Duranalysis: “Violence of Summer”
Gear up, Simon. Let’s do this.
*”Violence of Summer”—bright, simple, bouncy—is a catchy yet ultimately underwhelming Duran Duran song; “Serious”—droning, tuneless, meandering—is a ridiculously terrible Duran Duran song. Simon’s willingness to go to the mat for “Serious” reminds me of the time John referred to the affably mediocre “Skin Trade” as “an infinitely better song than ‘Wild Boys’”, which is the sort of remark that makes me second-guess my grasp on the whole Duran Duran phenomenon and, indeed, on everything I hold dear in this world. No universe exists where “Skin Trade” is better than “Wild Boys.”
“Violence of Summer” does have one vocal and high-profile champion: As recounted in Sébastien Bataille’s 2012 biography, Duran Duran: Les Pop Modernes, Phil Collins, never a fan of the band’s sound, once proclaimed it his favorite Duran tune and compared it to Fine Young Cannibals’ “Good Thing”. Yep, that works. That’s a totally astute comparison, Phil. If you find the thumping, rollicking, piano-heavy sound of “Good Thing” aurally pleasing, there’s a good chance you’re going to grok “Violence of Summer”.
The video opens with Simon, relaxed and casual in a striped jersey, swaggering up to the microphone. In a recent interview posted on Duran Duran’s official website, Simon waxed philosophic about “Violence of Summer”: ”There was something a bit rude about the song that I quite liked.” “A bit rude” is the vibe he’s working here. He looks great: lean, slinky, sexy as all hell. No idea how he managed to sneak that I-just-pulled-this-off-my-bedroom-floor-and-headed-to-the-set outfit past Nick, though. Even now, decades later, it’s probably still giving Duran’s resident control-freaky fashionista the vapors.
Per Wikipedia, the performance footage was filmed on “a set constructed to look like a bumper-car rig.” Ah... sure. Okay. I suppose it does, in a nonspecific way. If Wikipedia had stated that the set was built to look like a bowling alley, or an arcade, or a roller rink, or an especially glossy auto body shop, I’d feel a similar level of noncommittal agreeability. It could be any or all of those things! Or none of those things! Since the plot of the video has nothing to do with bumper cars, or carnivals, or any other setting or situation where one might be likely to see or think about bumper cars, it doesn’t make a lick of difference.
And yes, this video does have a plot, of sorts. Meet our heroines, who, according to the roll call at the video’s conclusion, are named Dolores, Blanche, Lola, Ultra-Brite, Crisis, Candy, Bick, and China. No, I can’t tell them apart; you probably can’t, either. In fairness, it seems unlikely we’re supposed to be able to tell them apart. In their matching wigs, they’re designed to be interchangeably beautiful, the spiritual sisters to the near-identical blank slates who populated Robert Palmer’s iconic videos a handful of years prior to this. China, the woman smack in the center, is the only one relevant to the video’s storyline, which roughly follows the lyrics of the song; when Simon wails, “China's hangin' out by the railings of the motorshed”, she’s the one he’s wailing about.
In my research into this video, I could only identify one of the seven models starring in it: Tess Daly, host of the BBC show Strictly Come Dancing. She’s the blonde on the end in the shot below, I say with confidence but only a fair chance of accuracy, because again, I can’t tell them apart. In her memoir, The Baby Diaries, Daly gives an account of being a die-hard Duranie who grew up with posters of Simon plastered on the walls of her bedroom. Of being cast in this video (as well as the subsequent video for “Serious”), she writes, "It was as if all those years of loyally displaying my posters had paid off." I respect this sentiment.
What do these women do in the video? A lot of stuff, mostly. They run around in bra tops and skintight leather pants and bobbed wigs while engaging in mildly naughty shenanigans, like dancing on the tops of vintage cars and riding mechanical bulls and sexing up 1950s-era greasers. Per Simon, the storyline is a literal interpretation of the song lyrics, which are all about a woman named China who takes up with another guy while her boyfriend is otherwise occupied. The video culminates with her boyfriend and his greaser buddies beating the crap out of the dude she slept with, while China seems monumentally unfazed by all of this.
In an interview about Liberty, Nick describes the look of this video as “a kind of tacky sixties dance-hall thing, in a way”. It’s not his most articulate statement ever, but I get what he’s saying. There’s a germ of a good idea in there, but nobody pushed it far enough; if they’d taken that theme into a seedier and more sensationalistic realm—if the video had been less Grease and more High School Hellcats, in other words—they could’ve ended up with something pretty memorable. As it stands, if you’re super into the aesthetic sensibility of 1990s GUESS ads (i.e. retro rural Americana as portrayed by buxom blonde pinups in bra tops and cutoffs), the visuals in this video might strike all the right chords with you.
Check out that Duran Duran lineup, brand spanking new for 1990: We’ve got Simon, we’ve got John looking elegant and lovely even with his new “Angela Merkel resigns as Chancellor of Germany to form a garage band” haircut, we’ve got Warren Cuccurullo on guitar, we’ve got a rare sighting of Sterling Campbell on drums, and somewhere beyond the right edge of the frame, there’s a beautiful and magical pixie fretting over the keyboards.
