The members of Duran Duran are in a good place right now. Infighting, drug and sex addiction and disappointing album sales previously derailed one of the biggest acts to come out of the ‘80s – leading to the exit and return of founding bassist John Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor. The quintet, which includes keyboardist Nick Rhodes and singer Simon Le Bon, reignited friendships several years ago. And its latest album, 2011’s All You Need Is Now, garnered critical praise and positive sales.
The bassist Taylor (unrelated to the other Taylors), who for many fans was Duran’s object of romantic desire, figured this was the time to write a memoir. He had no feelings to hurt and a happy ending – not that the English band is done, by any stretch. Chatting in his SOMA hotel room last week prior to a local tour stop in support of his just-released autobiography, In The Pleasure Groove: Love, Death & Duran Duran, it was easy to tell Taylor is at-ease with his life and career. From the moment he opened the door –- wearing a bath towel (he had just taken a shower) –- he was cordial, candid and engaging. Taylor hopes that’s how readers find his book.
The Bay Bridged: I read Andy Taylor’s autobiography a couple of years ago. Is this part of the reason you wanted to write your own? Can you tell me why you felt compelled to write a memoir?
John Taylor: Well, both my parents have passed on. I lost my dad coming up on about three years ago. And I wanted to memorialize them in some way. I wasn’t sure how to do it. I didn’t know it was going to be in a book. But I was sort of trying to hold on to the memory of them. As I was doing that I was thinking about my roots and growing up. About the process of “becoming,” you know? And on the other side, I got approached at the beginning of last year. There was a bit of a rush on in publishing for music memoirs. The agent in London came to me and said, “You know, if you’ve thought about writing a book, John, this would be a really good time.” And I thought (that) maybe I could tell a story. I wasn’t going to write the Duran Duran story. I wanted to write my story, part of which (would include) the aspects of the band’s life that interested me most: The early ‘80s, the forming of the band; trying to demystify it a little bit. So many people around us are like, “How do you do it? What’s the key?”
TBB: You wanted to get beyond the documented image of the band.
JT: How do you come to make that “magic.” How does that chemistry come to apply. But it’s not magic.
TBB: Did it feel like hard work?
JT: As it’s happening? Well, it doesn’t feel like it because it’s passion. It never felt like hard work in the beginning. Anyway, I thought that would be fun to write about and I wanted to write about becoming an adult human being, subsequent to that experience.
TBB: It’s on that level everybody can connect because everyone goes through some version of that.
JT: (Ponders…) I suppose so, yeah. I thought I could write a book that would be idiosyncratic, different enough from everybody else’s, that had a positive message. Don’t ask me what that is. (Laughs), There is a sense of positivity that comes from it. It’s not a revenge memoir.
TBB: Was there another autobiography you wanted to model yours after?
JT: The best one I’ve read is Bob Dylan’s. I don’t know him that well so I thought very privileged to be let into his world for the duration of that book. I’d warmed to him enormously in the pages of that book. I loved how I thought I found him very revealing. I just thought that on the one hand, I don’t have to reveal – I reveal what I choose to reveal. But at the same time, what I will reveal will be authentic. Time appeared last summer. Simon lost his voice. We cancelled two months of shows so I had the time on my hands. So I decided to make the call and go for it. Once I made the decision, it was like, “Oh My God.” We set ourselves a target that we wanted it out now. I had a great ghost— Tom Sykes, who worked on it with me, was fantastic. He just kept me moving. We didn’t get bogged down. We both knew what the story was, and that it was going to be in three parts.
TBB: If I may guess, the first part was up to Live Aid?
JT: Well, the first part is sort of up to getting a record deal. The second part is up to Live Aid; sort of the first half of the ‘80s. The last part is, like, you know, dealing with a human. It’s births, marriages and deaths. You’re right, everybody does that. But you don’t always read about it from the perspective of someone like me. Because the experience of being in a pop group like Duran – going through that whirlwind ride – it definitely scarred me; definitely changed me. It helped form me, for better or worse. So when real life came rushing in, really not until I was in my 30s, with the birth of my daughter, real life started, really, taking over. In my 20s, which was the ‘80s, (I) was (in) somewhat of a fantasy world. It was such a heightened reality. The kind of reality that so few people get to experience.
TBB: A hyper-reality, because everything is happening so quickly.
JT: Yeah. No excuses.
TBB: How would you describe your writing style?
JT: It’s an easy read. It’s engaging. I think people that know me know that’s it’s my voice. At first, when I started getting feedback, people would say, “It’s great. I read it in an afternoon.” Or Tweet, “I read it in two sittings!” (Laughs) At first, I was like, “I don’t know if I like that!” But you can’t prey on people’s time too much. We’re in the ADD age now. People just don’t have the time. So if you can give people a big strong hit of experience, strength and hope in two sittings (Trails off). And also, I know if people are anything like me, there’s a tremendously satisfying feeling to finishing a book – any book. “Close it!” (Slaps one palm into another as though he’s shutting the back cover). “I’ve read that!”
