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By his own admission, John Taylor lives a charmed existence. Deliriously wealthy, strikingly good-looking, happily married to a successful entrepreneur, and a founding member of Duran Duran, one of the most successful British groups of the past two decades, he can claim the quintessential rock star existence. After reuniting with the other original members of the band some five years back, he is now in the enviable position of being able to prosper from the past made possible in part from sales of some 70 million albums while enjoying the possibility of further upping the ante.
"We've been very fortunate," Taylor says. "Once we made the decision to put the band back together, we haven't looked back. It's accepting that this is your life, baby, and it ain't half bad."
Not half bad at all. Speaking on the phone from the balcony of his L.A. penthouse, with the sound of frolicking children audible in the background, he exudes a palpable contentment. Following a critically acclaimed comeback via 2004's Astronaut, an album that has much in common with the group's best work of the early Eighties, the bandmates have outdistanced the pressures and strife that had nearly made them to borrow the title of one of their later hits come undone.
Indeed there's a clear divide in the Duran Duran saga. The first phase encompasses the early years, beginning with the band members' unprecedented rise to worldwide acclaim. It revolves around five lads from Birmingham, England, barely out of their teens: three of them named Taylor (though all unrelated) John on bass, Andy on guitar, and Roger on drums along with vocalist Simon Le Bon and keyboard player Nick Rhodes. Taking their name from a character in the Jane Fonda sci-fi cult hit Barbarella, they meld the influences of David Bowie and Roxy Music with hints of punk and disco, simultaneously seizing upon the so-called New Romanticism movement sweeping the UK in the early Eighties. They then use their model-perfect looks and a cinematic sensibility to create groundbreaking videos in a variety of exotic locations around the world. All of this happily coincides with the launch of MTV. As a result, the bandmates become the first stars of the fledgling medium, which in turn leads to a string of hits an astonishing thirteen chart-topping singles in three years and a series of platinum albums that scale the charts immediately upon release. By the mid-Eighties, they conquer America, filling stadiums and unleashing a fan frenzy akin to Beatlemania. Their songs "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Save a Prayer," "Union of the Snake," "The Reflex," and "Wild Boys" become enduring radio staples.
Unfortunately the rapid advent of fame and fortune would take its toll. "We were messed up emotionally," Taylor admits. "Things were moving so quickly. We did a lot of drugs, got laid a lot, and got caught up in an immense amount of touring. We were all just kids ... in fact I was still living at home at the time. It created a bad dynamic within the band and an incredible amount of competitiveness. It was extraordinarily rough.
"Unlike some groups, we're a real band," he continues. "Most groups have only one or two individuals who get all the attention Mick and Keith in the Stones, Bono and the Edge in U2 but in Duran, all five members had their fans, which made a very equal spread of energy and created a lot of friction. The ego is a very fragile thing, and it's often bigger than it's meant to be."
That's where the second part of the story takes up, commencing with a gradual descent as the band slowly imploded. After recording the title track for the James Bond film A View to a Kill, the group went on hiatus, with Taylors John and Andy joining Chic drummer Tony Thompson and singer Robert Palmer in the short-lived Power Station. Meanwhile Le Bon, Rhodes, and Roger Taylor formed their own ensemble, Arcadia. An attempt to resurrect Duran Duran proved only mildly successful after Andy and Roger opted to exit in the late Eighties. Warren Cuccurullo, formerly of Missing Persons, took over guitar duties, and in 1993 the reconstituted group released the self-titled Duran Duran. It spawned the hits "Ordinary World" and "Come Undone" and reaped worldwide sales of four million copies.
That would be the band's last taste of megasuccess for more than ten years. John parted company in 1996 during the recording of Thank You, a covers collection that many critics claimed had torpedoed Duran Duran to a new low. Subsequent albums Mezzaland and Pop Trash failed to resuscitate their fortunes.
"We had a lot of luggage in our suitcases," Taylor says of the band's slow descent. "After ten years, it had gotten pretty stinky. It was like a dysfunctional family in a way, all this locked-up resentment. We felt we had to work, but it started to feel like Spinal Tap after a while."
At the same time, John's private life became equally tempestuous. Despite having reaped critical acclaim for his first outside musical venture the soundtrack to the film 9 1/2 Weeks and its spin-off single, "I Do What I Do" in 1988 his first proper solo album, the prophetically titled Feelings Are Good & Other Lies, was all but ignored. A short-lived marriage to actress Amanda De Cadenet crashed and burned; rumors of his infidelity and drug dependency added to the personal carnage. Looking for a new creative outlet, Taylor turned to acting in the late Nineties (a decade earlier he had a guest shot in an episode of Miami Vice). He made occasional lowbrow TV appearances and embarked on a tentative film career that saw highs (1999's Sugar Town under the tutelage of noted film director Allison Anders) as well as lows (2000's The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas).
"When you're successful in one field, people tend to come at you from other fields," Taylor explains. "I wasn't really interested in doing it at first, but my management was telling me: 'You don't have to act, you won't have to audition ... all you have to do is turn up.' But then I'd see all these young serious actors who took their craft very seriously, so I started to realize that if you know the material, that really helps too. I spent a year where I went to a lot of auditions and learned about humility."
In 1999 John remarried, this time to Gela Nash, cofounder of the immensely successful Juicy Couture line of casual clothing and accessories, for which he currently serves as a male consultant. He also overcame his drug habit and settled into a life of domestic stability. However, it was the collective decision to reunite the five original members of Duran Duran that has Taylor waxing effusively this particular afternoon. Having resolved their old animosities via a series of phone calls, the bandmates regrouped in March 2001. They would eventually sign with Epic Records, which released the critically lauded Astronaut in 2004.
"I had reconciled to the fact that it was over," Taylor says. "But once we opened up to the possibility, we all came on board.... We found a way back to each other, and that made us stronger than ever. We have a good time with each other now, and we're all really loving it."
One factor that has definitely made a difference is that now they have the power to choose when and where they play live, a decision Taylor says has had a significant effect on the band's overall attitude. "The first time, we were doing nothing but touring, and it was too much, so we were determined not to get caught up in that again. We don't have to go out on tour; we can limit our gigs to a few big shows. We're in control now, and I'm in control over how I cope with whatever is happening."
In fact the group was initially apprehensive about the prospect of doing any shows at all. Taylor has vivid memories of their first appearance after getting back together. "We had been booked for a big reunion concert in Japan where Duran Duran's always had this huge following, and we had only one day's rehearsal. They were expecting 100,000 fans, so it was significant for us to go there after all those years. I remember right up until an hour before we went on, we were asking each other: öDo you think this is really going to happen?' We really weren't sure. But it was just fantastic; it felt just like the old days, and we all felt really good about it."
For now Taylor and the rest of the band are looking ahead to finishing their next album, which, he reveals, will feature a track co-written and produced by Britney Spears's ex-paramour Justin Timberlake. "After we recorded that, I left New York dazed," he enthuses. "I thought to myself, Wow, what's happened now? It's really that good."
Mainly, though, Taylor is happy simply to be back at work and playing alongside his long-time colleagues. "I love my job. I love the creative process," he gushes. "That's all it takes to keep me on the plane, to get me to that rehearsal. It's like, show up and keep the guitar in tune. I'm actually petrified that someday I'll have to get a regular job."