There is no pop heaven. Meaning that, there is no determined end for pop icons who at one time covered both our consciousness and our bedroom walls. Look at the insistent reminders of celebrity rises-and-falls in VH1's "Behind the Music" and E!'s "True Hollywood Story." ("And then there were drugs ... and now they're back!" ) What are pop stars to do when what made them famous doesn't cut it anymore? Where do they go when the thrill is gone?
Duran Duran, remarkably, didn't go anywhere.
"Things go 'round in circles," explains Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran's keyboardist and Warhol-style raconteur, on the phone from New York. The band is in the midst of its current tour (which hits Saturday, Aug. 28, at House of Blues), 20 years and 11 studio albums into the game. "I think when you're a new band -- if you really break through and really try to break some boundaries down -- you actually become part of the culture of the times. Then two things happen: One is you become enormous and ingrained -- people don't forget you. The other is, since you become so synonymous with that time, people don't want to let you out of that period of time."
That period of time for Duran Duran was the early to mid-'80s, and it involved a huge string of musical and merchandising successes that found the likenesses of Simon Le Bon (vocals), John Taylor (bass), Andy Taylor (guitar), Roger Taylor (drums) and Rhodes (keyboards) adorning nearly every possible consumer surface. They led charmed, idealized lives of clumsy materialism and poetic overstatement, but with a trend-setting musical edge that made Duran Duran targets for both praise and hate, just for being so gloriously overdone.
"It was very difficult after that to change people's concept of what Duran Duran was about," continues Rhodes. "Particularly when the concept of Duran Duran has always been to change."
And they do make an interesting case. Throughout the '80s Duran Duran and their mid-'80s side projects (Arcadia and Power Station) were never absent from the "Billboard" charts, although by most recollections they seemed to fade away, sweatbands, lip gloss and all. They even survived the departures of all three Taylors, recruiting Missing Persons/ Frank Zappa guitarist Warren Cuccurullo 10 years ago.
"It's like one of those rockets that takes off and then you lose the one bit and then the next bit and then you move on," offers Rhodes. "It's just the evolution of the band."
But Duran Duran were never anything less than extremists. Whether skirting the cocaine highs of the avant garde or scraping the hollowed-out bottom of self-confessed Chic/Roxy Music hybridization, Duran Duran gained notoriety from eccentric and, yes, fashionable, aesthetic manipulations: hair, video, clothes, model girlfriends -- even music.
"We've always reflected our times," says Rhodes, "unlike a lot of other bands that pick a style -- and they know that style forever, and it never changes -- and they just make record after record after record. We've swapped around and taken a little bit from here, a little bit from there, and made it our own."
That sort of tourism doesn't make for an easy racket, though. At their most eclectic, Duran Duran has been shunned by everyone, including their former record label, Capitol. The band's last album on that imprint, "Medazzaland" (1997), fell on deaf ears in the U.S. and wasn't even released in their native England.
Though it delayed the delivery of the already recorded but not released "Pop Trash," Duran Duran is about to sign with Hollywood Records, where promotion of the new disc won't be buried by 20 years of difficult history. This tour was originally scheduled to promote "Pop Trash." But after absorbing the setbacks due to label-jumping, the powers-that-be decided to avoid any competing Y2K frenzy (an expected excess of millennial releases) and hold Duran Duran's latest until the new year.
Consequently, the band is using the dates to road test songs and, ultimately, to reconnect with an audience that they may have lost along the way.
Despite the tendency of most relics of the '80s to flip into showcase mode, Duran Duran is still ambitious enough to press on into the future, defending musical pertinence in the here and now. New songs hint at the band's characteristic funk-pop edge, while old favorites are cast in a modern aesthetic. It's not nostalgia, really. It's just Duran Duran.
"Seeing the peoples' reactions to songs, seeing the passion in it, made me realize how connected we are to our audience," explains Rhodes. "I think that's a very hard thing to achieve. There aren't many artists out there where people completely relate to them. We've got so many supporters who've really stuck with us."
For an overview, visit www.lizardking.simplenet.com, and you'll find connections to a complex world of Duran idolatry: reviews, stories, up-to-the-second updates and a ridiculous number of links from all over the world. There's even a frightening poem: "D is for Dashing/ They certainly are." It's daunting, but Duran Duran has always been a bit sci-fi.
Besides, along with the Duran Duran superfans are an influential number of genuine supporters in the music business who work to keep the band in the limelight, including the folks who stimulate the newsgroups, who write and publish articles, and who book the shows.
"There's often been times where I've thought, well, where have we gone with this? And have we gone as far as we can go down that road? Maybe I should do other things, because there's lots of other projects I've been dying to do for years," surmises Rhodes. "But I've always thought there've been enough things in Duran Duran to keep it interesting, enough to keep this thing moving in directions that excite us."