Rob Sheffield talks Duran Duran
Below is part of my interview with Rolling Stone columnist Rob Sheffield about his new book, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran. The interview’s heavily edited, because we were having way too much fun … and because I generally acted like a dork.
His books are great, and if you haven’t read Love is a Mixtape yet, you should buy it when you click on Amazon to buy Talking to Girls About Duran Duran.
(By the way, if you weren’t redirected to this page from Huffington Post, then click here to read my review of the book, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, in order for this interview to make sense.)
Kristi: Hey Rob! I’m so excited to talk to you. I found out that the day the book is coming out just happens to be the 25th anniversary of the first time I met John Taylor!
Rob: No way! Two Days after Live Aid. Oh my Gosh. That is incredible. What was it like meeting John Taylor?
Kristi: Well, of course we were good little girls from Greenville (SC). I was sixteen. And we ended up at a party with Power Station (goes on and on …)
Rob: Congratulations! That was really prime John Taylor, too, when he was into those Toreador hats.
Kristi: And wearing those long floor length duster coats. A year before 9 ½ Weeks.
Rob: That’s right! “I do What I Do.” He was always being filmed from above. He knew that was a good angle. He could roll his eyes up to the camera. Sometimes he’d wear that wide-brimmed hat and sort of peek up. Shameless!
Kristi: Did you ever see Power Station on Miami Vice? I think they were friends with Don Johnson.
Rob: No, I’ll have to go YouTube that. Man, it makes sense they would show up on Miami Vice – that sounds almost too perfect.
Kristi: Now on to your book. It’s a book about the 1980s and where’s Live Aid? Did I miss it?
Rob: It’s funny, I don’t have Live Aid in there and it was such a huge day. It’s still really drilled into my skull. I remember walking around that day and it was broadcasting everywhere you went. I remember I woke up and my alarm was playing the Sting and Phil Collins duet. I watched it off and on during the day, then went for a walk, and went to a barbecue at a friend of my family’s. It was really funny, everywhere we went, Live Aid is what we were hearing. Because they didn’t release any of it or show any of it until years after the fact on VH1 Classic or anything like that, but everybody still remembered it so vividly. Did you see Duran Duran when they reprised their act on Live 8? They were great. There was this great moment where Simon made this little speech, “If we all put our hands together, across the world – we can make a statement to change the world.” Then they started playing “Girls on Film.” Awesome. This is why they are Duran Duran. They have no fear at all. They do not hold back in a moment like that.
Kristi: I have to ask about Duran Duran. Do guys really like them? Do you really like them? It’s true they held the key to your universe, but …
Rob: Yes, I love them. I loved them even when they were unbelievably uncool to like. One of the first things I wrote about them in print was a review of one of their records for the Village Voice in 1990. Liberty.
Kristi: That’s a good record.
Rob: I like that record. I was just listening to side one of Notorious on vinyl today. They seem to have a great sense of humor about themselves. But they were funny, because that was an aspect of their appeal. On a musical level – and I heard their songs on the radio long before I saw their videos – they were really adventurous in terms of bringing disco elements and punk elements together in a pop way. They were great and innovative, musically.
Kristi: The first time you heard “Hungry Like the Wolf” – it was like, “Oooooooh…” you knew it sounded new and different. You knew it was going to be culture-altering, whether you were along for the ride or not. I love the chapter titles in the book and the fact that they’re song titles. Duran Duran’s “All She Wants Is” is the final chapter. It’s funny how you can encapsulate popular culture in four words that make up a song title.
Rob: It’s weird how nothing connects to that moment like a song, nothing connects to that memory like a song. For some reason, that’s where memories seem to be stored, on a cultural level as well as an individual level. That’s something that I always find awe-inspiring. For instance, this weekend, Fourth of July weekend, I watched Hot Tub Time Machine three times. It’s on On Demand now and they let you have it for 24 hours. It’s funny how much of setting the time period comes down to music. When these guys are having their flashbacks to 1986, it’s the music rather than the fashion or the TV or the movies or aspects of pop culture, that rivets the moment. It’s a Hollywood movie, so there are jokes about Hollywood movies from that period and jokes about Rambo III and Red Dawn and stuff. But the soundtrack is how they set the scene.
