I was dimly aware the ex-Duran guitarist Andy Taylor had written an autobio several years ago, but did I really want to hear the story of Andy “coke-face” Taylor? I never really liked his guitar playing in the band, truth be told. When John Taylor released this volume a few weeks ago, it seemed like it might have been a more palatable Duran autobio. After all, at least John Taylor’s bass playing was an enjoyable feature of the band for me. I’m sure the tome held lots of drug/rehab stories since the band were not ones to shy away from the more repulsive trappings of rock fame. But I decided that I might want to read it anyway.
My mistake. Though he was the founder of the band, along with Nick Rhodes, that doesn’t mean that he was the ideal person to read an autobio for a look at the Duran story. First of all, it quickly transpires that Taylor is not, shall we say, the brightest bulb in the Duran Duran candelabra. His youth is a tale of poor scholarship and hooking school, as if one couldn’t tell from the 5th grade comprehension level of this book. Really. It stands with Johnny Cash’s “Man In Black: His Own Story In His Own Words” as being the most crudely written autobio I’ve ever read. At least with Cash, I’ve no doubt that its subtitle is absolutely true. What’s Taylor’s excuse? It’s not as though co-writer Tom Sykes wasn’t there. Then again, celeb autobio ghost writers are paid to capture the voice of their subjects. It’s not Syke’s fault that Taylor is such a dim bulb.
The book suffers not only in that it captures the damaged thought processes of its subject, but that the 65 or so chapters are all barely more than three pages long; giving the narrative a choppy, pixilated feel. And of course this book suffers most acutely from Autobiography Time Dialation Effect®. Meaning, that the first half of the book captures the five years of Taylor’s life from the formation of Duran Duran through to the “Rio” album in some depth, and then everything following that gets short shrift, if it merits mention at all. The one benefit of reading this book is that the process of Duran Duran moving from wet-nosed teens to globe straddling superstars is actually well covered here. The feeling of being a member of an arty New Wave band that accidentally became worldwide heartthrobs is the one useful thing that this book has to convey to the reader.
The rest of it is a self-deprecating pity party by a man who can’t be said to have been anything but a boy for the first 40 years of his life. Even now, in a stable marriage and sober, his attitude as rendered on the pages of the book, reflects an immaturity that may be the fault of an artificially extended childhood where he was one of the Lost Boys of Duran Duran. It seems that only now is he walking a path of maturity, but he still has a lot of catching up to do. His body may be 54 but his mental age seems closer to 24. So in reading this, the overriding sensation that wafts up from the pages is one of “you poor thing.” Sure, Taylor is hard on himself, for the most part. He should be. But that doesn’t mean that in reading this that I didn’t also feel compassion for Taylor. The revelations he experiences at 40 should be well known to any 22 year old.
I can’t say that I was expecting to feel that way after reading this. I was envisioning more about the white-knuckle ride that Duran Duran has been over 32 years, but given the excesses that occupied its subject, it may be that his memories of the experience are compromised. Any readers wanting finely tuned insights into the whys and wherefores of Duran Duran are suggested to await Nick Rhodes inevitable [I hope] autobiography. Rhodes is by far the sharpest cookie in that band and his was the mind that can be said to have brought forth the phenomena that is Duran Duran.
Finally, the other factor of this book that I actually found delightful were the anecdotes involving Power Station vocalist Robert Palmer. I’ve always liked Palmer and found his work intriguing. Taylor was a fan who had many run ins with him before ultimately forming a band with him and Palmer comes across as a fascinating guy with a mind as sharp as his suits*. When Taylor informs him that he’s writing a song for the still unnamed band called “Some Like It Hot,” Palmer retorts “…and some sweat when the heat is on” without missing a beat. Elsewhere, he met Taylor on a flight somewhere and they caught up and discussed how their paths always crossed and how they should keep in touch. Later in the flight, Palmer handed Taylor a scrap of paper with a poem that was the first verse of The Power Station’s “Communication;” a song still yet to be written in the future. I want to learn more about the deceased Palmer, but unfortunately, there are no biographies that I can find.
– 30 –
* Palmer made Mr. Bryan Ferry look like a stumblebum in comparison.
Nothing surprising here, my personal interaction with John Taylor back in the early/mid 80’s involved myself, three of my female friends, and 5 water pistols in the VIP Room of The Limelight…I bet that didn’t make the pages of this tome, but Taylor was not someone I would have wanted to sit down and pick the brain of….Mick Karn – in a heartbeat, but not Taylor.
As an aside to this post, I have now tried twice to listen to the new Duran Duran album, expecting something near the welcome comback of All You Need Is Now. No such luck I’m afraid. This one may be the worst thing I’ve heard them do.
