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Andy Taylor's life inside Duran Duran

October 10, 2008 | 11:40 am


Andy Taylor with his new wife, Tracey, at their 1982 wedding at Chateau Marmont with the members of Duran Duran. From left: Roger Taylor, Andy and Stacey Taylor, John Taylor, Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes. Photo from Andy Taylor's "Wild Boy."

The first autobiography from a member of Duran Duran has hit shelves: "Wild Boy" is the story of guitar player Andy Taylor.

For many women who were between the ages of 13 and 17, or maybe 11 and 19 -- aw, heck, let's just say alive in the 1980s -- Duran Duran was such a cultural presence that we can still name all the members. There was vocalist Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes on keyboards and then the three (unrelated) Taylors: John on bass, Roger on drums and guitar-playing Andy, the author.

The band's combination of pop rock, new wave style and sexy videos propelled it to the top of the charts in the early and mid-'80s. The arc of the band, and of Taylor's book, follows the classic tale of musical striving, success, and excess, with the added bonus of not ending in tragedy -- everyone in the band is still around, and Taylor, married for more than 20 years, has four children.

Taylor's modest upbringing and the band's early days in Brighton provide a solid and intriguing background. But the behind-the-scenes flashes of the band at its peak may be what really thrill fans. A bit of both -- plus some videos, of course -- after the jump.

Taylor's mother left when he was young, so he was raised by his father with the help of a grandmother and aunts and uncles. Music ran in his family; they would sing and play records together, even rock music like the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Taylor embraced rock with a real fervor. "Music became the main focus of my life," he writes. "I don't know where I would have ended up without it." 

After the first record, "Duran Duran," had been released -- it was big, but later releases would see even more success -- the band was working on the follow-up, "Rio," at George Martin's studio in London. One day, Paul McCartney walked in: "Now in 1982," Taylor recalls, "shortly after Lennon had gone, if a Beatle walked into your studio, it felt like God himself had just arrived. We were in complete awe. ...[McCartney] said, 'I've been listening outside ... there's a track called "Rio." ... That's a hit song, that.' " Taylor's smalltown-boy-makes good resonates here. "I thought about that copy of 'Sgt. Pepper' my cousin gave me in 1967. Art had met life in a spectacular way."

By this point, the band had released several charting singles and accompanying videos. Duran Duran's cute-boy quotient and still-new MTV were a great match; the band's management invested heavily in its edgy videos, like "Girls on Film" -- this is the safe-for-work version (the once-rare uncensored version is now easy to find on YouTube).

Taylor spends a whole chapter on the making of the band's videos, including "New Moon on Monday," which he describes as "our least favorite video of all." Simon was a natural actor, Taylor writes, and John Taylor looked good on film; Andy had less to do while shooting. When at an elephant watering hole in Sri Lanka while filming "Save a Prayer," he spent most of the afternoon frustrated by the video's obscure story line, drinking and smoking pot.

I climbed up into a tree and perched on a branch about ten or fifteen feet above the water. It seemed like the perfect vantage point from which to mime playing guitar but I hadn't accounted for the effect of the Jack Daniel's on my sense of balance. I wobbled and .... Splash. Believe me, falling into a lake that's been used as an open toilet by elephants is not a pleasant experience...

Subsequently, while playing in Australia, Taylor fell violently ill from what was later diagnosed as "nonspecific tropical virus" from his dip.

I suppose there's a lesson there somewhere, along the lines of: ''If you smoke dope and drink Jack Daniel's in the tropical heat, don't fall into a lagoon full of elephant's urine and wash it all down with more booze and a bucket of chillies." But I guess some people never learn.

At about 3:42 in the video for "Save a Prayer," you can see Andy Taylor perched on that branch, before his accidental dip in the lagoon.

Andy Taylor makes clear that he didn't learn his lesson; it was often speculated that he was the "wild boy" of the band's song, although he says this is not the case (even while admitting to lots of partying). Never being quite specific enough to get anyone in legal trouble, he writes about the band's excesses and his own. There were outrageously expensive hotel stays, debauched scenes, plenty of cocaine. These are not realized as vividly as an eager fan might like, but this period has been documented elsewhere. Meanwhile, the band played to enormous crowds, as can be seen in the video for "The Reflex."

Perhaps most clearly documented are the disputes -- Andy and Nick had different musical sensibilities and clashing personalities from the start, and the early management company was closer to Simon than it was to the rest of the band. Eventually, creative conflicts and the pressures of fame drove the band apart. But not before it got to record a James Bond theme; "A View to a Kill" is the only James Bond theme song to have hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart.

Two things grounded Andy Taylor -- a solid relationship with his wife, Tracey, whom he married in 1982, and a genuine desire to make music. He formed the Power Station while Duran Duran was on hiatus and also had a career as a solo musician. Here's his 1986 single "Take It Easy" (with additional guitar by former Sex Pistol and current Los Angeles DJ Steve Jones).

Andy Taylor reunited with Duran Duran for several years but split from the band again prior to writing this book. "Wild Boy" will give fans a thrill -- and an excuse to watch all those videos again. 

-- Carolyn Kellogg

An earlier version of this post mistakenly identified Taylor's wife as Stacey. Her name is Tracey.