21 September 2015


Talking to You about Duran Duran . . . at Last!

One of the things I'm definitely, finally CLEARING this year is my series on Rob Sheffield's memoir Talking to Girls about Duran Duran. After the first Reading Diary entry, we've joined him in listening to The Go-gos, Orchestral Maneouvres in the Dark, Haysi Fantayzee, Chaka Khan, Madonna, Psychedelic Furs, New Kids on the Block, and Big Daddy Kane--and maybe even singing along! His book references many more 80s recording artists than those; but because, unlike him, I don't have a special song for every milestone in my life, I didn't blog accordingly.

It took me over a year to get to the band that started it all, but given what I didn't get into until after the one-year anniversary of my first post in the series, everything has worked out perfectly. And I can say that the ending of Talking to Girls about Duran Duran got to be "the right chapter at the right time."

Let's not mince words: Duran Duran are famous because girls like them. If a few boys want to come along too, that's fine with Duran Duran, they like the colour of our money. But we are the fans they do not care about. They don't need us. They have the girls. They know who keeps them in business.

They've always known this, even in their earliest days. In my collection of DD memorabilia, I treasure their 1981 interview with
Melody Maker. Nick Rhodes announces, "I've just worked out why so many more blokes are coming to our gigs this time round." Why? "Because they've heard that so many girls come."

Sheffield explains that there are two reasons why male singers who can send the entire girl demographic swooning often crash and burn after a couple of years: the first is that girls are fickle and the second is that boys want to be taken seriously and to fit the standards of authenticity that other boys set. And those swoony idols often go to self-destructive lengths to show that they're not just pretty faces. Duran Duran, on the other hand, have always gloried in being pretty faces. Or (I interject) at least they would whenever they were a group: individual members working on different projects had clearly caught the authenticity-anxiety bug.

Now, it has been years since Duran Duran songs were the cornerstone of my emotional vocabulary--and because I preferred the ballads that Sheffield says girls don't like as much as the upbeat tunes, I'm hardly the typical DD fan. (Well, okay, being young enough to be the daughter of one of the band members has meant, since my birth, that I'd never be the typical DD fan.) But there are lots of other musicians I've liked because I was absolutely the demographic; so I know exactly what Sheffield means by people whom girls keep in business and why this fact can be a source of insecurity to them.

And it's not limited to the music industry. Stephenie Meyer received death threats and no end of insults for writing a series that gives voice, more than anything else in recent memory, to the particular way that young girls long for a transcendent good. (Full "analysis" in my Reading Diary entry for her novel Eclipse.) I have to admire Meyer for not giving in to the pressure to throw Bella Swan under the feminist bus. She gets the Duran Duran Prize for Literature.

* * * * *

Sometimes it seems that girls will fancy anybody who gets a recording contract. There are some musical heartthrobs even I, with all my tolerance, think are solid evidence of diabolical activity. And girls are very vulnerable to the slightest suggestions. This is precisely why it is so important to make sure they get music (and books) that will teach them the right "language" for all the things they are going to think and say anyway. Because they're supposed to think and say them.

I think Il Volo are usually on the mark, though lately, not as much as before . . .

All right, all you people who say you love girls! (Let's see if I can get LTG to come back . . .) Try answering this question: What is the one really bad thing about the L'Amore Si Muove video? Forget the technical flaws, the awkward direction, and a certain Il Volo member's weird facial tics; these are not the words of the language. Go on and give their Vevo views a bump watch it, then tell me what it gets wrong. Very wrong. When you have an answer, pull out your Secret Decoder Ring and check it below . . .

The video's mistake is that he gives her a dog when he should be giving her a child.

Their own child.

A child who should be growing old with them
(and with at least one other sibling)
through the rest of the video.

That reminds me . . . I saw a small dog in a perambulator the other day. His owner was buying him a cookie from a Mrs. Fields kiosk. I should have asked her what music and which books she enjoyed as a girl . . . and then built a bonfire for those diabolical vanities.

