Originally published in Spinner, October 16, 2012
As Duran Duran bassist John Taylor reveals in his newly-published memoir, In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran, he grew up as a self-described nerd in Birmingham, England, whose preoccupations included toy models and cars. Eventually, music piqued his interest and he formed Duran Duran with friend Nick Bates (better known today as Nick Rhodes) in 1978.
With Roger Taylor, Andy Taylor and Simon Le Bon joining later, Duran Duran became one of the biggest bands in the world with their singles “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Rio” and “The Reflex,” and popular stylish videos on MTV. Yet offstage, success also brought on a set of personal issues for John, who fell into the drug and groupie-heavy work of rock ‘n’ roll.
It wasn’t until the early ’90s that Taylor finally confronted his personal demons and checked into rehab. Gradually he turned his life around, marrying for a second time, raising a family and rejoining Duran Duran in the early 2000s. The band has since released a fine return-to-form record in All You Need Is Now and toured around the world.
We recently spoke with Taylor, now 52, about his personal problems, a run-in with a then up-and-coming band called the Police and Duran Duran’s heyday.
One of the funny stories in the book was when you called Sting a “wanker” because he said that the Heartbreakers can’t play — and you even recorded that exchange!
If there is one thing that I hate when I do interviews is when people ask me for anecdotes. I feel like that’s a really cheap way of getting the story. If the interview is conducted appropriately, they’ll come out. But I felt there were one or two scenes that I remember distinctly that I thought, “That’s going to go in my book one day!” That’s not a story I would ever tell if I was sitting an interview with Simon, for instance. It wouldn’t have done the story justice. I had to set it up, it had to be written that scene. As you say, it’s all about humor.
Duran Duran became hugely successful during the period of 1982-1984, which was also when you had experiences with drugs and groupies. Were those a result of Duran’s meteoric success or was it something much deeper than that?
Two things brought it to the surface quickly for me. One, by the time we started seriously recording, that I realized the role of the bass player was not the role of the guitar player. My recording was over so quickly. On the Rio album, I probably spent five to six days in the studio, whereas guitar overdubs would take three, four times that, as would keyboards. I started to realize, “Fuck, I had a lot of time on my hands.” And I’m never good with time on my hands, not even now.
What I tried to portray was the safety and warmth and comfort that I had in my most perfect nuclear family … just that comfort that I had at home. I really fucking missed it when I got out on the road. I really suffered from incredible loneliness. And I was also shy. So the drugs and the alcohol really enabled me to be that guy. That guy that I was in 1981 wouldn’t have made it through what’s required to being a pop star. It was quite destructive. I didn’t have the off switch that my bandmates did. Even if it was 5 o’clock in the morning, everybody would be saying, “I think I’m gonna to go to bed now,” because we got to travel to New York tomorrow. I’d still be going. I just didn’t have the off switch. But I only came to terms with that much, much later.
It was surprising to read that you felt you were crossing a line by being high on stage.
I got this sense that it was glamorous. I wanted to live this high rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that the number of bands before me seemed to do. But what I realized was that the fantasy and reality of these antecedents was not what I thought it was. I remember seeing some Rolling Stones documentary, watching Keith Richards in the studio, and thinking, “That guy is so together.” But the image that I had of him — that the press made out of him — was that he was totally incoherent and he was like hanging on by a thread. Well, it was an exaggeration. He figured it out, he knew how to do it. So I transitioned into that kind of role way too early. I couldn’t handle it. And I still can’t handle it. It’s not even an option for me.
Having said that, I got no regrets. I enjoyed the clarity I’ve gotten from putting it down. It is an apologia in a way. I kind of feel like I wanted to put it down and say, “You’d have done it too if you had been me.” I often felt guilty that why was I the fuck-up? Why did I react in a much less dignified way through everything that was happening to us than say Simon did? Simon’s life experiences were so different. Even at the age of 20 to 21 when we first met, he was a very, very different individual than I was. When you put [five guys in a band] under the magnifying glass, you realize they’re hugely different. You look at the picture in the magazine and you think, “Oh, all those guys are so alike.” They’re not. Their experiences were so, so different.
You describe your experience at a Tucson, Arizona rehab facility in the early ’90s very poignantly, when things were spiraling out of control in your life.
I wanted to relate that experience because it was so profound for me. And I know so many people who are struggling with addiction. I just wanted to let the common reader know that I had an extraordinary experience and there are extraordinary experiences out there for the taking. I’ve had a lot of experience in recovery since then. In that time, I managed to figure out a way of communicating my experience to the layman. It’s a treatment that requires a lot of commitment, much the same as making it [in a band]. But again, I wanted to demystify it and say it’s not rocket science, but you do have to be committed to recovery. There are a lot of people out there that need it but just can’t get it. I wanted to relate my experience growing up with my parents, but I also wanted to relate that experience of getting that recovery and getting exposed to just an extraordinary level of treatment. I was so fortunate, but it’s there for the taking.
It seems like now things are going really strong for you and the band. What are your future plans?
Being happy for me means not thinking too much and not getting caught up in the ifs and the maybes, just going with the flow of life. You can sort of set the tempo and direction for that flow. I’m not a controller — I’m not like, “OK, this is gonna happen now and I’m gonna do this.” I have amazing people in my life. I think that’s the key. If you could be fortunate enough to surround yourself with really good people, all you have to do is get out of bed in the morning. I’ve got an extraordinary wife, I’ve got extraordinary bandmates, we’ve got a great management team — all the people around us are just fantastic. It’s taken us a long time to get that. Then you can kind of creatively coast in a way. Quite often I think to myself, “What am I doing? I need to be doing something completely different.” I can’t afford to linger on those ideas because actually what is happening right now is really great.