John Taylor, bassist and co-founder of Duran Duran, the British New Wave band that shot to fame in the eighties, once morphed from virginal ugly ducking with nerdy glasses into sex-drug-and-alcohol-addicted wild boy. And now, with his new memoir, In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death & Duran Duran, he has transformed again, this time into a confessional, God-loving dude, who craves authenticity and is addicted to nothing more dangerous than too much therapy.
“I’m on a bit of a path,” he says in a moment of earnest sharing, sitting on the edge of his seat in a downtown Toronto hotel, his legs nervously twitching. “I just don’t know where I’m going.”
“You’re not sure?” I ask, incredulous. Duran Duran, which reunited in 2001, tours and records successfully, having found a new currency in the music industry, 34 years after its debut.
“Exactly,” he says, confident in his vulnerability, looking down at his feet, shod in tan suede desert boots.
“No, music will always be there, but [it’s] where you go from there,” he continues, looking up with a pained, yearning expression. “You get tremendous opportunities when you’re a celebrity. And I’ve been so busy unravelling my complexes,” he says, drawing out the last word and pulling a face, “that I just haven’t had time. And I feel that as I get healthier, I can.”
It has been 18 years since he went into rehab for alcohol and cocaine addiction. He has been clean ever since. It is the analysis of his motivations and psyche that have become his new, healthier habit. He does therapy via Skype sometimes when he’s on tour. During the writing of his memoir, he went for help “because I knew I needed to keep my motivation straight,” he explains. “ ‘It’s a message of hope, John,’ my therapist said. If I were just doing it for the fame, it’s not good enough. If I were just doing it for attention, it’s not good enough. Underneath it, there has to be something more of substance.”
Taylor’s book is the story about a shy only child from a loving, Catholic family in Birmingham, England, who suddenly entered the crazy world of fame, ran the gauntlet of addictions, and came out on the other side. But if he is a reformed bad boy, vestiges of an angst-ridden, wild John are still there.
It’s clear within minutes of meeting him that the 52-year-old hasn’t lost his habit of projecting a rock-star vibe. Lean and tall, he wears faded jeans, a casual jacket and a plaid scarf wrapped around his neck. His hair betrays no grey, styled to be a spiky mess. He can instantly compose a cool model-like look on his face.
But the rock persona rubs against the grain of the recovered Birmingham boy, whose real name is Nigel. He is at turns shy and remote, looking off into the middle distance, purposefully avoiding eye contact, and then suddenly intense and intimate, touching my hand with the tips of his cool fingers, an instant everyman wanting to explain his existential journey.
He delves into his sex addiction with a sort of wistful relish. “I didn’t know how much of a problem I had with that until I tried to stop it, until I tried to slow down. Any time I tried to have a monogamous relationship in the eighties, it was absolutely impossible,” he says plaintively with a sigh.
“I found that these quickies were just like completely distorting my ideas about things. When sex is made so available to you,” he continues, his voice rising in intensity, “it’s very hard. It’s like dieting in our society. It’s pretty difficult, isn’t it?” he says with a strained expression. “There’s food everywhere,” he groans. He bugs his eyes in desperation. “Everywhere you go, there is such an abundance of flavours and tastes and it really....” well, he goes on with more sighs and expletives. “A candy store,” he adds after a moment’s pause, raising his eyebrows in remembered delight.
He was sex-addicted before anyone knew what sex addiction was. “Yeah, yeah,” he moans in acknowledgment. Did he ever count up the number of sex partners? “No, no,” he mumbles, reeling back from the edge of his seat, suddenly sober and surprised at the question. “I don’t know where some of these big numbers came from,” he mumbles.
Always dubbed the cute one in the band, Taylor believed that his single status was integral to his fame. “You become so typecast. The edgy one. The sexy one. And then you become that, and you start relating to each other as if you were that person. It’s bollocks! So much ambiguity comes from fame. Suddenly, on the one hand, we were all so famous, and then suddenly, just being in the band was a popularity contest – who’s got the most [magazine] covers this week, who are they screaming for the loudest? That became kind of important even if you told yourself it wasn’t.”
When Taylor looks back, he has no regrets – “ I have my own experience and it was fabulous” – but he does see a constant spiritual yearning. “A typical high for me – when I was really off my face, 6 a.m., in the Four Seasons Hotel, with some girl that I had met earlier – I would be talking about the universe. That would be my coke rap,” he says, speaking rapidly, the legs jittery again. “Since I got sober, I have quietly developed a spiritual life, and the way I live my life today. I have a God in my life. I have developed this through the 12-step program. And it’s an entirely different proposition from the God my mother had.”
I’m beginning to feel that the interview is a form of therapy for him. He touches my hand to explain the shame an alcoholic feels. He explains his growing unhappiness toward the end of the eighties; the “state of suspended adolescence” that fame brought. He didn’t pay a bill until he was 28. “You can’t stay in that world forever,” he continues. “And you actually don’t want to. Because then you start living in fear of it; fearing normalcy.”
He made his own decision to confront his addictions after his first failed marriage to the beauty Amanda de Cadenet, with whom he has a daughter. For the past 15 years, he has been with Gela Nash, co-founder of Juicy Couture, his second wife.
And that’s good?
“Yeah, and we’ve held onto it,” he offers.
Because it’s difficult?
“It has been, actually,” he confesses. “I travel a lot, and we have what we call these re-entry periods. … When you get back together, you have to surrender all over again. You have to recommit to one another. And you scream at each other and you give each other the option to walk out on the other, and say, ‘No, I’m not going. I actually want to be in this relationship.’ And the other person says, ‘Yeah, so do I.’ ”
His enthusiasm for the stability of his life and the soundness of his psychological footing is his new pleasure groove. He’s an Alice who has survived the warped world of fame’s wonderland, and he wants to explain it, describe it, as much of it as he can remember.
Any vices left?
“Well, I just ate a big piece of cheesecake,” he says, joyful in his normalcy.
But isn’t there pleasure still in being a rock star? Otherwise, why keep doing it?
“Because it’s what you do,” he replies. “I like getting in a studio. I like creating new music to get on a stage and performing it in front of an audience.”
Isn’t there a little bit of an addiction to that? To the love you get from strangers?
He furrows his brow. “That’s interesting,” he says, one hand under his chin, hunched forward in his seat, thinking. “There is a kind of unconditional love,” he muses, tumbling through his inner processes. “When you live to make that kind of artistic presentation on a stage, you need an audience. I don’t even like playing my instrument unless there’s someone in the room to appreciate me.”
He pauses, the yearning-to-be-normal rock icon, and laughs at the phrase that occurs to him before he utters it: “Even if it’s the dog.”