If you’re a loyal listener of the 1980s Now, you’re likely unsurprised to learn that a couple of my favorite guests are folks who have immersed themselves in the appreciation and legacy of Duran Duran. In September of 2021 Will and I enjoyed chatting with Annie Zaleski, author of “Rio,” an excellent deep-dive into what is generally considered to be Duran Duran’s best album from the 1980s.
As I devoured Annie’s book, I found myself reflecting on my feelings for this band and on the origin of my fondness for them in the early 80s. Why were they my favorite? What made me want to plaster my walls and ceiling with images of them? Why was their music, most especially their “Rio” album, the most likely to be heard coming out of my Walkman headphones?
These questions are easy to answer on a surface level. I didn’t have lingo for it at the time, but I now know that their songs contained blended disco, funk, and rock elements that resonated with me as I developed musical taste. And Simon’s voice…! To my ears, never was there a more perfect vehicle for enigmatic utterance. Hand in hand with their sound skills, Duran Duran made excellent use of the emerging medium of music videos to showcase their fashionable, easy-on-the-eye appearances and playful personalities. My eyes and my ears were thrilled! But there was more: Something deeper, visceral, and important, something that I absolutely could not have realized at the time, something humming in the background for me.
My childhood and adolescence were notable for timidity and low self-confidence in many situations, but most particularly in the arena of relationships to males. Friendship with males and eventually romantic relationships with them was something that teenage me wished for but was uncomfortably shy of. And for various irrational reasons, I had myself pretty well convinced that I wasn’t worth male attention. That perception was intertwined with my developing self-image as a heterosexual female. And I simply found it hard to believe— or rather, feel— that I was interesting, or attractive, or desirable.
What could this have to do with Duran Duran?
My discovery of D2 coincided with the advent of adolescence, when anything connected to sexuality and attraction was of interest to me, albeit ambivalently so. Part of me wanted nothing to do with it, but the rest of me was riveted, absorbed in attempts at understanding it through all forms of media. Making sense of sexuality and my relationship to it was extremely challenging at that time, but I can see now the clarifying influence that Duran Duran’s lyrical and video themes were having upon me. The band so frequently included representations of female sexuality in ways that celebrated femininity. They featured powerful women exuding confidence, always at least equal to the men, and sometimes with the scales tipped in the woman’s direction.
With hindsight I can see that the band’s inclusion of self-assured women combined with their consistent appreciation of femininity allowed me to identify with the women, and to feel included and appreciated at a time when I particularly needed it and wished for it from males. I can see now that as I held vigil for “Rio,” “Girls On Film,” and “Hungry Like The Wolf” to show up on daily MTV rotation and as I consumed many a pair of AA batteries repeatedly playing their first three albums, I was, without realizing it, wrapping myself in a cocoon of self-image safety. I had so much further yet to travel in my process, but it’s clear to me now that my adolescent immersion in the sights and sounds of Duran Duran solidified a significant layer of hope that I, too, could one day be respectfully appreciated for the female that I am by some future male that I admired. I’ll even venture to say that I’m a better partner for it.
I’ve been occasionally pondering this topic for the better part of a year, and I’m grateful to Annie Zaleski, and another delightful guest Durandy, and to Will and Jon for their clarifying effect on my contemplation. I’ve even improbably wished for Duran Duran to know of the role they played for me and very likely for many others. It was the very recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony that revealed to me the band does understand at least some of their influence on fans such as myself, which inspired me to write of it. I close my musings here with a crystallizing quote from Simon LeBon, delivered during his portion of the award acceptance: ”Over the 40 years I’ve been working, I’ve come to believe that the essence of our job is this: We get to make people feel better about themselves.” Yup.