10 August 2012

Why I Love Duran Duran

They say that you never forget your first love. Well, you could say that my first love was Duran Duran. They have had more of an impact on my life than any other band ever has and that's saying a lot, because I've listened to and admired an eclectic and vast mix of musical artists over the years, but to this day, the only band that I have ever truly idolised is Duran Duran.

I was born in 1970 and grew up in the city of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. When I was 12, we moved to the suburbs and I started high school. At first, I had high hopes, but Grade 7 ended up being a very difficult year.  Not only was I coping with my parents’ separation and trying to fit in at a new school, but it was also the year that I discovered just how cruel teenage girls could be. Basically, my first year of high school ended with me in tears, begging my mother to change schools. Hesitantly, she agreed and for me, it was a fresh start and also the beginning of a new chapter in my life. The year was 1983, I was 13 years old and suddenly, the soundtrack of my life changed dramatically. Duran Duran came into my life when I needed them most.

Initially, I was drawn to their music. Then, I was captivated by their videos. Of course, hormonal teen that I was, I couldn’t help but notice their incredibly good looks but, it was their fascinating personalities that really got my attention. The more I learned about Duran Duran, the more I could relate to them. My whole life, I had felt like I was different and here were these five handsome lads, telling me that it was okay. Moreover, I found out that I wasn’t alone. Making friends at my new school was easy now that I had Duran Duran on my side.

I saved my allowance and babysitting money and headed to the unchartered territory of the local record store. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had already released not one, but two albums: the ground-breaking, self-titled debut Duran Duran (1981) and the brilliant Rio (1982). I bought them both, took them home and revelled in their magic. A few months after my obsession began; they released their third album, the atmospheric Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983). That wasn’t enough for me, though. I was insatiable. I spent my weekends hunting down rare import singles and 12” long-versions. They had opened a portal to a world that I longed to embrace; a world where riveting melodies collided with surrealist lyrics, a world of boundless joy that soothed my teenage soul.

I watched every video show televised in Canada: Video Hits, Good Rockin' Tonite, Friday Night Videos, praying that the Fab Five would make an appearance. I anxiously awaited each new issue of BOP!, Tiger Beat, Teen Beat, Smash Hits, etc. I bought every book or fanzine on Duran Duran that I could find. My bedroom walls (including the ceiling) were adorned with Duran Duran posters. I was the only one of my friends to own Sing Blue Silver Arena and I watched them over and over. I wrote fan-fiction (back in the days when I didn’t even know it was called fan-fiction) about them that was so popular at my high school that I had to make loads of photocopies every time I wrote a new chapter. Kids who I didn’t even know would approach me in the hall to ask when the next chapter would be out.

Over the next few years, they continued to influence me in many ways. I coloured my hair because of them, wore jazz shoes, emulated Simon Le Bon’s dance moves and generally took a keen interest in anything they talked about or recommended. For instance, I doubt that I would have ever watched the sci-fi cult classic Barbarella (1968) if it weren’t for Duran Duran. I read Voltaire because of the song Last Chance on the Stairway. I discovered the world of Andy Warhol because of Nick Rhodes.

Through Duran Duran, I became a scholar of pop-culture and learned all that I could about the musical artists and the movements that had inspired them to create their unique sound. Let’s face it; I was born in 1970, so I was a little kid when movements like Glam-Rock, Disco and Punk happened, but Duran Duran indirectly turned me on to bands from all of those eras. Moreover, as a teen in the 1980s, I became well-versed in the world of New Wave music and listened to a lot of Duran Duran’s contemporaries such as Japan, Aztec Camera, Echo & the Bunnymen, OMD, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Nik Kershaw, The Psychedelic Furs and Depeche Mode, just to name a few. Nonetheless, I wasn’t nearly as fanatical about any of them as I was about Duran Duran and anybody who knew me as a teen could certainly vouch for that!

