Duranalysis: Three To Get Ready
Three To Get Ready is a David Gasperik-directed documentary shot in early 1987 as Duran Duran was promoting their funk-infused Notorious album and gearing up for their Strange Behaviour tour. The title is a reference to the band’s three remaining members—Roger and Andy had parted ways with the others the previous year, leaving Simon, Nick and John to carry the torch. The documentary captures the boys at an uneasy and uncertain time: After splitting with longtime managers Paul and Michael Berrow, they’ve made the risky decision to manage themselves, and they’re acutely aware of the valuable momentum they’ve lost since the release of their last album. On the spectrum of Duran Duran documentaries, it's not as raucous and fun as Sing Blue Silver, but it’s an interesting watch, and certainly worth Duranalyzing.
Here’s what I’m not going to focus on, though: the rehearsal footage, which takes up a good chunk of Three To Get Ready’s runtime and which, apart from some darling shots of Simon Le Bon shaking his maracas, isn’t all that interesting. At my rough estimate, we hear “Skin Trade” eighty-seven times over the course of eighty minutes or so.
Simon, John and Nick head to the iconic Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood to discuss the band’s new direction with Joe Smith, Capitol’s brand-new CEO. Smith wines and dines the boys over lunch, which is served in a conference room. This seems: a) kind of odd, and b) like a bit of a power play, like there’s an implication that Duran Duran has lost enough cachet in the industry by 1987 that it's not worth meeting with them outside the office. Joe Smith is a longtime music-industry pro with an impeccable CV and a distinguished reputation, but just based on the footage here, I want to urge the boys to run in the other direction, because I suspect he has every intention of grinding them up and turning them into mulch to help fertilize the Capitol-EMI conglomerate machine.
Here are some choice Joe Smith bon mots from this meeting:
"At this point, the boss is very positive. That's me."
On the lunch (which looks very nice, but which, I remind you, is being served in a conference room. It’s Hollywood in 1987, for crying out loud; couldn’t he treat them to some duck-sausage pizza down the road at Spago?): "Is this style? Is this class, you guys?"
On Tina Turner: "If I'd said 'jump off this tower and you could see some play,’ next thing you know, the window would be open and she'd be gone."
Smith goes on to relate an anecdote about a recent phone call from the head of MCA, who tried to talk him into buying Andy Taylor’s record deal off of him, because Andy was apparently being, ah, problematic (the words “asshole” and “crazy” are used). Simon and John and (especially) Nick can probably speak volumes about Andy’s occasional forays into the realm of crazy-assholishness, but either out of politeness or loyalty or awareness of the documentary filmmaker in the room, they openly bristle at the idea of anyone publicly trash-talking their estranged bandmate.
Hey, speaking of Andy and crazy assholery, here’s Duran Duran’s lawyer, who meets with the boys to discuss what he describes as “this week’s Andy Taylor lawsuit.” (Simon: “Great!”) It is strongly implied that this is merely one in an unending series of hostile lobs from Andy. Nick: "Is he suing us at the moment, or is he asking us what's going on?" No, the lawyer clarifies, he's definitely suing them: “You're dealing with someone who is determined to institute legal proceedings.”
Later, John chews out Nick over his legendary chronic lateness: “I mean, it's a nightmare, it's a fucking nightmare. I'm sitting around waiting for you until two o'clock, one o'clock sometimes … And we lose half the damn day.” In the background, Simon chimes in with a halfhearted show of support for John, though he really doesn’t seem to want to get into it with Nick. Smart man, that Simon Le Bon. I get the feeling Nick doesn’t lose many arguments.
Nick is wholly unapologetic, though he remains calm and reasonable: “Whatever we need to do, at any time, ultimately it gets done, doesn't it? I mean, if it needs to be eight o'clock in the morning, it can be eight o'clock in the morning. I can be up whenever, if something is important to be done. If something can be done at eleven o'clock instead of nine o'clock, great, and that's when it will be done.” This whole exchange pretty much sums up the mental state of each Duran throughout Three To Get Ready: John is tense and moody, Simon is relaxed and careless, and Nick is
a killer cyborg sent from the future to destroy humanity cold and thoughtful.
The boys tape a slew of promos for various regional TV stations, which are meant to air throughout the year. They start out strong, but soon get a little… confused.
John: “This is Duran Duran, wishing everybody a Merry Christmas. Which isn't easy to do when it's May. Or June. Where are we?”
Nick: “March. Or… it's February still, isn't it?”
John: “It's February!”
They are not joking.
Interviews! John calls “Skin Trade,” currently stuck in the middle of the charts, "an infinitely better song than ‘Wild Boys’." Whoa there! Full stop! Them's fighting words, Mr. Taylor! He goes on to say, "I would rather be at number twenty-five with ‘Skin Trade’ than number one with ‘Wild Boys.’”
This is crazy talk.
The boys are invited to perform on The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers. John is vehemently opposed (“I mean, I think Joan Rivers is the kind of thing we should not do”), but Nick is willing to consider it. He calls up Walter Lee, Capitol’s then-head of promotion, to get his opinion on Joan’s show. "You think it's hip?" Nick says in shock on the phone.
(Speaking of Walter Lee, here’s a fun tidbit from a 1987 L.A.Times article: "Billboard magazine reported that Capitol Records vice president Walter Lee was named in a suit by promotion exec Bill Bartlett, who claimed Lee "abused him" with a three-foot-long cattle prod, poked him repeatedly in the forearm and told him: "You're dog meat. Go back to your stall." Wow.)
