Duran Duran's John Taylor on Writing Memoir: 'The Hardest Topic Was the Drug Use'
After Glenda Bailey accepted an assignment to interview Duran Duran's John Taylor before a roomful of his most ardent fans, the Harper's Bazaar editrix did what any good journalist would do: her homework.
"I went back in time and looked in a magazine called Smash HIts," she told the audience at Manhattan's 92Y TriBeCa last week. "And in 1985, they asked John, 'If you were a household product, what would you be?' "
"I know the answer to that!" Taylor said gamely. "I said a refrigerator, because that way I'd be cool!"
Indeed, since the early '80s, Taylor has been the epitome of cool -- to the members of the night's almost exclusively female audience at least. As the suave, good-looking backbone of music-video pioneers Duran Duran, the bassist circled the globe like a new-wave James Bond with a license to bed supermodels and indulge his narcotic excesses without so much as wrinkling his Antony Price suits.
But the party had to end: Taylor was an addict with more than his fair share of insecurities and delusions. This is the journey that he documents in his just-released autobiography, In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran.
Certainly the story of a rock star's rise and fall is nothing new. But as far as the thousands of fans who have attended his book signings in the U.S. and his native U.K (where In the Pleasure Groove reached no. 6 on The Sunday Times best-seller list for nonfiction hardbacks) are concerned, they're getting a privileged look at the idol they've been worshipping for more than three decades.
Helen Polyzos, a 41-year-old Brooklyn assistant district attorney, called out of work and left her two young sons at home with her husband to claim her place in line outside of a Midtown Barnes & Noble more than seven hours ahead of Taylor's Oct. 16 autograph session. "When I arrived at 5:15 a.m., there were already eight people ahead of me," she says.
"For women of my generation, we all loved Duran Duran in general, but women just loved John," says Jill Schwartzman, Taylor's editor at Dutton. "I was at my friend's 40th birthday a few months ago. We're all dancing, and a Duran Duran song came on. I was about to meet John for the first time the next day, and I said to my friends: 'Guess who I'm having lunch with tomorrow? John Taylor.' They all screamed so loudly, I can't even tell you."
Musician memoirists including Eric Clapton and Keith Richards no doubt helped to tee up demand for tell-alls from Taylor and fellow '80s icons Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart and Cyndi Lauper, who also have released books in the past month.
During his talk with Bailey, Taylor said he was approached about penning his autobiography at the beginning of 2011. "It was suggested to me that if I wanted to write a book, it was a good time," he said. "There was a bit of a gold rush on in the publishing business."
Taylor reportedly landed an advance of more than $500,000. While his agent Jonathan Conway would not reveal the exact amount, he says that figure is "conservative."
"There was exceptional interest in John's autobiography during the auction for his book," Conway tells The Hollywood Reporter. "And the bidding war amongst many major publishers was, inevitably, intense."
Excessive tweeting is one of the few vices Taylor has left. He recently quit smoking and next month will celebrate a major milestone: 18 years of sobriety following a stint in an Arizona rehab facility.
"The hardest topic for me to write about was the drug use, and how I was going to create a scene that [conveys a] sense of real desperation to show that I had reached a bottom," Taylor, whose drugs of choice were alcohol and cocaine, tells THR. "I had this night in mind that I remembered very clearly, and I thought, 'Imagine if Quentin Tarantino wrote that scene.' "
Taylor says his drug-taking partner often was ex-Duran guitarist Andy Taylor (the two are not related), who detailed his own downward spiral in 2008's Wild Boy. "I didn't read Andy's book," Taylor says. "I sort of grazed. I got a feel for the tone of it."
"For the same reason I wouldn't ask any of my bandmates to read my book," he says. "It’s like, I was there. I’m too close. It’s going to impinge too heavily on my sense of things.
"I was so happy when Nick [Rhodes, Duran Duran co-founder and keyboard player] said to me the other day, 'Johnny, I’m not going to read your book,' " Taylor continues. "I said, 'Nick, I’m so happy about that, because you really don’t need to.' There’s a lot of love for Nick in the book, but he’s going to be, 'But it wasn’t like that,' and he’s going to get all out of joint about it."
As excited as the Duranie army is for Taylor's book, imagine the hysteria if the original plan for a Duran Duran autobiography featuring all the members had come to fruition. "We tried several times to write a band book," he reveals. "I thought it should all be in quotes -- like, Simon [LeBon, lead singer] says one thing, then John. It’s really the only way. But I've come to realize it's an impossible task. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to take the bull by the horns and write my own. Not only did I feel that it was going to take a long time for us to actually get it together, but I felt it wouldn’t be terribly good, either."
Even though he claims his memoirs offer a candid look at his wild, debaucherous ride and subsequent recovery, Taylor lets his fans get close -- but not too close. "You don’t put everything out there," he says. "I feel like I went into enough detail to give people the sense of what was going on, but you can’t tell everything. I mean, how can you? You wouldn’t have any friends left."