I truly believe that I would not be the person that I am today if it weren’t for them. If it hadn't been for Duran Duran, would I have learned to express myself through clothing and attitude and delved into the world of youth subcultures?  Would I have developed such a passion for music? Would I have become an avid reader of thought-provoking literature? Would I have started keeping a journal, writing poetry and short stories? Would I have started going to museums and art galleries on a regular basis while most other teenagers were hanging out at the mall? Would I have attended drama school? Would I have taken singing lessons? Would I have had the courage to travel on my own and to live abroad? The list of ways that they changed my life is endless and the answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO!

When drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor left the band in 1986, I was devastated. I must admit that shortly after Notorious (1986) was released I took a break from Duran Duran and went through a deep, dark and rather depressing Goth phase.  I mostly listened to The Cure, Bauhaus, The Smiths, Joy Division, and dressed in black every day and hid from the sun and read gothic novels and did seriously strange things to my hair and was generally gloomy. When I was 17, I went through a Mod phase that lasted until I was in my early-20s.  I have fond memories of those phases in my life and I believe that I had to go down those roads in order to grow as an individual. All of these things are a part of who I am, but it all started with Duran Duran.

In retrospect, although I have been inspired by many other musical artists, I can honestly say that the pure joy that Duran Duran bring to my life is something that I have never been able to truly find elsewhere. In that way, just like their music and their five distinct personalities, they are, and always have been unique. Furthermore, I often think that I would have never found the inspiration or the courage to become part of those youth subcultures had it not been for Duran Duran. I never stopped listening to their music and long after the posters came down, the lessons Duran Duran taught me have lingered. To this day, I am unafraid to always be myself. I have led a rather unconventional life and refuse to be bound by the rules of society.

Although the obsession subsided somewhat in 1986, I continued to follow Duran Duran’s career over the years. I saw them in concert for the first time in 1987, after Roger & Andy had left. They were touring with David Bowie on the Glass Spider Tour. I was thrilled to finally get to see them, as I’d missed my chance when they came to Montreal in 1984 on the Sing Blue Silver Tour. I’ve watched Sing Blue Silver so many times that it almost feels like I was there, but sadly, I wasn’t. It’s a long story. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I never seemed to be in the right place at the right time, I didn’t get to see them again until 2008, on the Red Carpet Massacre Tour, when they came to Seoul, South Korea, where I was living at the time. I got to see them again in Seoul in March of this year and had the honour and privilege of writing about that incredible experience here: DURANASTY.COM.

At the beginning of the new millennium, when the original five members announced that were getting back together, I was totally stoked. I absolutely loved the album Astronaut (2004) which was the only album that they released as the reformed original five. This was my chance to finally see the original line-up that had been such a huge part of my formative years! I was living in Japan in 2005 and I bought VIP tickets to their show in Fukuoka. Sadly, Roger Taylor injured his foot and the Japanese tour was cancelled. Needless to say, I was thoroughly gutted.

Fast forward to 2011… Duran Duran re-entered my life at a time when, once again, I needed them most. It wasn’t the first time that I took out my Duran Duran vinyl collection (of course, I own their entire discography on CD and have uploaded everything to iTunes, but there's nothing like the sound of vinyl) and gave it a spin. It wasn't the first time that I took the old videos off the shelf and watched them. It wasn't the first time that I delved into all the old books and posters and clippings. The simple fact that I've kept all of these things over the years says a lot about how much I will always cherish this band. They’re not just a band; they’re like old friends who are always there for you when you need them the most. I was inspired by their latest album, All You Need is Now, because they have truly returned to their roots with this one and it reminded me how much I love them.

What they’ve accomplished with All You Need is Now (2011) is nothing short of astonishing. They've managed to replicate the magic of their early sound yet produce an album that is extremely relevant and fresh. Not to mention, the message behind the title track resonates deeply with me. The last few years of my life have been difficult: failed relationships, an ailing father, difficult work situations, moving around from place to place, in some ways feeling just as lost as I did when I was a teen… none of it matters. All that matters is NOW and what you do with the moment that you are in. That being said, on April 26th, 2011, I got to see Duran Duran live at a very intimate venue in Montreal during their  All You Need is Now  promotional tour. Hearing them perform the new songs live, alongside their classics, was an experience that I can only describe as magical. It was an evening I will never forget.

