Duran Duran looms pretty large over my life.
A lot of the earliest songs I wrote attempted to rip them off, an influence I made more blatant as my songwriting improved. A good percentage of my music collection consists of recordings by the band and various spin-off projects. As of this writing, I’ve seen them in concert five times in three different states: three times in Texas and one each New York and Washington.
In the early ’90s, I helped to administer Tiger List, one of the earliest fan communities on the Internet. They were partly responsible for the launch of my career as a web developer — one of the first sites I built was a FAQ about the band.
But the underlying drive behind all this fandom was the fact I developed some pretty hard crushes on Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor in the 7th grade.
That would have been around 1984, when MTV made it a requirement for rock stars to be photogenic. Although my household didn’t subscribe to cable, a number of broadcast options made music videos accessible. One of these shows introduced me to Duran Duran.
Oddly enough, the effect of “Rio” and “New Moon on Monday” wasn’t immediately revelatory — I remember thinking they were fun, but I was more interested in Eurythmics — but they planted seeds when I later encountered “Hungry Like the Wolf” playing on a VCR display at a department store.
That was the clincher.
“The Reflex” was rocketing up the charts as well, making the song inescapable on any number of family drives with the radio blasting. When I finally attached the name “Duran Duran” too all these separate encounters, I sought them out.
Back then, music magazines would publish lyrics to hit songs, and one of them featured a centerfold of Simon Le Bon. He had on his white shirt and dark pants — his attire in the video for “The Reflex” — and held a microphone to his mouth.
He cut a striking figure, and that’s when I felt something a bit more than just admiration.
My attraction to Simon transferred to Roger after acquiring The Book of Words, a fan souvenir book containing lyrics to the band’s songs up to “The Wild Boys”. Oh, and there were plenty of pictures of the band. My copy is quite ragged from having thumbed through it an uncountable number of times.
I didn’t actually attach the word “attraction” to what I felt at the time, but I could sense it would get me in trouble if I didn’t provide cover for it. So I bought the band’s albums, dubbed them to cassette, played them repeatedly on the family boombox and studied them. Yes, my earliest lessons in how to arrange music came from picking apart how Duran Duran songs were put together.
I became an advocate for Duran Duran’s music because I lived in a time when a pre-teen boy wasn’t allowed to express physical attraction to male pop idols. When classmates attacked that choice, I stuck to the artfulness of the music, the album covers, the videos as my defense, but I knew I could talk about who was cutest with the best of the female fans.
But what started out as a cover became a defining influence. Duran Duran taught me it was OK not to learn the blues progression. They encouraged me to find other artists with a sense for adventure, and they demonstrated that art and commerce aren’t mutually exclusive.
That era had any number of pop stars that could have been the catalyst for my sexual awakening — subsequent crushes include Sting, Huey Lewis, Robert Palmer and even Bruce Springsteen — but Duran Duran was the first, and they ended up being much more.