Wednesday, June 20, 2012

And we’ll sway in the moon the way we did when we were younger… (Reflections on life, writing, and my relationship with Duran Duran, and a birthday message for John Taylor)

The following post contains passages from a birthday message I posted on my blog two years ago. 

When I stop to think about the long-term, committed relationships in my life outside of family, I never could have predicted that one of the longest, most committed of them has been with a pop icon. OK, so with the exception of a couple of replied tweets in the last two years, it’s mostly been one-sided. Some might argue that as a result, the word “relationship” doesn’t qualify. But I disagree. In fact, my twenty-nine year relationship with Duran Duran—and bassist John Taylor—has been one of the constants in my life. Writing and chocolate are among the others.

John Taylor was always the band member who got the most screams, sold the most posters and pin-ups, and won the coveted button real estate on our denim jackets and pocketbook straps. I had a lot of competition when it came to winning John’s heart, but I had always claimed to have an advantage: I got the music. After all, I was the youngest in a family of musicians. My first words very well may have been “yellow submarine.” I could hear and sing two-part harmony by myself. I knew what a drum fill was, and understood technical terms like “reverb.” I knew what a Linn drum was. I even knew that John played an Aria Pro II bass guitar, that he played a Rickenbacker bass in the “Planet Earth” video, and how those both differed from, say, a Fender bass. I knew the difference between a demo and a master. I knew how long it took to mix a single song (and that the meal of choice after an all-night mixing session was beer and eggs).

Surely, at 15, I was going to wow him with this knowledge. But I never got the chance.

At that time, the age gap seemed so wide, so impossible to close. My first foray into fiction were the secret stories I used to write in which my best friend and I magically aged seven years, magically materialized in the right place at the right time (a.k.a., meeting the band and being whisked away with them to some tropical island), our hair and faces and bodies magically transformed to sexy and irresistible rather than adolescently awkward (and, in my case, overweight). Of course, they would all fall in love with me, but John would be the lucky one. Because John would win my heart. Better still, I would win his.

I wrote a collection of these stories—enough for an anthology—and what strikes me about them now is how much of a lifeboat they were for me. The mid-eighties were the most tumultuous time in my life. I had been raised in the age of the pending nuclear holocaust, but I hadn’t been prepared for the bomb blast that had been the end of my parents’ marriage, and the way my siblings and I all wandered aimlessly, trying to survive the fallout like in those post-nuke propaganda movies.

But Duran Duran was the band that famously announced they would be playing when the bomb went off, and they lived up to that. They gave me purpose and direction. They comforted me when I was in despair, stimulated me when I was numb, provided the exclamation point when I was happy. And they continue to do so. When I’m feeling good, I listen to Duran Duran to enhance the high. When I’m feeling down, I listen to them to cheer me up. And when I’m just living daily life, Duran Duran is the soundtrack to that life. And they still makes me wanna dance.

(I haven’t even mentioned what being at a live Duran Duran concert is like. That’s a whole other blog post.)

I’ve never shown anyone those stories. They’re pretty awful, writing-wise. Totally cringe-worthy. But that’s not the only reason why I’ve kept them under lock and key. To show them to someone else is to let them see too much of who I was desperate to be. There’s too much painful reality in that fiction. I’ve not even dared to peak at them in over twenty-five years. Yet I’ve never been able to bring myself to destroy them, either. Moreover, I’ve recently learned that I’m not the only one who indulged in this kind of fan fiction; a Facebook friend revealed that she and her friends used to do the same thing. A blog post by another fan shared similar stories. I’d had no idea there was a community of us, and I wondered if they wrote for the same reasons I did. The writing teacher in me couldn’t help but envision a present-day Duran Duran fan fiction-writing workshop in which, some thirty years later, we take our purple pens to our spiral notebooks again and write new stories. Why would we write them now? Do we even need to? What would they be about today?

For one thing, the age gap has closed. I don’t have to be older, thinner, prettier. I turned out OK. The gap has finally closed, and we have more in common than ever before.

For another thing, being whisked off to a tropical island with the guys is no longer a priority (although let’s face it: I wouldn’t fight any of ‘em off if that’s what they wanted to do).

It’s come to this: the adult me doesn’t dream about marrying JT as much as she does of sitting back and having a conversation with him, talking about the things that matter: love, family, writing, and, of course—always—music. I could talk about the music all day. Better yet, with the impending release of John Taylor’s memoir, we get to share the experience of being published authors. We get to be colleagues now rather than fan and star.

My stories today wouldn’t be so much about escaping to a happier place as much as it would be about nurturing the place I’m in right now, and making the relationship more mutual. John and the other bandmates may not know my name or my face or have read any of my novels, but that doesn’t mean I had nothing to give them over the years, or that they didn’t receive it. I paid forward the gifts they gave to me. I healed from the painful parts of my past. I grew into the person I am today. I fell in love with other people and places and songs and words.

They’ve influenced me as a writer, too. Perhaps the most obvious hint is that band’s song “Ordinary World” was the inspiration for my novel of the same name. And my readers can always find a cameo appearance by the band whether it’s a quote from a character, a faded photo in an old wallet, or, less recognizably, the album playing in the background as I type the words on the page. But really, their influence on me as a writer began with those secret stories—they were the first lies I told so that I could better cope with the truth.

Most importantly, the story I would write today seems less like fantasy fiction and more like a possibility, something that actually happened rather than wishing it so.

Perhaps the real magic is that I now look back on the eighties with fondness, with a sense of nostalgia for the John Hughes movies and the CHOOSE LIFE t-shirts and all that mousse, and I go there rather than back to that dark, lonely place I lived inside myself.

John Taylor turns 52 on June 20, 2012. He’s a happily married, loving father, musician, writer, and artist. He’s recovered from the eighties, too. He’s a vinyl record enthusiast, still a clothes horse, a reader, and a writer. He’s an author. And he’s good at what he does. And so, I wish him a happy birthday.

Happy birthday to one of my significant others. To my fellow author. To my ever-present companion. From your friend Elisa, with love.

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