After that show, I re-activated my long dormant Twitter account and started following Simon Le Bon and John Taylor. I can’t begin to explain the thrill of being in (kind of) direct contact with these men who have had such a profound impact on my life. My fascination with Simon, the charismatic frontman who has always been my favourite member, is just as strong now as it was almost 30 years ago.  I’ve been bitten by the Duran Duran bug all over again and this time, it’s for good! My life is simply better with them in it. Not only have I re-connected with my favourite band, but I have connected with so many wonderful Duranies in the last year and a half. They have become an integral part of my life and I am grateful to have made such incredible friends. Their love and support means the world to me. I can't believe that I am finally going to get to meet some of my new friends very soon...

A few months before leaving Korea, I found out that Duran Duran would be returning to North America shortly after my planned return. I decided that I was going to attend as many shows as possible. I am going to four shows on this last leg of the All You Need is Now Tour, will be visiting seven American cities (six of which I've never been to) and will be meeting up with friends, old and new alike, along the way. I’m leaving in less than a week and my first show, in Memphis, is in one week from today! Needless to say, I’m incredibly stoked about what I’m calling my Great American Duranadventure!

Today is Duran Duran Appreciation Day. I hope that what I've written explains, to a certain degree, why I appreciate them so very much. I'd like to dedicate this blog entry to Friends of Mine. You know who you are...

09 August 2012

Top 10 Things I Miss About Seoul

It's been a little over a month since I left the Land of the Morning Calm. So much has happened since then and I am thrilled to be back home, but I've also been thinking about all the things I miss, so here's my Top 10...

10. Fastest Internet in the World -- Nope, I'm not kidding! With an average connection speed of 13.8 Mps, South Koreans enjoy the fastest connection speed in the world! Canada's not even in the Top 10.

9. Korean BBQ -- Galbi, Dahk Galbi & Samgyeopsal, oh my! Sure, we have Korean restaurants in Montreal, but it's just not the same.

8. Stuff on Sticks -- This may sound strange, but some of my favourite food in Korea comes on a stick. I took this photo of candied strawberries in Edae and yes, they're even better than candied apples! But wait... there are even more things on sticks in Korea! At any convenience store, you can find cheap (under $1.00) and delicious ice cream on a stick and I don't mean popsicles. I'm talking silky, smooth, delicious ice cream in flavours like pistachio, walnut, melon and of course, chocolate. Street meat also abounds in Korea. I like the marinated chicken skewers and the giant sausages. The best invention though, has got to be potato chips on a stick! Watch this video to see how they're made...

7. Ondol -- Best. Invention. Ever. Ondol is underfloor heating and it was invented in Korea thousands of years ago. In fact, the earliest use of Ondol has been found at an archaeological site in present-day North Korea. A Bronze Age archaeological find, circa BCE 1000, discovered in Unggi, Hamgyeongbuk-do, in present-day North Korea, shows a clear vestige of Ondol (formerly known as Gudeul) in the Excavated Dwelling unearthed at the archaeological site. How cool is that? Now, why doesn't every Canadian dwelling feature underfloor heating? Good question.

6. Shopping -- Okay, okay... so I love shopping everywhere, but you don't get free stuff everywhere, do you? Although Tokyo, London & Paris are my top three favourite cities for shopping, Seoul makes it into my top 10 for the free stuff alone. I didn't buy as many clothes as I did in 2008, but that's because mu luggage was lost in 2008, so I had no choice. Long story. Korean skincare and cosmetics shops such as Skin FoodEtude House and The Face Shop are what I miss the most, again, for the free stuff alone!

5. Historical Landmarks -- I certainly miss going by not one, but three of Seoul's grand palaces every day on the bus ride to work. I can't quite put into words what it's like for someone who comes from a country that is so young by comparison to have had the opportunity to live in a country so rich with history. I felt the same way living in Japan and on my travels in Europe. Most people take these things for granted. I don't. To the left is a photo I took of Gyeongbokgung Palace in 2008.

4. Public Transit -- It's cheap. It's efficient. It's amazing.

This is a map of the Seoul Metro...

This is a map of the Montreal Metro...

Enough said.

