Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Duran Duran's Rio:a study in context and juxtaposition

This is a really long post. my apologies. I'll try to make most of them a bit shorter

I remember exactly why I became interested in Duran Duran. In 1984 I was in 8th grade, and Dori Bicek was the coolest girl in class. Bear in mind, this was a very small class of about 17 kids at First Baptist Christian School in Downers Grove, Illinois. It was certainly a small ecosystem...but we had our cliques, and she was definitely the top Heather. At the time, she seemed so damned cool. She was confident and worldly (Remember: Baptist school. She probably wasn't that worldly.), and she was really into Duran Duran. For Dori's sake, I sincerely hope that she somehow remained cool when she entered High School. I have no way of knowing. I never saw her again. Most of the kids who went on to public school went to either Downers Grove North (The Trojans) or Downers Grove South (The Mustangs). I didn't live in Downers Grove. I was a couple towns over in Lombard, so I went to Glenbard East and was, presumably, a Ram. Most of the Rams--the ones who wore uniforms, anyway--didn't much care for me.

There was one get-together of the FBCS class of '84 a couple years after we graduated. I couldn't make it--I was playing a gig with my band "Hazzard". It turned out to be our only gig. It was our drummer's little sister's middle school graduation party. We played "I Won't Forget You, Baby" and "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" by Poison, "Love Bites" by Def Leppard, "Never Say Goodbye" by Bon Jovi, "The Eye of the Tiger" by Survior, a crappy instrumental piece we wrote to showcase our "soloing" skills (it would only have been crappier if we had attempted to put lyrics to it) and inexplicably, "Blueberry Hill".

But I digress. The point is, I had priorities. And this crappy band that played songs I didn't even really care for playing for some giggly girl and her giggly friends was more important than going to see friends that I had gone to school with from 2nd to 8th grade, and hadn't seen since. I. Was. That. Committed. To. My. Art.

So I phoned it in. Not my performance with the band. My attendance to the party. I called to say I couldn't make it because I had this really important gig, and we were totally rocking Franklin Park. And then I sat and watched Pink Floyd's "The Wall" on MTV and had my mind blown. I remember these little details.

While I never saw Dori Bicek again, I did continue to have some appreciation for Duran Duran. They sort of became an entry-level drug for me into the world of European pop, which ultimately led to me learning about some other bands that I like a lot more, and continue to like to this day. And a bit later, when my tastes had matured some, I did sort of like the Wedding Album (1993) for it's own merit. But I don't think I would consider myself a Duran Duran fan.

About six months ago, I was driving home from work with the radio on. Normally, I hate listening to music on the radio. I hate to be force fed music by corporations. But the NPR station refused to come in any longer--my "automatic" antenna on my aging car only raises itself 1/3 of the way--so I clicked over to a more powerful station. In this case, it was one of those "we play anything" type stations. A song or two in, Duran Duran's "Rio" came over the airwaves. I'll admit to having liked this song at one time. But for some reason, possibly because of the way my stereo sounds, or was equalized at the time, or maybe because the windows were open, I was able to hear the lyrics very clearly. And so I listened...and was horrified. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. But the lyrics to Rio are really, really bad. And I began to hate the song, and every time it has come up in conversation (a surprising amount of times for a 24 year old song) I've taken the opportunity to vent about this terrible song that deceived me for many years.

Flash forward to this morning. I was using the elliptical machine at my health club in my ongoing attempt to curb the effects of a mouse-jockey lifestyle. This is a pretty new club and they have all the snazziest equipment. Each of the cardio-type machines (treadmills, stair climbers, ellipticals, stationary bikes, etc.) has its own TV screen which displays any of the local cable channels and a variety of music video channels which may or may not be licensed specifically to health clubs. It's possible that the music videos are just cable channels that I don't get, but there don't seem to be any commercials, so I doubt that's the case. Most mornings, I begin my time on the elliptical machine watching the tail end of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode on FX. When that's over, I click up to one of the video channels--whichever one is playing something I sort of like--and surf between the various channels if a video I don't care for is played. For some reason I don't recall, I settled on the "80's Pop" channel this morning. I think the last chorus of "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves was playing. Awful video, but the song saved my life once on a road trip through Kansas once. (I'm not going to explain that at this time.) The next video that came on was Rio, and I discovered how wrong I had been about this song.

