very specific songs that can recall those memories more efficiently than anything else, but it all got me right here right now and I’m glad.

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