Just gaze upon that preceding screenshot of Nick for a moment. He’s carved from ivory! On a recent Duran Duran-themed episode of Ricky Gervais’s new series Derek, a character observes that Nick is “generally considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful men.” Yes. Yes, indeed.
So eventually the guys agree to perform a couple songs for Joan, provided they won’t have to sit down for an interview. Suckers! After their performance, they’re shepherded over to the couch, where Joan immediately starts assaulting them with a battery of questions about the recent changes to their lineup. Well played, Joan.
There’s a minor crisis as the guys hear the news that one of their back-up singers has quit, thus necessitating a mad scramble to replace her. “I mean, do we want another one?” John asks. In a chorus, Simon, Nick and Warren reply, "Yeah."
Yep, that’s Warren Cuccurullo there, though he’s never identified by name, and apart from the occasional glimpse of that crazy mane of hair, he doesn’t get much screen time. Hi, Warren!
There’s a lengthy sequence about holding auditions for a new back-up singer. I’m going to blast right past it, because the entire process is not all that scintillating, though I do want to quickly draw your attention to Simon's awesome nerd glasses, which he apparently swiped from the wardrobe department of Arcadia’s “Flame” video.
Nick’s then-wife Julie Anne drops by with their baby daughter Tatjana in tow. Nick and John both coo and fuss and gurgle over the baby, which is adorable as all hell, but then I was suddenly struck with the realization that Tatjana, at 26, is now two years older than her father was in this documentary, and the resulting temporal shift and awareness of the inexorable stampeding crush of Time made me want to hide under the covers and weep.
Duran fitness! John and Simon splash around in a pool while singing the Airborne Ranger cadence, then do a bunch of sit-ups on a lawn. A couple of unidentifiable guys join them in their fitness endeavors, though it seems pretty clear the languid and ethereal Nick Rhodes is not amongst them.
Ah, there’s Our Nick: In lieu of doing sit-ups, he’s reclining on a sofa, his makeup flawless, looking as crisp and glacial as Grace Kelly while yammering on the phone: "You have to keep yourself pretty fit, really, because it's going to be six and a half to seven months on tour, and it's quite exhausting." I swear, at times it seems like Nick is permanently auditioning to join the cast of AbFab.
Next, the guys take over the phones at Capitol Records to do a slew of radio interviews. They’re all charming and fun, willingly giving shout-outs and fulfilling personal requests as applicable (Nick: “I don't think my voice is up to singing today, but I'll mumble a little”). John on the phone: “Oh, god, I thought was going to get a chance to have a bite of my tuna sandwich there, but it was not to be.” Tuna sandwiches are a surprising motif throughout Three To Get Ready. Later, John will split one with a grateful and famished Simon, and then Nick will request one for his lunch during a photo shoot (“I don’t want it on that healthy bread, either!”). Those Durans looove their tuna sandwiches. Good to know: The key to their hearts may be found in a can of StarKist.
The boys accept an invitation to appear on Soul Train (cue Nick: “We haven’t got anything to lose, have we?”), where they perform a rousing rendition of “Meet El Presidente.” Duran Duran plus Soul Train sounds like a recipe for disaster (“soul” is not a word generally associated with everybody’s favorite glamorous English synthpop band), but you know what? It works.
In the car, Nick remarks that he just heard the new U2 single—he doesn’t specify which, but in early 1987, it would’ve been “With or Without You”—and mentions that tickets are now on sale for U2’s upcoming tour: "The single is great. Really good.” Seemingly out of nowhere, John gets prickly and defensive: “Well, they've been going for two years longer than we have, and they didn't have a break.” A little taken aback, Nick meekly replies, “No, I mean… I just think they're good.” Of U2, John says mournfully, “In the public's perception, they're everything we're not.”
They argue over whether to accept an interview request from Time Out magazine. Nick is against it, stating “We can do without a stitch up” (for my fellow Americanos: Per the Oxford dictionary, a “stitch up” is a Britishism meaning “an act of placing someone in a position in which they will be wrongly blamed for something, or of manipulating a situation to one’s advantage”). John disagrees: "I think it'd be very difficult to stitch us up at this particular moment. We're being so fucking honest." Nick: “We've just gotten better at talking around the issue, that's all.”
It’s odd. Between this and Joan Rivers, why are they so ridiculously adverse to doing interviews? They’re promoting an album! They’re gearing up for a world tour! And up to this point they’d always been cheerful and willing publicity sluts! Why so bashful and timid, guys?
So now they’re getting ready to perform on a Japanese television show. It’s going to air live in the evening in Japan, which means the guys have to film in the wee hours of the morning in Los Angeles. So they’re all lounging around in a crowded trailer somewhere on a studio backlot, killing time and getting loopy and punchy. It’s 2:30 AM on Grammy night, and they don’t have to shoot their bit until after five, so Simon suggests grabbing drinks at a Grammy party first. This idea makes John cranky: “You're going to walk in on a bunch of fucking drunken, high rock people. You want to do that?" Nick: “Dreadfully.”
(We never find out if they make it to the party. We do get to see them performing an energetic version of “Notorious” on a cold, dark backlot while the Japanese crew looks exhausted and underwhelmed.)
They hammer out the schedule for their European tour. There are some logistic difficulties—for example, there are no flights to Montpellier—but the boys seem far more concerned with nailing down the catering arrangements. Nick puts in a request for Champagne (“French Champagne”) in the dressing room. John adds his own requirements: “No fish or prawns. And no obscure cheeses!”