I’m going to come clean right away and admit I have a bias in reviewing In The Pleasure Groove by John Taylor. I’m a card-carrying Duranie. Literally, when I was a teen I had packs of those bubble gum trading cards…but I digress. Truth be told, I’ve been waiting for this book to be released since I first learned about it about six months ago. Having the opportunity to officially review it was exciting.
I’m not worried about any conflict of interest though. There will be many strong literary reviews of the book in every medium known to man. After all, my “D Blast” just informed me this morning that the book debuted in the top 10 in both England and the United States. Considering this, I am content to wax somewhat more philosophical than I ordinarily might.
Being a musician and singing teacher, I feel a distant mentorship with “the Boys” that transcends the hype and idolatry that characterized Duran Duran’s existence in the early 80′s. Yes, Taylor’s honesty in Pleasure Groove does throw the curtain back on my Oz. Still, it is worth diluting the mystery to better understand the ways in which our shared experience from opposite sides of the same cultural phenomenon impacted the people of Duran Duran. Recognition of celebrities’ humanity is often lost in the shuffle of photo ops and press junkets. This loss can flay the entertainer and deprives the fan of understanding the source of the works that move them.
In The Pleasure Groove includes many details about Taylor’s early life, which is helpful in understanding his later trajectory. Little things like his hatred of his glasses, getting picked last in gym class and the time he spent building models of military vehicles help pull you into a world where it is possible that John Taylor of Duran Duran could have actually been a young boy named Nigel. The mundane circumstances of his upbringing belie the notion that all out-of-control rockers must have been the product of broken and hopelessly dysfunctional homes.
John discovered his visceral connection to music and the possibility of being a professional in 1976 after becoming entranced by The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK.” This is a fun story on the first reading, but it’s even better to reread while listening to the song on YouTube. Try it!
This early musical influence may have been a foreshadowing of the challenges he would face interpersonally and with addiction. There are many theoretical debates taking place about the extent to which humanity is truly in possession of free will. While I can’t get on board with the utter nihilism of many of these theorists, I believe there are certain pivotal moments in our lives where one set of options falls irrevocably away and others present themselves with little alternative. John Taylor’s exposure to “Anarchy in the UK” is one of those moments. If there was any doubt that he would become a successful musician, that possibility died that day.
Having read various brief or unauthorized biographies in my younger years, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the complete true story of how all of the members of Duran Duran met and coalesced. Evident in Taylor’s telling of it is the vast differences in personality and style of each member. With this diversity, you can see how their early decision to share all songwriting credit and make decisions together was crucial to the development of their sound. He is correct in asserting that if any one member had been allowed to dominate, the music would not have been as unique or interesting.
Much of the book is dedicated to discussion of Taylor’s struggles with depression and addiction. I’m certain most of the clarity and analysis of his own behavior must have come after the fact. This is the way the human mind works, we experience first and make sense of it later. For a Duranie reading this, it seems as if there were two John Taylors living in alternate dimensions. One was a confident man charming us all from the stage and through MTV. The other was a cringing man who couldn’t bear the thought that he might not be all that important after all and whose rage almost cost him the use of his most important picking finger.
I admit it is difficult for me to read about the painful parts of Taylor’s musical life. As a fan, I was a part of what was driving him mad. I was one of the screaming masses at the Worcester Centrum on the Seven and the Ragged Tiger tour. Musically and psychologically I took much from them. Yes, it is ultimately a symbiotic relationship between entertainer and fan. It still seems to me that, save for a few psycho stalkers, it is the entertainer who more often breaks down under the strain.
After being treated to such wonderful detail in terms of the hyper-Duran years, Taylor’s post-rehab life was somewhat glossed over. His recollections of playing solo on tour to eight people in the audience and playing on the street to people who didn’t want to believe it was really him were touching. They also serve to connect us back to what this man really lives for–music. He states later in the book that as long as he still has the calluses on his fingertips and he can still make music, he’ll be okay.
The book would have benefitted from more details about the years Taylor spent away from Duran Duran. He refers to making music, I would have loved to understand more about what form that took with his talent freed from the corporate music industry machine. Interestingly, he never mentions (at least by name) his solo album Feelings Are Good and Other Lies. Maybe this is because of the heavy emotional content evident in the songwriting. (The ballad Losing You still makes me cry.) Feelings Are Good was a raw album, both in terms of content and production values. It was clearly an album his soul needed to make, regardless of it’s potential commercial market value. As a Duranie reading this book, I crave greater context for that album.
I was privileged to see Taylor at Mama Kin in Boston when he toured with Neurotic Outsiders, but didn’t know at the time he was so recently relieved of his demons. What I did know is that it was a phenomenal show. Billy Idol was guesting that night. Standing eight feet from the stage, I felt their energies fill the room in a way that is not quite possible in a large arena. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to the fabled Rum Runner experience.
After the show, my friend and I actually followed some chick named Vicki around for about an hour to see if we could meet the band. We figured we actually had a shot at it, since she was dressed like she knew how to make such things happen.
As you can tell by now, I’m hopelessly sentimental. I don’t know what I expected to say, if presented with an opportunity to meet John Taylor. There was too much to communicate with words. So, in the end all I ended up doing was mumbling “Thank you” as I shook his hand.
Thank you again, John, for this truthful and yet still understated book. I recommend it and eagerly await your next musical contribution to the world.