Duranalysis Special: John Taylor on Music Madness

 We’re going off the beaten path for this one.

Back in October, I attended a discussion John Taylor held as part of his promotional tour for his just-released memoir, In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran. A friend had a spare ticket she wanted to sell, and a friend of a friend of a friend was looking for a ticket, and through The Power of Twitter, we met at the event and sorted everything out, and a lovely time was had by all. The friend of a friend of a friend turned out to be John Ares, also known as VJ Johnny Blitz, producer and host of the New York cable-access series Music Madness, a music-interest show specializing in hard-to-find videos.

John Ares is a delightful fellow with a deep and comprehensive knowledge of music, who can talk circles around me on the subject of Duran Duran. A charter member of the MTV generation, John's enthusiasm for the then-emerging field of music videos led to the creation of Music Madness in 1983. While the original run ended in 1986, John launched an expanded version in 1993, which ran until 2002; he still produces occasional one-off Music Madness specials. He's also the exclusive VJ of the Depeche Mode Fanclub New York. Anyway, he gave me a copy of a three-part Music Madness special on John Taylor, taped in 1998 when John was touring with his post-Duran band, John Taylor Terroristen. John Taylor sat down for a lengthy interview with him, covering his time with Duran Duran, his solo career, and his multiple side projects, including the Power Station and Neurotic Outsiders as well as Terroristen. Let’s take a look at it:

First up: John Ares and John Taylor discuss the origins of John Taylor Terroristen. Of the band’s name, John says he was inspired by a wanted poster in a German airport, which he describes as evoking, and I quote, “a nineteen-se… cosmo… kind of… angry… thing.” Not his most articulate statement ever, but he (mostly) gets the point across.

According to John Ares, John Taylor refused to have his hair and makeup done for this interview. Even without it, he still looks damn good.

There’s some exclusive-to-Music Madness footage of John singing “Better Way” at Life nightclub in New York during the East Coast leg of his tour. The footage is very good—in fact, after this episode aired, John passed word through his manager to John Ares that it was the best live concert footage of his solo career he'd ever seen. 

John's performance, on the other hand, is… fine. John Taylor is such a cool, likeable guy that I find myself really wanting to say warm and fuzzy things about it, but… look, if Nick Rhodes or Simon Le Bon did something this underwhelming, I wouldn’t hesitate to eviscerate them. This is because Nick and Simon are—excuse me, gents, I mean this with love—a pair of hilarious, venal bitches with gold-plated hides. If I ever wrote something they deemed unfair or unflattering, Nick would sniff disdainfully about how Philistines can’t be expected to understand True Art, and Simon would shrug and open a bottle of wine worth more than my life, and neither would ever think of it again.*  John, though… John’s different. He’s earnest. He cares. I don’t have the heart to mock John Taylor, so I’ll leave it at this: There might be a reason John Taylor Terroristen didn’t make many waves outside of Taylor’s pre-established fanbase.

*And then there’s the curious case of Andy Taylor, who apparently likes it when I take the piss out of Duran Duran. Andy’s kind of special that way.

Next, John Ares brings up John Taylor’s involvement, along with fellow Duran Andy Taylor, in the hugely influential 1985 supergroup Power Station, which generated two monster hits: “Some Like It Hot” and “Get It On (Bang a Gong)”. Per John Taylor, Duran Duran’s huge success primed him to expect similar big things from the Power Station: “Everything we touched was turning to gold. I mean, Kajagoogoo went number one.” Heh. This, of course, is a reference—a slightly catty reference, but also a funny and apt one—to how Kajagoogoo’s debut album, which Nick Rhodes produced, resulted in a number one hit with “Too Shy.”

By the way, John Taylor wears a Kabbalah bracelet throughout this interview. There could be any number of reasons for this, but the most likely explanation is probably because it’s 1998, and he’s a hip celebrity living in Los Angeles.

John Ares brings up the Power Station’s 1985 appearance on Saturday Night Live, in which John played his bass while wearing a silk dress. You know, just because. 1985 was a fun year for Duran Duran. In 1985, the various Durans were all splitting up and splintering off and feuding at Live Aid and getting into near-deadly yacht mishaps and doing weird things with their hair, and were pretty much just going entertainingly bonkers in a very public way from their limitless money and fame and power.

Case in point: This is what the three non-Power Station-affiliated Durans were up to in 1985:

Oh, Arcadia. How I love you, Arcadia.

Music Madness then airs the complete video for “Get It On (Bang a Gong)”, which premiered in the summer of 1985. Of course it did. With its frenetic neon squiggles and its over-saturated pastels and John’s and Andy’s enormous tangled mullets, it could not have been made in any other year. A video made in 1985 could no more be mistaken for one made in, say, 1982 than a film directed by David Lynch could be mistaken for one directed by John Hughes.

The plot of the video is some hyper-stylized piffle about a sexy lady who brings disaster everywhere she goes. Here, she has a terrible mishap with a hair dryer. Busy with his mad guitar licks, Andy ignores her.

Meanwhile, John wears leather pants and loiters seductively near an open toilet.