Hi, Nick! You’re looking demurely Warholian there. Nick spent the eighties trotting out a wildly different hair color and/or style for every video. Then 1990 rolled around, and, with the exception of 1994’s brief and dazzling foray into the world of brilliant purple spikes, he decided, no, I’m done, I’m going to stick with this color and length for the next quarter century or so. I can’t say that Nick’s decision to keep that same hairdo for so long disappoints me exactly, because the whole mundane human concept of disappointment doesn’t apply to Duran Duran (”After that horde of beautiful and weird Roman deities invaded my village and threw a wild Bacchanalia, it was really disappointing when they forgot to take out the trash”—see, it doesn’t work, does it?), but I wouldn’t object if he decided to mix it up at some point.
This video seems to have less of Nick’s imprint on it than usual. Oh, I’m sure at some fundamental level this was all his idea, because let’s face it, they’re all Nick’s idea, because Duran Duran is not a democracy, it’s a benevolent dictatorship run by a tiny, elegant naiad with a razor-sharp brain and a thirst for glamour. And certainly the aesthetics of it are in keeping with the way Nick rolls (here’s Nick on the look of this video: “I love the way that the girls look in it, the styling of them… Who wouldn’t want to see girls wearing wigs and false eyelashes and those fabulous clothes?”). Still, though, if you listen to Nick talk about this video, he seems kinda underwhelmed, like he’s trying to put a good spin on something he has a few reservations about. Or maybe I just want to assume that’s the case, because this video is attractive but dull, and Nick, strange and magnificent creature that he is, is rarely dull.
Here’s John on recording the Liberty album, as recounted in Steve Malins’ Duran Duran Notorious: “Liberty was a bitch to make. It seemed the worst place you could be in the world was in Duran Duran… I smoked a lot of hash oil; that’s all I can really remember about making that album.” Odds are pretty good he doesn’t remember much about making this video, either. At least he seems happy?
Everything considered, describing Liberty as “a bitch to make” is still more positive than the way John described the process of making the 2007 Red Carpet Massacre album (“a fucking nightmare”). Conclusion: John tends not to be a big fan of the whole album-recording process.
After touring with Duran Duran and working as a session guitarist for both Notorious and Big Thing, Warren was finally hired as a permanent band member for Liberty (just imagine the want ad in the back pages of Music Week: long hours, good pay, ability to deal with strong personalities a must, shirt optional). From the Wikipedia entry on this video: “Newly muscular guitarist Warren Cuccurullo is almost unrecognizable to fans who were accustomed to his formerly waif-like appearance.” You look good, Warren. Nice pecs. Stop editing your Wikipedia mentions to point out how incredibly buff you are.
Ah, the elusive Sterling Campbell. Meet Sterling, the talented drummer who, for a handful of months there, was a full-fledged member of Duran Duran. A born-and-bred New Yorker, Sterling moved in with John Taylor while recording Liberty in a London studio. As John explains it in his memoir, “The last thing I needed to be doing was giving over my home life to a kid from New York who was just getting going … But dude here, he wants to party! He wants to sit up all night playing the rough mixes, analyzing the snare sounds! And he wants to run the band too. He is telling me exactly what Simon should be doing, what Nick should be doing. … I quickly realized I had made a catastrophic mistake.” There’s a heartbreaking-in-retrospect moment in the electronic press kit about the making of Liberty in which Sterling, who seems pretty psyched about being a newly-minted Duran, gabs on about how he “really hit it off” with John from the start. (Also in the electronic press kit: “Everybody’s really down to earth!” lies Warren.) After Liberty fizzled on the charts, Sterling quietly left the band, resurfacing shortly thereafter as Soul Asylum’s drummer.
In researching this video, I found interview footage in which both Simon and Nick, at the prodding of the interviewer, agree that “Violence of Summer” is similar to their iconic video for “Hungry Like the Wolf”. Simon: “It is like ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’. It’s got the same kind of violent sound, but also kind of uplifting undertones to it.” Nick: "It has elements within it that... you mentioned the 'Hungry Like the Wolf' thing, yeah, I think it's kind of playful."
Okay, Nick and Simon, let’s put this one to bed, shall we? “Violence of Summer” is not a damn thing like “Hungry Like the Wolf”. I know it, you know it, and I know you’re both just being friendly and agreeable for the sake of a smooth interview, but… no. For starters, “Hungry Like the Wolf” featured the band members as key characters in the video’s storyline, instead of relegating them to appearing in scraps of performance footage. Here’s a simple and straightforward change that would’ve instantly elevated “Violence of Summer”: cast the band members as the greasers. Dress them in leather and have them hang out in bars, arm wrestling and brawling and ogling scantily-clad women. Stick Warren and Sterling on motorcycles. Have Simon and John resort to fisticuffs over China’s honor. I don’t imagine there’s any set of circumstances under which Nick Rhodes could or would portray a leather-clad greaser, so have him float around in an impeccable suit, chatting up the ladies while looking like a million bucks. We’ll hash out the details later; the key thing is to get the Durans in there.
Boom. One small change, and you’ve got yourself a vastly improved video.