Echorich – Worst Duran album ever??! There’s so much competition for that honor that I don’t quite know how to parse that statement. I just have to eventually hear it and make my mind up, I suppose. After all, every friend warned me away from RCM but I loved it. Still, I’ve yet to hear the last one which was exclaimed a winner in all circles, so there you are.
I still haven’t gotten my head around the Duran Duran/Justin Timberlake album. It is far from being just a Duran Duran album to these ears…They perform on it, but is it “their” album? What the last album had going for it was what OMD’s History Of Modern also touched on – a respect for the band’s historical sound. Not ground breaking, but aurally, very engaging and pleasing.
Echorich – I look at RCM as being a killer great Simon LeBon album…
Decided to give Paper Gods another few listens and I am willing to take back my “worst” comment. It’s patchy, has some interesting experimenting, a horrible attempt at EDM, and some lineage with tracks like Night Boat and New Religion. I think they waste their time with vocalist collaborations though.
Echorich – Vocal collaborations are de riguer for legacy acts who want to remain “relevant” in the post-“Supernatural” era. Another horse head to lay on the bed of Clive Davis!
I recently bought and read JTs tome and I have to agree,it’s very shabby.On a par with Martin Kemp’s effort,which is all just lurid shagging stories and hardly mentions some of the most important people and events,in contrast to his brother Gary’s book which is well written and fascinating.The Spandau movie is brill though!
I too await Sir Nick Rhodes’ autobiography but I fear it will not happen.
Gavin – Both Kemp brothers released an autobio?! Who knew? Well, Gary’s would be the better written one, wouldn’t it? The market has been clogged with so many awfully written, I’ll-conceived music “autobiographies” that I really am gun shy. I have to say the Steve Strange book is probably the most powerful generator of cognitive dissonance in existence. I am a huge fan of Visage but last thing I would like to read is Steve outlining his catty feuds and Blitz gossip. The Midge Ure book was also a poor read,, with little ink devoted to the music processes; all I’m really interested in.
I’m actually collecting autobios of all those “New Wave” guys and JT’s was one of the first I bought – even though DD’s not my favourite band (and that’s putting it mildly). I’m mainly interested in the inner workings of showbiz, any clues as to why a certain band have “won the race” or failed and so on. And this book really didn’t deliver very much on this subject – but that’s, I’ve found, a common flaw of autobios with only some of them giving any attention to such matters – as opposed to “meetings with stars”, sex stories and other attributes of the “high life”. In fact one finds more alcohold- and drug-related stuff than anything about the actual music or showbiz mechanisms. Which makes one wonder what was the actual main priority to the authors – creative realisation or getting drunk/high and “living the dream”. Some books are just plain painful – like Steve Strange’s or Boy George’s tomes. To read how artists that you’ve held in high regard just squandered their success and power for things like those mentioned is almost heartbreaking. And raises the question as to how they even managed to do anything worthwhile between those alcoholic binges or drug consumption. In fact when I saw some advert for future Billy Idol’s autobiog that promised “fascinating stories of sex drugs and rock’n’roll” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – is THAT what really matters? Let’s maybe hear something more about the music for a change?
Oh well, I could go on, but I think you get my point :o) And yes, JT’s book wasn’t such an enlightening or even very interesting read. Though it’s curious how he quite often flips between ironic comments and arrogance/intellectual pretence – there’s no cohesion to the tone of his tales. He’s very pompous about the success of his band – and yet has nothing to say about their rather swift fall and continuous attemts to regain what’s left of that early 80s stature except something along the lines of “it just moved on”. And so on and on. What sticks into my mind of his scant references to anything creative is how they recorded somewhere like Australia and he used to jump into the swimming pool after each recorded bass line – that’s about the level of details of their recording process. The book is even more useless that Andy Taylor’s one which at least gave some insights on the way EMI pushed the band at the start of their carrier.
Perhaps musicians are best left doing what they do best and not to try what they’re incapable of (like writing prose, even if it’s autobiographical). Maybe a simple Q&A from fans with the possibly in-depth answers could be a preferred format of such books.
Vlad – You have opened up a huge topic here. There are so many music autobios and scant few of them ever discuss the creative process, possibly for reasons that you allude to. Namely, they are musicians for non-creative reasons. I fear this is predominate in our culture; at least at the levels of success where one gets a contract for a ghost-written sham like this one. I suspect many working musicians of little public fame or fortune [think Momus] would produce the sort of autobiography capable of bringing us to tears.
It’s actually so much worse. Read Andy’s book before this and John’s description of events from his POV are almost totally different from Andy’s.
Jimmy Haole – Welcome to the comments! So you read Andy Taylor’s book too? I’m glad it wasn’t me, in all candor. Thanks so much though, for highlighting the disparity between the two Taylor books, though. You almost succeed in making me me want to pick up
and have a stab at it.