3. Jimjilbangs -- I have a spa addiction. I'm not kidding. It's a very serious addiction. The trouble is, in Canada, spas are a luxury -- with a price tag to match -- so I don't get to go as often as I'd like to. In Korea, jimjilbangs are a part of everyday life, so they are very affordable. I was once locked out of my apartment for almost 24 hours and what did I do? I went to a local jimjilbang, of course. I had a bath, brushed my teeth and had somewhere to rest my weary head, all for about $5.00. Granted, I slept on a mat in a room full of strangers, but nonetheless. I love jimjilbangs so much that I chose to write about them in my final piece for a local Gwacheon newspaper during my 2008 Korean stint. You can read that article here: It's a Spa, Spa World. It's on page 13 and it's rather easy to find, as it's one of the only articles that's not in Korean!

2. My Colleagues -- I can't speak highly enough of my colleagues at Maple Bear Canadian School. They are a dedicated, caring, loveable bunch and I miss them terribly! Life wasn't always easy during my year abroad, but they kept me grounded and they made me smile every, single day. When you're far from home, being surrounded by supportive people means more than words can say. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have met them and to have worked with them.

1. My Students -- I get choked up just thinking about how much I miss these kids! I didn't update this blog as often as I would've liked to during my year in Korea, but when I did, I often spoke of them. I honestly feel like these kids taught me a great deal more than I taught them. I will remember them, always. 

24 May 2012

An Extraordinary Week

Tuesday 15th May: Teacher's Day

Some of my wonderful cards
Strawberry jam from Julie
I can't quite put into words how much my students mean to me. I've been working with kids for a long time. Over the years, I've met a lot of amazing kids and I have kept in touch with many of them.

Nonetheless, the kids I have taught for the last nine and a half months are in a class (no pun intended) by themselves. I have learnt so much from them. My time at Maple Bear hasn't always been easy, but these incredible children have left an indelible mark on my heart. I will never forget them!

Flowers from Yeon-Soo
They showered me with love on Teacher's Day. I got lots of hugs and beautiful flowers and even homemade jam! But... the cards were the best part! I will always cherish the cards that these kids made for me. Some of their words even brought me to tears.

This one made me cry!
The 15th of May also happens to be my mom's birthday -- 81 years old this year -- and she continues to amaze me. I called her when I got home from work and told her how special my day had been. This made her happy.

Wednesday 16th May: A Very Meaningful Day

I will never forget this day! I awoke to the exciting news that my piece on the Morrissey concert had been published (by the amazing Kitty Amsbry) on the one and only Andy Taylor's remarkable website ANDYTAYLOR.TV. I cannot begin to express how much this means to me. Not only is it an honour and a privilege to actually see something that I wrote featured on Andy's website, but the amount of support and praise that I have received from friends, fellow writers and fellow music lovers has both touched me deeply and motivated me to write more. Special thanks to my dear friend, Suzi Parker, who inspires me daily.

In the evening, I had a Skype date with my beautiful friend Isabelle. She is one of the most important people in my life. We're so much alike, it's almost as though we were separated at birth. We've been friends for almost 20 years and have always kept in touch, but we haven't seen each other in over 10 years. I always enjoy my Skype dates with Isabelle, but this one was particularly special, because we were counting down the hours until the pre-sale for the Duran Duran concert in Hartford, CT on 24th August that we will be attending together. Isabelle & I have never seen Duran Duran together, so we are both extremely excited about this show! In my mind, we were going to score excellent seats. In the weeks leading up to the pre-sale, I could picture the two of us standing in the front row. I was not at all prepared for what happened at 1am Seoul time (12pm Hartford time) on my freaking birthday -- well, in Seoul, at least -- no less. The tickets available through the pre-sale sold out in one minute flat and I suddenly found myself with nothing. I was in a state of shock and so was Isabelle, who was standing by on Skype.

Thankfully, our Girl Panic didn't last long. I soon realised -- with a little help from my friends -- that if I refreshed the page, the "Buy Tickets" button would magically reappear, as people were holding on to tickets and then releasing them when they found better ones. In the end, I did manage to get tickets, but they aren't very good at all. Of course, I'm thrilled that Duran Duran are doing so well with ticket sales, but as a fan, it hasn't been easy securing tickets to the upcoming US shows. I'll actually be attending four shows in August -- fulfilling a dream that I have had since adolescence -- but I'll write all about that another time. Anyway, I'm so stoked about seeing them with Isabelle that it doesn't really matter that we'll be in the 18th row.

