Last night I had the great pleasure of seeing Duran Duran in concert. It’s been awhile since I’ve done an ‘arena’ type of gig and I was smiling from the get go at the cheesy merchandise stands and over priced drinks. Walking into a big stadium or entertainment centre is like arriving at the airport: full of possibilities and the clatter of other travellers sorting themselves out before the ride. For most of the crowd this was clearly an opportunity for nostalgia and a chance to groove in the aisles to some cheesy ‘80s hits. I’m not sure Duran Duran actually think of themselves as an ‘80s band, though, since they’ve never stopped releasing music and have a new album out as we speak. Some of the punters probably learned this for the first time last night since the playlist was a rock-meets-dance-floor mix of old and new, certainly not 2 hours of New Romantic fluff.
In a lot of ways though it wouldn’t have mattered what DD played last night, nor whether they were any good at playing it. Going to see a band you grew up with is a bit like catching up with an old friend. You approach them with curiosity and generosity, forgive them a few wrinkles and walk away with your head full of memories from the good and bad times you’ve shared. Their music reminds you of the crazy mixed tape of your own life.
I first met Duran Duran in Smash Hits magazine (UK edition) which my Mum bought for me as a treat on summer holidays. At 11 years of age I was quickly addicted, setting in motion the pop cultural Anglophilia with which I’m afflicted to this day. Ages 12-14 were about plastering walls with posters, screaming at Countdown, staying up all night to watch Band Aid and penning avant garde pop classics on a Casio keyboard in my best friend’s bedroom. She and I spent a weekend making a birthday card for bass player John Taylor and were heartbroken when he never acknowledged receipt.
Then comes 19-21: my first trip to London with my first serious boyfriend. We stayed for two years and I learned to carry a backpack, smoke too much, pull a pint and share a house with 22 of the great unwashed (literally). Taking time out from the rotating cast of couch dossers, who’d be quite at home in a John Birmingham novel, a couple of the house long-termers queued up at Wembley Stadium to buy tickets for the great DD tour of 1993. It was canned at the last minute due to singer Simon Le Bon’s dodgy throat so instead we had a backyard bbq which involved the burning of fence palings and dining chairs. I sat at the feet of a much older South African man and watched, enthralled, while he worked a little pile of white powder with a mirror and a razor blade, just like in the movies. I didn’t inhale. I felt very worldly when DD released a cover of White Lines a few years later.
The uni years came and went. I visited the UK several times as a tourist, an exchange student and a PhD researcher. I maintained a casual knowledge of what the band was up to as their line up chopped and changed and they experimented with musical styles. Passing through London every few years meant gleaning a bit of gossip here and a new video there that may not have been available to me in Australia, in the days before the Internet made everything available to everyone, everywhere.
Back in Brisbane in 2003 I was feeling pretty lost. My new husband and I were failing to start a family. I was in the professional wasteland of life-after-uni, still not sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was nonetheless blessed with a routine office job that facilitated relentless refreshing of the Ticketek website at 9am on the dot the day DD tickets went on sale. A few months later one of my oldest friends and I, along with two tag-along-in-case-they-show-the-Girls-On-Film-video husbands, were in the front row, on the John Taylor side. My friend nursed a baby bump while still managing to drop the shoulder if anyone pushed in front of us.
A few weeks after moving back to London with my husband in 2004, a week into starting the job of a lifetime as a Curator at the British Library, I risked looking completely unprofessional by bolting from my desk early and jumping a tube to Oxford Street. A grim bouncer shoe-horned me onto the end of a queue that ran from the doors of HMV up a side alley way, just before he started turning people away. I was the last in the privileged line of people attending a free in-store promotional gig – and signing! Dr Cain Gray felt a wee bit foolish at this late stage of the game – giggling and reminiscing with a couple of new queue-friends – but 12 year old Miss Cain would never have forgiven her future self if she had not taken this opportunity. My beloved John was, perhaps inevitably, a little underwhelming. Moody, androgynous keyboard player Nick Rhodes was the one with enough charisma for all them – utterly charming and happy for a chat. Through my professional life in London I crossed paths with lots of my heroes – writers, philosophers, scientists. The British Library was a hub of high brow intellectual and cultural activity. But getting a full set of DD autographs was also pretty cool.
And so to 2012. Do I still enjoy their music? Yep. Do I listen to it every day? No. Do I follow John Taylor on Twitter? Oh yeah. Would I hang around outside their hotel for a glimpse? No. Well, probably not. I’m pretty sure not. But last night my 2003 concert-going buddy was again by my side. Now 30-something busy mums, we were somewhere around the middle of the first balcony, in comfy seats. Family life means: a) not so willing to sacrifice the kids’ education fund for front row tickets and b) no time to join the virtual queue at 9am on a Monday morning. I found myself grateful for the empty seat next to me (handbag space) and enjoyed getting off my high heels for the slow songs. The show was pure pleasure – loud and proud and fun. As I faced the long slow trail of tail lights to get out of the car park, I was looking forward to getting home and cuddling my kids; safe in the knowledge that they’re still young enough to be fascinated, not exasperated, by my night out when I filled them in over breakfast.
Duran Duran feature at so many points in the highlights package of my life. At the start of the show Simon Le Bon mentioned that it had been 30 years since the first time DD played Brisbane. “That’s a long time to share a friendship” – he said. I can’t think of any better way to sum it up.