What’s the most expensive Duran Duran song ever sold? How about 'As Seen From A Distance'? It was part of the “incentive scheme” to encourage fans to part with £400 for the vinyl collectors edition of Paper Gods. Within days of release it was all over You Tube. Some very generous souls had shared it.
I joked once I’d do a detailed lyrical analysis on it (as I am wont to do!)…. “as seen from a distance, the death of a killer.” In short, I believe it’s about drone warfare and the soundtrack is suitably video-gamish, highlighting our cognitive dissonance when it comes to remote killing…. The end!
But let’s keep the tone light here; I have a soft spot for this song – it’s got that early DD vibe going on, that Planet Earth kinda handclap dance feel to it. It has a sound of promise and unchartered horizons. It’s made me wonder (apart from the negative associations of its initial cost and our jaded expectation of open wallet surgery) why it isn’t held closer in fan hearts.
The uncomfortable answer falls into my lap as my mind tries to put the current Duran Duran into the Planet Earth video to the sound-track of As Seen From A Distance. Let’s see now.... self-assured bizzare dancing, smouldering eyes through a curtained fringe, a topless Simon (with underarm hair!!), water sensuously falling through open fingers onto his mouth, flames engulfing his face pictured halfway between agony and ecstasy??? All the nostalgia in the world can’t buy that just-out-of-reach sensation, and what remains is a sense of reflective gratitude and unacknowledged loss.
Not convinced? Well let’s pick a truly awful b-side from back-in-the-heyday for comparison - Faith In This Colour. One conjures up a mental image of leather trousers, bouffant hair, youthful indifference, and vitality… while As Seen From A Distance? It’s a group of “veteran” pop stars partying like its 1984.
Faith In This Colour comes with an in-built cortical movie of promise and possibility for the band and for fans. How does the inarguably superior As Seen From A Distance make you feel? Sexy, vibrant, adventurous? Or is it more akin to a fond retrospective of your life - a sunset garage kind of way, grateful to be alive (tired and relieved?). Or sitting on a throne of sand surveying the landscape of your life à la the universe alone (philosophical and insignificant?).
I don’t know about you, but I need faith in something before I get lost in an existential funk. Even a lazy 34 year old b-side would do. Are we ageist? Simon is due to be a Grandad this year. The issue is, when we hear those early songs in concert we are 15 in our hearts and minds - and we conveniently forget not in our bodies also. Warning: don’t look at other fans. They’ll remind you of what you’re not. The magic of a Duran Duran concert is there’s a filter present to feel 15. The band look great, pops of colour, flounce and flair... So just keep looking forward at the GILFS on film, rejuvenated by that prepared mental-movie of yesteryear, most effectively recalled for those older songs. Provided Simon can keep hitting those high notes in Wild Boys you can re-live your most virile years. And what about the view from the stage? Is John looking out at the audience imagining a nubile, lithe fan with a banner asking him to fuck her, blanking out the reality of fans incapable of reaching the high frequency screams of their glory years (let’s not talk about that cortical movie)? Is that the real reason he closes his eyes to play? How do we measure up in this game of collusion and lost youth?
The magic of Duran Duran is vitality - for them, for us – and that vitality is measured through youth (or the memory of it) and sex (or the memory of it?).
In 1984, there was plenty of youth - and sex. Apart from a few raunchy promo posters the sex thing kinda fell of the radar during the latter Warren years (strangely enough), peeped through the shutters on Astronaut and made a proper return on Red Carpet Massacre. On All You Need Is Now we were titillated / disgusted by Girl Panic (gotta love how the moral compass has shifted since Girls On Film).
And then with Paper Gods... nothing, nada, rien! No models, no sexy artwork, no sexy videos, just strobe lights, jaunty lyrics and a barren detached melody. Desperate for a fix I took whatever I could find. My avatar for that era was a John Taylor unzipped sleeve from Pressure Off. That jaw-line, the faint suggestion of a strip tease, ohhh…I’m a sucker for suggestion, the expanse of possibility in an elastic mind). If you actively listen the sex is there lyrically in Only in Dreams, but in 1984, you had the chance to hear, even when you didn’t listen. Paper Gods is philosophical and appreciative, but it’s lacking smut or sensuality. Damn Duran! So many videos (a format they virtually copyrighted and now ignore or release several months late) are sex, and not just the nurse whose skin-tight tunic is “falling down” as she leans suggestively over the good doctor. Even Simon’s hairy pits have caused an early stirring or two. Those Jo-Si moments – sex. The onstage chemistry – sex.
This is pretty much the stuff of your Twitter feed. Lusting after 22 (35?) year-old versions of the band sits all too comfortably with us, so it’s safe to assume we still have an appetite. Part of the formula of Duran keeping us young is selling the antidote to death. It’s something they have managed to continuously capture on stage but became somewhat muted in their latest studio outing.
The whole notion of legacy suggests stability and permanence. It is honest, but in single-mindedly focussing on legacy, the erotic spark of our shared long term relationship is in danger of being extinguished. Is it time to pull out the bedroom toys, and put a bit of spice back into Duran Duran? As seen from a distance it appears to be an essential part of our collective survival. If Duran do, it will most likely be at the expense of their ever-fragile media credibility, but as a wise man once sang “forget about the reeling, talk about the feeling, solid gold” ... now that’s more like it!