Finally, I ended up staying up way too late. Even after I had secured tickets, I continued chatting with friends on Twitter and refreshing the pre-sale page -- hoping for better tickets -- until the wee hours of the morning. Then suddenly, Simon Le Bon appeared on Twitter! I tweeted him, letting him know that he had arrived just in time for my birthday. Haha! Quite a few of my friends were online at the time, so they started tweeting him about my birthday, too. I have very good friends, don't I? No response. He appeared to have vanished. I continued refreshing the pre-sale page... to no avail. Then, a little after 3am Seoul time, Simon tweeted this...

... and I just about fell out of my chair! I was delirious from lack of sleep and honestly thought that I was hallucinating.

He then tweeted this...

... followed by this ...

...and finally this...

I was so gobsmacked that I didn't even bother correcting his grammar (it's "whose" birthday, Simon -- for crying out loud!) and I thanked him, and so did my friends. It's silly, I know, but I really love Simon Le Bon, no matter how cheeky and infuriating he can sometimes be.

Finally, around 5am, I tried to get some sleep. It was fruitless! Between my piece being published, the stress of purchasing tickets and the birthday tweets (sort of) from Simon, I was so wired that I didn't fall asleep until after 6am. I went to work the next morning after only about an hour of sleep. Needless to say, I was a little late for my 9:30am meeting...

Thursday 17th May: My Birthday!

I called Pearl to let her know that I was running late. I asked her to please not wait for me and to go ahead and start the meeting. I got to work at around 10am and headed straight to Pearl's office, where the meeting was taking place. The door was ajar. I opened it and was genuinely surprised when everyone started singing Happy Birthday. I was overwhelmed with emotion when I found out that Sameen, Sierra and Pearl had baked me a scrumptious homemade strawberry shortcake. It was the perfect start to the day.

The best birthday card ever!
My day just kept getting sweeter. My students' moms had birthday cakes for me in both my classes and the kids eagerly sang me Happy Birthday and showered me with cards and gifts. My co-workers also had some lovely gifts for me, which I was totally not expecting at all. They even made me this amazing birthday card! I love it!

It isn't always easy celebrating your birthday when you're so far away from home, and everyone at work made my day very special. Words cannot express how grateful I am for that. I went home feeling very, very loved. Of course, I was also completely knackered.

Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised by a birthday package sent by a dear friend, which arrived right on time. I had already opened my birthday care package from home when I received it weeks ago, but I waited until my birthday to open the cards from home. I nearly started to cry when I read those cards. Furthermore, the amount of birthday love that I was shown on Facebook and Twitter -- from my friends across the world -- made my day even brighter. Honestly, I couldn't have asked for a better day.

Saturday 19th May: The Lotus Lantern Parade

I'm in the parade and I've got a lantern!
Although I did go on a tour of some of Seoul's most famous temples on Buddha's birthday when I lived here in 2008, I had never attended this particular event before. Wow. What an incredible experience this was! For those who are interested, click on the link to learn more about the wonderful Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival, held in honour of Buddha's Birthday.


After work, I walked to Jongno with a few of my colleagues, where we ate a delicious dinner of samgyeopsal and then headed to the parade. At first, we didn't have a very good view, as it was so crowded. Then, we decided to walk a little farther ahead and finally ended up joining the parade ourselves! We didn't have any lanterns, but that little problem was promptly rectified by locals who handed us lanterns. Everyone was so warm and friendly. People on the sidelines were waving at us. It was so much fun! I couldn't stop smiling!

Beautiful Colours at Jogyesa Temple
The parade ended at Jogyesa Temple in Insadong, which is adorned with brightly coloured lanterns for the festival. The temple will remain decorated like this until after Buddha's Birthday, which falls on 28th May this year. If you ever find yourself in Seoul at this time of year, I highly suggest attending this spectacular event. It was a magical experience that I will never forget.

