Duranalysis: Sing Blue Silver, Part One

Duranalysis is back! Let’s take a look at Sing Blue Silver, the 1984 documentary about the 79-day North American leg of Duran Duran’s 1983-1984 world tour. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the rarified lives of the band on the road, which seemed to consist mostly of performances and photo ops and interviews, to say nothing of endless hours spent moving from gig to gig in limousines and private planes. And being screamed at by teen girls. Oh, lordy, plenty of screaming teen girls. It’s a hoot.

There’s far too much material here to go over everything, but I’ll try to spotlight some of the highlights. Here we go:

The tour kicks off with a press conference, in which Andy gets the ball rolling when he gives a cheeky, innuendo-laden response to a soft-lob question (“When did you learn an instrument?” -- you can sort of guess where Andy takes it from there). The remaining Durans follow his lead and chime in with naughty replies… until it’s Roger’s turn. Being naughty and cheeky is not in Roger’s wheelhouse, at least not during a blasted press conference. He looks panicky and embarrassed, until Simon jumps in and bails him out (“Roger needs two hands for his!”).

Props to Andy for bringing the awesome throughout this entire documentary. While some of the Durans appear to be fast running out of enthusiasm for life on the road (hi, Roger!), Andy’s clearly in his element.

Showtime! The Durans cease their green room hijinks (helium-sucking and general chaos-making) and head for the stage. Except for Nick, who refuses to abandon his terribly important game of Galaga for something as trivial as a live performance. A member of their inner circle (who surely has a more important function than Official Nick Wrangler, but he’s never identified by name or purpose, so I have no clue as to his identity) comes up behind Nick, grabs him around his tiny chest, and lugs the wailing pixie off toward the stage. The enduring weirdness of Nick Rhodes continues to be a source of great joy in my life.

I won’t dwell too long on Sing Blue Silver’s excellent performance scenes, of which there are many. Both the video for “The Reflex” and the Russell Mulcahy-directed concert film Arena (An Absurd Notion) were filmed during this tour, so if you’ve seen either of those, you know what you’re in for. Because it will become relevant later, I’m just going to quickly point out how Nick is off in his own little corner of the stage, surrounded by his synthesizers and sundry equipment (including his then-state-of-the-art Fairlight CMI synthesizer, which came complete with a light pen and monitor). For parts of the show, he’s standing in total darkness. Anyone who thinks Nick is going to sit back and quietly accept this situation is unfamiliar with the ways of everybody’s favorite high-maintenance pixie.

This is Roger’s special post-performance ritual:

1. Walk directly in front of the nearest camera.
2. Whip off shirt.

Why, thank you, Roger. Much obliged.

Backstage, the boys are introduced to Mike Davis and Marcus Allen from the Raiders. This is worth seeing for: a) the fetishistic sight of leggy knockout John Taylor in a football jersey, and b) the shots of Andy and Nick playfully roughhousing with each other.

B) is significant in light of Andy’s memoir (Wild Boy: My Life In Duran Duran), in which he depicts his relationship with Nick as an unbroken series of snubs, slights, shouting matches, passive-aggressive bitchery, icy silences, and hurled pork pies. I don’t doubt Andy’s account -- I’m sure it was all of that -- but from what we see throughout Sing Blue Silver, their dynamic was more complicated than simple mutual animosity. Unless they’re keeping up an elaborate masquerade for the cameras, Nick and Andy seem to genuinely get a kick out of each other. They even appear to be -- brace yourselves -- buddies. It’s cute.

Hotel room interviews. This is what John Taylor looks like when he first rolls out of bed.

Disgusting, isn’t it?

The boys have some free time in New York, so Nick dons his best French Foreign Legion hat, grabs his best girl (future wife Julie Anne Friedman), and strolls off on a magical adventure down Fifth Avenue. Much of the tour takes place in cold, wintry cities, which provides Nick with the opportunity to sport an amazing array of outerwear: crazy hats and scarves and bulky layered coats with huge padded shoulders.

Andy, meanwhile, hoofs it to the nearest pool hall and has himself a fine old time playing billiards. We don’t get to see how the other Durans enjoy their downtime, but I’m betting Roger’s day involved a locked door, an unplugged phone, and earplugs.

The tour continues. Another city, another performance. Nick is still plunged in darkness, and seriously, I’m half-convinced at this point that someone’s just screwing with him. And who could blame them? It’d be fun to mess with Nick’s head. Muck up his lighting, leave him groping around for his keyboards in the darkness, then sit back and wait for the fireworks.