TBB: Like you’re checking it of a list.
JT: Yeah! So actually, I think that’s a good thing. There’s no fat on it. It’s fast. There’s a lot in a short time.
TBB: Have your bandmates told you what they think of it? Have they read it?
JT: Roger wanted it and he loved it. Nick, the first copy of the book I had, I gave him. He told me that he wasn’t going to read it and I understand that. He is the last person who needs to read it. He was there, and he doesn’t need to read it. I think he would enjoy the stuff about my parents. But stuff about the band, he would use very different language to describe the sensations he experienced.
TBB: So something that one person might consider a fight, someone else might consider something else.
JT: Yeah! Simon said he was going to read the audio book, but I’m not holding my breath. But I don’t need him to read it. It’s not for him. It’s for people that have never played the Oakland Coliseum – on drugs. (Laughs) It’s for people that love music. Music was like a drug for me that I got hooked on in my teens. It took me, it was like opiate. It took me to the absolute. But I came out of it; I survived. I’m glad I wrote the book at a time when…we’ve had a great couple of years since the All You Need is Now album. We have been supporting it for almost 18 months, and it is a positive time to be in the band.
TBB: Everybody’s on good terms.
JT: Yeah! So I was really happy that I got to write the book during that phase. I didn’t want to upset anybody. I just wanted to put some love in it.
TBB: Speaking about opiates, I know you’ve had several dark periods in your life. Was writing the book cathartic on some level? People say if you talk about it you will feel better. Did it work the same while writing this book?
JT: Well, I’m in a recovery program. It’s ever present. It’s a daily thing, you know. So my recovery…
TBB: You didn’t need the book for that at all.
JT: No. The process that I’ve been through, the recovery, over the last I don’t know how many years, prepared me to write the book. Very much so. It’s very humbling, actually.
TBB: Did you have to enter into a certain frame of mind to write the sex and drugs portions of the story?
JT: There were a couple of scenes I wanted to put in there. I had to put some shame in there. You’ve got to. It can’t just all be fun and games. That’s not the book I wanted to write. It wasn’t jolly all the time. That wouldn’t have been true. I wanted the reader to have a sense of, “Is this guy going to make it?” I mean, you know he makes it, obviously, because he’s written the book. But you know there has to be that sense of, like, “Oh my God. Is this guy ever going to get over himself?” It was such a crazy trip.
TBB: What was it like playing at the Olympics in London last summer?
JT: It’s good. We were in Hyde Park; we weren’t in the Olympic Stadium. It was a fantastic time to be in London. It was a career high.
TBB: Does it compare to Live Aid?
JT: Well, I couldn’t compare it to Live Aid, no. Live Aid was global. There hadn’t been anything like it before. The caliber of artists that were involved in Live Aid was so extraordinary. The Olympics was more like taking part in a P.R. exercise for London, which we were happy to do. It was an extraordinary night for us. Having moments like that is what keeps you going, because all the highs aren’t 20 years ago. We still have them.
TBB: Where does Duran Duran go from here?
JT: We just keep writing, don’t we? You know, we just step back into the studio and start writing more songs. (DJ) Mark Ronson (who produced All You Need Is Now) is going to produce the next album. Which is very nice, because I don’t think we’ve had the same producer for a couple albums since the first two albums. He knows us as well as we know him. We’ve got the same band, which is unusual for Duran Duran because usually there seems to be some sort of change that takes place between albums – either the drummer or the bass player or the guitar player. We’ve got a stable line-up. It’s the same group of guys who made All You Need is Now. I’m thinking maybe this is going to be the best album we have ever made. I have to think like that, even if it’s delusional. It’s always possible. You’re dealing with energy and chemistry. It’s like catching a spirit in the air. It’s difficult because we write together, and we protect that process. One of our greatest strengths is that we write democratically, as a team. But it also has its downsides. It can be a clumsy way to work, at times. But everybody’s happy to work that way.
TBB: Last question. You’re 52 now. How old do you feel?
JT: Fifty-two. (Chuckles) Fifty-two is not what it used to be in the 50s, you know? We all know too much about nutrition and health. We look after ourselves today. Our dads were all smoking cigarettes, thinking cigarettes were good for them. Nobody had heard of the gym. They didn’t know that water was good for them. We’ve got a lot better for us at 52. I like being the age that I am. I feel like I’ve got a lot of experience, but I’ve still got a lot of energy.