The first thing that struck me was how good the bass line is. I attribute this to the fact that I was listening to the song through my iPod earbuds, and so was able to listen to it with the intended balance. But's a pretty good bassline. And while the subject matter of the video is itself a bit silly--painted women writhing about on a boat that Simon LeBon and the boys appear to be sailing--it was visually interesting enough at 7AM for me keep the video on. So I was enjoying the really good bass line and the visuals, and I hardly noticed the vocals. And that's when it struck me. This song is not intended to be listened to without the video to accompany it. When I heard it on the radio, the context was wrong, and so I hated the song. Juxtaposed with the video, the song becomes so much more than it is without it.

In every way, it is a perfect example of the style over substance that is typical of 80's pop music. In fact, the painted women writhing around on the deck for our pleasure, as well that of the members of Duran Duran are the epitome of 80's style. They look like paintings by Patrick Nagel. (Incedentally, Patrick Nagel, or someone who drew a lot like him did the cover the Rio album. I had forgotten that until I started to poke around Duran Duran's website while writing this.) Videos originally functioned as commercials to sell records. I think that this video exists to celebrate a decade and its excesses.

Perhaps it is best if the function of top 100 music is to speak only of surface. Most attempts at substance are really sort of substandard. Remember "We Are the World." Listen to the lyrics of that piece of tripe. When a song that really does have something to say comes along, it is only made more substantial by comparison. This point was driven home when the next video to play was Suzanne Vega's "Luka". Great song. Not a great video.

But Rio does have a pretty great bassline.


The Moon Topples said...

Basest: Let me officially welcome you to the blogosphere. Here is your mug and fruit basket. Lawn ornaments must be approved by the neighborhood council.

This is easily both the longest and most intricate discussion of a Duran Duran song I've read in weeks. If not months.

Glad you still remember "Walking on Sunshine," and I'm sorry you had to work out to "Luka." That song doesn't exactly lend itself to cardio...

basest said...

moon topples:
thank you. I will make a smoothie with the fruit and drink it from my mug.

Chris said...

Ah the 80's.

Please don't apologize for the lenghth of your post. I quite enjoyed reading it whilst having my morning coffee. It is funny thinking about the music we used to listen to in our youth and why. I truly wonder how much of what we did was because of peer pressure or as in your case trying to connect with someone.

I have never thrown away or gotten rid of a CD or LP. So I find it fun every now and then to pop something in that I haven't listened to in ages and

1 - marvel at how far recording/mixing processes have improved
2 - wondered, what the heck was I thinking
3 - found that 'special' CD and allow the memories to flood back

It sounds cliche but music really is the sound track to our lives. I think that is why I've held on to them all. I can't do the big cull because they represtent my history and who I was at the time.

What really makes me sad is that the 80's to this generation are what the 70's were to my generation. Suddenly I feel old. Now where is that XTC album....

basest said...

I'm glad I could provide some coffee-drinking background reading. Just remember to drink the coffee and read the blog. If you do the opposite it will be a mess.

While I have been able to divest myself of some of my LPs and CDs I have bought in the past -- some are just too embarrassing -- I have kept most of them. The saddest thing about that is I don't currently own anything on which to play LPs.

But you know what you NEED to throw away, if you have any? 8-tracks. They suck. Even if they are XTC albums.

Chris said...

I never bought into the 8 track or cassettes. I went straight from LP to CD. I dabbled with DATs when doing some studio work a while back in the early 90's but never did get a DAT player. But I still have the tapes somewhere in a box covered in dust.