* * * * *

Now, the interesting thing about Il Volo is that they are kept in business not just by girls, but also by the girls' grandmothers. On the one hand, it's something to be proud of: one story they used to tell with pride in interviews was the time a girl, her mother, and her grandmother arrived for a meet and greet, and the oldest lady said, "Congratulations, boys. You got three generations." What a compliment to singers! Yet note that it is usually older singers who receive it. For what's on the other hand here is the fact that this can be an embarrassing position for young men just out of their teens. Attracting girls whom you would date (including the "jail bait") carries much weight in a cost-benefit analysis, and attracting their mothers at least ticks another sort of fantasy off the list. (Don't look at me that way, my fellow prudes!) But grandmothers? That's kind of . . . square. =P

But this isn't about the ragazzi (the boys); it's about the ragazze (the girls). And sometimes, "girls" can be really, really old: I've read a scandalous blog post by a woman past middle age who was quite proud of having grabbed both Piero and Ignacio's bums . . . and a more touching forum posting by a widow who said Gianluca is the spitting image of her late husband back when they were courting. (She had lost all photos of her husband at that age, so it wasn't until Il Volo became famous that she was able to show her son what his father looked like as a youth.) This demographic was profiled quite memorably in marketing guru Martin Lindstrom's book Brandwashed, in which he writes about meeting a focus group of Justin Bieber fans who are old enough to be his mother. His takeaway: "I sensed that more than anything these women were trying to prove, perhaps to their daughters as well as to themselves, that beneath the armour of motherhood, they were still the girls they had once been." (Ah, sweet.)

I'll be fair and admit it's not limited to women, though this particular expression of it seems to be. One of my good male friends, who came of age long before I was born, has told me that although he is happy to play the grownup on the stage of the world, he is still emotionally and mentally a teenager. And sometimes I am shocked to recall that I haven't been twenty-one for a while. For sure, he and I would never act on these feelings and do anything really stupid . . . but boy, do we know what it means to say that youth is wasted on the young!

* * * * *

Finally, I waited until today to publish this post because it happens to be a special date. And also, now that the pun occurs to me, a special date . . . with my very girlish mother! There are few people I'd rather relive the 80s with, as we will be doing tonight.

Your Turn at the Jukebox: Is there a musician whom girls keep in business that you think is worthwhile?


Belfry Bat said...

Re. the Volo video, I was going to say, "it's not what's under that throw rug [just before 3:00] that turns kids into grownups"... still debating whether grosse-leute fits...

But what I really wanted to say was: that Duran Duran video... I'm still trying to figure out how much of the effects were done in the camera, how much by hand... I can't quite believe much of it was done, strictly speaking, digitally, so early in the 80s, though I could be wrong... (Nothing in the soundtrack intrigues me nearly as much.)

Enbrethiliel said...


The blanket transition put me off as well ("Um, kids, you're a little young to be doing that . . . Oh . . ."), but I think the dog is much worse.

Of course, you could also say that the two are connected, and that the real problem is that people think they can go under a blanket and then end up with nothing more life-changing than a dog.

They do seem to become grandparents at the end . . . but maybe that's just the surrogate mother's baby. =P

Belfry Bat said...

It did seem that the puppy was presented in the context of making-up after a row (about what, we might wonder, were we curiosior creatures...), where a surprise baby would seem, frankly, weird... but... plenty of other things would be even less weird than a puppy...

But. Well. It's an imperfect medium, the music video, but on the whole I agree.

Enbrethiliel said...


A baby would be storyboarded differently, for sure. And it wouldn't merely be about patching up a fight, but about romantic love taking its natural course.

More on where I'm coming from . . . One of the lecturers in my Shakespeare paper said that when you study Shakespeare, you should always ask who the missing family member is and who is standing in for him. I like doing it for non-Shakespearean stuff, too. In the case of this music video, they second they emerged from under that blanket, their child became the missing family member.

Belfry Bat said...

Well, there's a nifty new maxim; shall have to try it sometime...