Back to the interview: John next discusses his first solo hit, 1986’s “I Do What I Do” from the 9 1/2 Weeks soundtrack, which he co-wrote with Michael Des Barres and frequent Duran Duran collaborator Jonathan Elias. John also directed the video, which consists of clips from the movie interspersed with footage of himself sitting in a darkened movie theater. Jim Kerr, front man of Simple Minds, told John the song was the “best thing he’d ever heard Duran Duran do,” which John laughingly describes as a “backhanded compliment.” The word you’re looking for, John, is “insult.”

In his memoir, John states that, after showing Nick the video, Nick replied, “That’s great, Johnny. But we can do so much more together, don’t you think?” This is the through-line of John’s entire non-Duran career. “I Do What I Do” isn’t a bad song (though it was nominated for Worst Original Song at the 1986 Golden Raspberry Awards), nor is it a bad video. Still, John’s more impressive as a vital part of Duran than he is when he’s off doing his own thing.

Supergroup #2: In 1996, John teamed up with Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses to form Neurotic Outsiders. What started as a bunch of guys playing a regular Monday night gig at the Viper Room led to a tour and an album deal with Guy Oseary at Madonna’s Maverick Records. In the Music Madness interview, John Ares says he’s surprised Neurotic Outsiders never received much attention outside of the music industry. So am I—as you’d expect from that group of assembled talent, their music is really good. Neurotic Outsiders only released one official video, for their insanely catchy single “Jerk” (“You’re a bitch/I’m a jerk/I don’t think that we will work”), which Music Madness airs here. In the video’s performance scenes, John jumps around onstage while wearing a kilt, which probably gave everyone in the front row a nice thrill.

And here’s another Music Madness exclusive: John Taylor Terroristen’s live performance of “My Own Way.” Oh, holy hell, I’ve changed my mind: I do have the heart to mock John Taylor. “My Own Way” has never been one of Duran Duran’s stronger songs, but even so, John’s version doesn’t do it justice. It’s droning and tuneless. It is the worst thing any Duran has ever done, and I’ve heard their cover of “911 is a Joke.”

In 1995, pre-Terroristen, John released a solo album, Feelings are Good (and Other Lies). Music Madness airs the video for his single from the album, “Feelings R Good” (of the title, John wryly notes, “Irony intended”), which was included on a bonus CD-ROM with his 1997 solo EP Autodidact. Full props to John here: pretty great video, pretty great song (even with lyrics like “I’m sad, and I want my dad.” Duran Duran’s reigning poet, Simon “cherry ice-cream smile, I suppose it’s very nice” Le Bon, is not threatened. Nor, for that matter, is Duran’s emergency back-up lyricist, Nick “emotionless and cold as ice, all of the things I like” Rhodes). The video features stark black-and-white footage of John working out his various psychological issues whilst running around Manhattan with a megaphone. It’s good.

And now, finally, John gets around to discussing his time with Duran Duran. He stresses how naturally everything—the hit songs, the iconic videos, their distinctive visual style—came to them in the band’s early days: “If we were a board game, it’d be easy to play.” Strictly speaking, they were a board game, and from all reports, they were easy to play.

Ah, here we go, Duran Duran’s 1989 video for “Burning the Ground,” in which they took all of their singles up to that date, chewed them up into a masticated pulp, and spat them in the general direction of the mixing board. NME’s editor Steve Sutherland once snarked memorably that “Wild Boys” sounds “like an epileptic outbreak in a woodworking class”; multiply that by a thousand for “Burning the Ground.” Like the song, the video smooshes all of Duran’s earlier videos together, then tosses in some ill-advised footage of burning rain forests and a neon-enhanced Space Shuttle (a nod to the image of the Space Shuttle on the Stephen Sprouse-designed cover of their 1989 compilation album Decade) for good measure. It’s both terrible and awesome. It is sheer giddy lunacy, in an inimitably Duran way.

Amongst all the video clips in “Burning the Ground” is that footage of John and Nick getting doused by the elephant in “Save a Prayer.” Yep. Still the best thing ever. Can’t see that too many times.

And then there’s one final Music Madness exclusive performance by John Taylor Terroristen: “Hey Day,” which features vaguely autobiographical Duran-themed lyrics in the manner of George Harrison’s “When We Was Fab”: “We made a good noise/We made the sun shine/We met some more guys/And we changed their lives.”

In wrapping the interview up, John Ares asks John Taylor where he sees himself in the next ten years. John replies, “No clue,” adding that he hopes to be known as “an artist, good dad, husband, well-rounded human being.” It’s been fourteen years since he sat down for this interview, and these days he does indeed seem to be all of that (he can also add “best-selling author” to that list. Here he is, posing with John Ares at a book signing in October).

At the time this interview was taped, though, he was still a couple years away from rejoining Duran Duran. I’ve no doubt he needed the time by himself—to get his head on straight, to set his own schedule, to clear all the glitter and hair gel out of his system. As he wrote in his memoir, “The lines between me and Duran had become so blurred that I didn’t know what I was capable of alone.” Returning to Duran, though, gives his story a better third act. It’s good to have him back.

(Remastered DVDs of the three-part Music Madness Special: John Taylor: Past, Present & Future may be ordered by contacting John Ares directly at MusicMadnessTV@aol.com. Visit VJ Johnny Blitz's Facebook page here.)

Related Links:
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andiepants said…
I bought a copy of John's solo CD "Feelings Are Good (And Other Lies) a few years back. That CD scared the crap out of my cats whenever I played it. I guess it's safe to say that they are NOT fans of JT's solo work.

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