Kristi: I have a theory that our generation — that we are really the only the people who owned the music in their lives in terms of those memories and that match-up. Our parents’ generation had big songs in common, but much fewer than we did because their access to radio and TV. We had access to the right amount. Yet, the people who are younger than us have a glut of media – they have too much, too many cable channels and internet radio and satellite and YouTube. They have too much and it’s too scattered. They don’t have the touchstones that people who came of age in that time span that we did. I think your books are part of that era and capture that for sure.
Rob: Thanks. I think you’re right about that. We had what seemed to us like an explosion at the time. There were so many more bands than there had ever been before and so many more ways to hear them. A lot of it was the way MTV sort of forced the radio to claim more kinds of stuff. And you could suddenly get access to all this music that was esoteric. You didn’t have to go to the ends of the earth to hear Altered Images or Burning Sensation or Grandmaster Flash. You had Martha Quinn bringing it to you.
Kristi: Let’s get to the bottom of the Paul McCartney chapter. Are you portraying him as the John Taylor figure in the Beatles?
Rob: Totally, totally, totally. That’s part of Paul McCartney’s longevity as well as Duran Duran’s longevity: they respect the passion of the girl fans. They’re happy to have boy fans. But ultimately, we know we’re second-class citizens. We know that Duran Duran could exist without us. They’re glad to have us around, but we’re not why they’re there. They’re there for the girl fans. That’s something Duran Duran has in common with Paul McCartney and that’s why they still inspire such huge devotion and loyalty among their fans. It always interests me how much the passion of the girl fan is what drives music. The passion of the girl fan invented The Beatles, invented Elvis, David Bowie, Michael Jackson. It’s really amazing how some artists respect the girl fan and some artists don’t respect the girl fans. Some artists, even when they have the girl fans, they’re just hoping to move on to the boy fans. It was strange how bands that got huge making new wave records for girls wanted to start making hard rock records for boys.
Kristi: Will there ever be reconciliation in the universe? Will girl fans and the bands they love ever get respect?
Rob: It’s interesting because, I guess I think of the girl fans as a discerning and sophisticated audience. It was always very traditional for male rock fans to think of the girlie pop fans as being gullible, easy to con, but that was just a sexist way of looking at it, especially if you look at so much of the crap that these boy fans were listening to at the time. Like if you were a dude who liked the Scorpions and Journey and REO Speedwagon, you would look down on girls who liked Stacey Q or Ray Parker, Jr. or Toni Basil. But you would have to be a pretty partisan Scorpions fan –- and I’ll admit I’m a Scorpions fan — not to concede that the girl fans were picking their music at the very least as shrewdly and with as much sophistication as the dudes who were into “Rock You Like A Hurricane.” But it’s always been weird the way the girl pop fan audience gets disrespected by the artists it bestows stardom upon.
Kristi: Could a girl have written this book and get the respect that you will inevitably get?
Rob: That’s a tough question, I don’t know.
Kristi: So, what’s next for you?
Rob: One thing that always astounds me on a daily level is how intensely people respond to music on an emotional level. And I guess that’s what I’ll keep writing about. It’s one of the ongoing mysteries of the universe that I can never get my head around. It’s something unexplainable. Why does music have such an intense effect on us in terms of traveling through time and bringing us back to a place? It’s funny, because I’m not a musician. I’m a fan, and the fan’s response to music is something I’m astounded by. I’m always astounded by what people like and what people adopt, and they hear themselves in the song and say, “Yep, that’s me.” I respect the musician’s perspective on it, but the guy who wrote the song is usually is the last person whose opinion I’m interested in. Especially with the 1980s, which at the time was considered temporary and frivolous and people were openly mocking the idea that these bands would last or that any of these records would even be remembered.
Kristi: Did you always know you would write books about music?
Rob: Writing about music exposes you and makes you more vulnerable than writing about anything else. It’s odd that that’s so close to the heart of things. It’s an element of life – everybody has their songs, no matter what their songs are and no matter where their songs come from. It’s a scary thing to do in some ways. First something’s popular, then there’s the backlash, then there’s the ironic or pseudo-ironic reclamation, like “Oh I like that band,” and then people are over that and then they’re just like – “Oh, that was just music.”
Kristi: So you really have never met Duran Duran?
Rob: No, but having met Duran Duran fans that hugely influenced the way I listen to music … it’s like what I was saying earlier about the musician’s opinion is not the one I’m most interested in, and that’s the case with Duran Duran. Talking to a Duran Duran fan is, to me, more exciting than talking to the actual band would be, just because what different people bring to the music – I’m always astonished that that never runs out of surprises.
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