(A quote from Simon, taken from a 2003 Tatler profile of Nick, about his bandmate’s legendarily control-freaky nature: “He's very analytical and that can be a pain in the arse. He cares about everything, and I mean everything. He feels it's his business to choose my socks and underwear.” Along those same lines, here’s a quote from Nick, as related in Steve Malins’s Duran Duran Notorious: The Unauthorised Biography, as to why he’s the scourge of lighting directors everywhere: “I’m horribly particular about colours. The arguments I’ve had with lighting designers about shades of magenta…”)

Backstage, Nick goes full-tilt Norma Desmond about the lighting: “It’s so depressing, that black stage. It’s terrible. Horrible. Vile. It’s got to go. I kept looking at it all through the set. Horrible. Horrible.” In the background, his bandmates quietly get snockered, as though the thought of getting through one of Nick’s tirades cold sober is too much to bear (Roger’s thousand-yard stare is especially poignant). Andy backs Nick up on the lighting situation: “It’s turning me to drink. I never usually drink.” This is what I mean about Andy bringing the awesome.

While the boys get ready for a shoot with famed photographer Francesco Scavullo, Simon ruminates on the dangers of getting undressed when journalists are in the vicinity: “‘Cause if you take your trousers off in front of people, they’ll write things like, ‘Simon Le Bon wears yellow underwear,’ and they’ll accuse you of having chubby legs and a gut.” This is in reference to a cover story on the band in the February 2nd, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone, in which journalist James Henke writes, of seeing Simon sans pants, “It was not, frankly, a particularly awe-inspiring sight. Le Bon, you see, is no John Travolta when it comes to physiques. Not a slob, just slightly chubby legs, a little bit of a gut.” Oh, ouch. Knife to the heart! Not that anybody should ever lose sleep fretting about long-past blows to Simon’s robust ego, but it’s hard not to wince at that.

Especially considering how whippy and lean he was in 1984. “Bit of a gut,” nothing doing.

There’s too much goodness here to be contained in a single blog post, so Part Two will continue in the next section.

Related Links:
Duranalysis Main Page


details-later said…
What an awesome recap! I'm too busy savoring it to have more of a reaction than that!
Morgan Richter said…
Thanks, details-later! All the boys were in top form during the entire program, so it was easy to cherry-pick fun/crazy parts out of it.
Cheryl Kraynak said…
You mean it's not normal to argue shades of magenta? (Must be a Gemini thing...)

Poor Simon. I mean, when you're middle-aged and you look back at youthful bodies in days of yore, nobody ever seems remotely chubby-with-a-gut.

I've got to figure out how to see this documentary. I've never gotten my hands on it.
Morgan Richter said…
Cheryl, some kind soul has put up Sing Blue Silver on YouTube in installments; the first part is here. It's a somewhat edited version, but it keeps all the footage of the boys. Definitely worth seeing.

Oh, lord, Nick and his shades of magenta... Nick's brilliant, but sometimes it's amazing the band ever got anything done, what with him getting all control-freaky over everything.
Cheryl Kraynak said…
Thanks for pointing me to the YouTube clips. There goes my weekend! Thought I was gonna get stuff done, ha ha!
Morgan Richter said…
Cheryl, I hope you enjoy it. Heh -- there are worse ways to spend a weekend than watching Sing Blue Silver. Getting stuff done is overrated!
willow23 said…
The Duranalysis is back! Hurrah! Having just seen the boys perform in my home town a few days ago this could not have come at a better time! I am so delighted. And have always loved SBS so it's all good!
Morgan Richter said…
Oh, hooray -- Willow23, I'm glad you got to see the boys! I saw them in October when they performed in New York, and it was plenty awesome.
Cheryl Kraynak said…
Well, I watched the Sing Blue Silver clips online and I must say, the moment that Nick is pulled off Galaga screech-wailing like you described is my favorite part. Priceless!
Looking back at how awesomely Simon (and all, including Andy) performed onstage makes me wish I had been old enough to participate and appreciate them back then.
Morgan Richter said…
Love Nick's wail, though I also think there's a certain poetry to his "Terrible. Horrible. Vile!" about the lighting. Nick is endlessly entertaining. And yeah, they were all such amazingly charismatic performers. So much fun to watch.
SarahJay55 said…
goodness knows I hate to be picky, but the line about "two hands" was Simon. Andy pipes up with the slightly meaner "Roger's still a virgin!"

It says a lot about me (and the number of times I've watched SBS) that not only did I think this immediately when I read your awesome blog, but that I simply had to check the clip to prove to myself I was right!

This is not a good thing.

But this piece was - loved it!!
Morgan Richter said…
SarahJay, you're probably right about the "two hands" line being Simon. If I remember right, I think the whole exchange happens off-camera (while the camera focuses on poor Roger looking like he wants to crawl off into a hole somewhere), so somehow I attributed it to Andy.

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