Ben Winch | 2/19/2014
" Rock music books are my escapism, about the only books I can read profitably on the bus, and this ghostwritten autobiography of androgynous chick-magnet bassist John Taylor is a near-perfect example of the form. Judging from this, Taylor is a straight-up dude, a kind of prettier Duff McKagan, who just wants to rock, get high and meet girls, with an occasional interlude for a mild nervous breakdown or a stint reading books in the suburbs and playing house before, inevitably, the road calls to him and female screams lift the roof off in Rio, in Rome, in Sydney, in Birmingham. Birmingham? That's right: the boys from Duran came straight out of England's second city with a bullet, and Taylor's loving recreation of the scene and town that spawned them contradicts totally any other stories you may have heard about that post-industrial blight on the Midlands, currently (or at least until they started setting up for the Olympics) the site of the worst traffic and most constant rebuilding in England. (Curiously, tourist information routinely announces it has 'more canals than Venice' too, if that means anything to you.) Still, Taylor's writing this, we must presume, from his pad in L.A., sucking down a non-alcoholic beverage by the pool as he reflects back over the impenetrable wall of his time in rehab to those heady days when he first shook off his glasses, his given name (Nigel) and his reputation as a bookish nerd and strapped on a Big Muff-enhanced electric guitar for some school dance or other where the babes suddenly noticed him and the older kids invited him to get high at decadent late 70s nightclubs with names like Barbarella's and The Rum Runner. All pretty f**king interesting, I have to say, and to this day if I hear 'Girls on Film' (worked up by Taylor and his younger school buddy Nick Rhodes before Duran got together and submitted in demo form by Taylor for his first year's art school assessment) I can't help but think back wistfully myself, to that video for the 12-inch 'Night Mix' which would always be on MTV at about four in the morning and which basically (along with my Marilyn-as-ballerina poster) ushered me into puberty, the women sleek and tottering from 5-inch stilettos into blow-up wading pools or grinding groin-first along a pole covered with shaving foam while John, red-haired with fringe in face and headband, grooved asymmetrically in the spotlight and spotty Northumberland guitar-whiz Andy Taylor (no relation) spat metallised Joy Division-esque trills and riffage over the endless-seeming fade in a shadowy corner. How much better, I used to think, if I'd been John Taylor, high on charlie and newly-initiated to the big league with maybe even a chance of scoring with one of those babes, instead of back in Balhannah, South Australia, about an hour from Adelaide on winding roads by car or f**k knows how long by public transport, and wondering how I'd ever cope with the three years of high school I'd have to endure before I too could be a rockstar. My Duran phase didn't last long, granted, and it came kind of late. From memory, one year my dad gave me a stereo for my birthday, along with three tapes: the Blues Brothers' Briefcase Full of Blues (I loved it), Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (I hated it), and the VHS video of the making of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' film-clip (it perplexed me: did Dad really think I'd like this stuff?). (He told me the salesgirl had suggested it.) Next I bought a few of my own: ZZ Top's 'Velcro Fly' (a letdown after seeing 'Legs' on TV), Madonna's True Blue (good in places) and Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet (kickass), among others, and then somehow I had a breakthrough... One thing helped: after seeing me poring over Bon Jovi videos, Dad decided if I liked these guys in make-up maybe I'd like David Bowie, and next thing he's got me this pirated VHS copy of the 1973 Ziggy Stardust concert from one of his friends, and it's a revelation. Wow â€“ so guys can do this and get away with it! More, be idolised for it! Not only that, but the young Bowie is skinnier even than me, pasty white, and still the girls are screaming at him, some of them fainting in their ecstasies! But â€“ much as I think he's aged well â€“ I had to admit Bowie was kind of ugly. Disturbing. Too skinny. Not quite a role model... And next year, confusion: I recall writing 'REMAIN IN LIGHT' in marker-pen in pride of place on my rucksack, yet also listening to Duran's Arena (the live album). (I'd discovered a secondhand record shop â€“ Ray's Records â€“ in Adelaide, and was no longer wedded to the current charts.) Hell, I even wrote 'no teenyboppers' next to 'Duran Duran' on my bag â€“ and another kid at school criticised me for that. But after reading John Taylor's book I think I did right: Taylor ain't no teenybopper, and he and the whole band fought â€“ at least inwardly â€“ the perception of their music as pap for teenyboppers. They were a tight band â€“ it's why Arena grabbed me. And John was a big force behind that album â€“ the only band member who weighed in at the mixing sessions (he was there, he said, to make sure the bass was loud enough), and possibly the most passionate live player in the group, the one who couldn't give it up even when the money was made and the others just wanted to lounge around at beach resorts and get married. Not that Taylor complains about any of this â€“ it's what makes him a dude. I mean, hell, I know this has been edited, and maybe in an earlier draft he let slip a couple of digs, but to his credit there is not one diss in this book, and he treats even his own mistakes with forgiveness and light humour. And you know what else? Unlike Bowie, he really was a role model. The guy was the only sex symbol I knew of who had my physique! I can't tell you how mindblowing that was after 10 years of provincial South Australian sports-and-or-tough-guy-obsessed schoolmates. He was (as one of my so-called friends might have said of me) a 'skinny runt', though 6 foot tall and handsome as f**k, and of all the guys in this overdressed band he was the only one who consistently looked cool. And he could play! A post-punk bass hero! Of course in a few months I'd discover Joy Division, and transfer my hero worship to The Cure's tougher-looking skinny runt bassist Simon Gallup, but little did I realise John loved those groups too â€“ he and Nick Rhodes had good taste, no matter how Simon Le Bon (a lovely guy, in John's estimation) tended to over-sell his thin, grating voice and slightly-too-fey lyrics, or EMI to market them as bubblegum. Their first two albums were produced by Scott Thurston, man! (Thurston engineered Iggy Pop's Berlin albums and played shit-hot lead guitar on Iggy's New Values and the Lust For Life tour.) They worked with Nile Rogers from Chic. (He loved them.) And when Duran broke up cos Taylor liked the sun of L.A. better than the rain of Ol' Blighty and was sick of leaving his American wife to go on tour, he hooked up with Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Duff and Slash from Guns 'n' Roses (none of whom you could call soft or too pop or faggy) and played as an equal member in their party band, usually starting the set with a version of Duran's 'Planet Earth'. I mean, I actually love this guy. If I met him I'd shake his hand and say 'Thanks, man! You gave colour to my youth in homophobic monotone outer suburbia. You showed me there's another way to be a man. Rock on, Mr John Taylor. You are a legend.' Now if only I hadn't thrown out my copy of Arena when I discovered the Jesus and Mary Chain â€“ I could use a listen to 'New Religion' right about now, though I barely remember it. Except that the bassline kicks ass. Bravo. A light read but an inspiring one. "