Incredible lantern floats that were featured in the parade
Amitabha Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, and Bhaisaiya Buddha in Jogyesa Temple

Monday 21st May: Everland!

Everland - The Happiest Place in Korea
I really am just a big kid -- I love theme parks so much! Everland is located in Yongin -- an hour's bus ride from Seoul -- and is Korea's largest theme park. I spent the day there with my wonderful friends (and colleagues) Dao, Sameen & Sierra. I couldn't have asked for better companions or better weather. I was so excited that I actually did several happy dances throughout the day!

Double Rock Spin
The Double Rock Spin in Rock Ville was the first ride of the day and actually the only ride that I didn't go on. I kept on telling the girls, "I don't go upside down. There's nothing you can do to convince me." It's okay -- I enjoyed watching my friends on this ride. Little did I know that later on in the day, I would end up going on the Rolling X-Train, a roller coaster with two 360 degree loops... a first for me!


Afterwards, we took the chairlift to the Alpine Village, where we ate lunch. It was a pretty surreal experience -- eating roast chicken and sausages and drinking ein Bier in a fake Beer Garden --  in the middle of a theme park in Korea!

After lunch, we explored Zoo-Topia, where we saw all manner of adorable animals and even a Three Musketeers-themed Seal Show! It was all in Korean, of course, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

Love, Love, Love, Love

During the months of May and June at Everland, there is an annual Rose Festival. We visited the Rose Garden, splashed around with the kids in the fountains near the Four Seasons Garden, and
then headed  to what has always been my favourite -- the Log Ride. We waited an hour in line, but it was totally worth it. I sat in the front and got totally drenched!

The T-Express
The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the T-Express. It's currently the world's steepest wooden roller coaster, and I still can't believe that I found the courage to ride it! I would never have been able to do it without my friends' encouragement and I'm so glad that I did. What a thrill! It was simply exhilarating!

It was supposed to be our last ride of the day, but we were on such an adrenaline high after that -- we decided to stay until closing. We reveled in the magic of a brightly lit theme park at night, went on a few more rides, then overdosed on cuteness at all the gift shops. I didn't get home until about 1am. It was a perfect day!

This video of the T-Express is a must-watch! It's hilarious!

So... this extraordinary week can only mean one thing: this is going to be one hell of a year! I'm reminded of a quote from one of my favourite films, Dead Poet's Society: "Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary." I'm excited for what comes next!

13 May 2012

A Night With Morrissey

Last Sunday, I was reminded why I love Morrissey so much. After 26 years of waiting, I finally found myself in the right place at the right time. I finally got to see the enigmatic icon who helped shape my youth, perform live. He did not disappoint.

To say that I was once obsessed with The Smiths would be an understatement. I started listening to them in 1986, which is sad, really, because they broke up in 1987. The first album I bought was The Queen is Dead (1986) and I was hooked. It didn't take very long before I owned their two previous releases Meat is Murder (1985) and The Smiths (1984) as well as any singles I could get my hands on. By the time their last studio album, Strangeways, Here we Come (1987) was released, I had read the complete works of Oscar Wilde and had become a strict vegetarian, all because of Morrissey. I still love Oscar Wilde, but I gave up vegetarianism in 1991. What can I say? I missed seafood too much. I'm sorry, Moz.

Oscar Wilde
When I took my seat in the balcony at the AX Korea, a venue with a capacity of about 2,000 people, a video of the New York Dolls performing Looking for a Kiss was playing. As soon as the video ended, the screen dramatically fell to the floor, revealing a stage set with a backdrop of my beloved Oscar Wilde, with a speech bubble saying, 'WHO IS MORRISSEY?' The familiar bells tolled, and Morrissey, flanked by his bandmates, who were (excluding guitarist Boz Boorer, who was in drag) donning 'We Hate William and Kate' t-shirts, took centre stage. Immediately, the gladioli took flight. It was... magical.

Then Moz spoke. He said, "Tonight... I give you my soul," and the crowd went mental. Leave it to Moz to open a show in Seoul with those words. How could you not love him? Then, the band launched into the hypnotic anthem of alienation and social isolation, How Soon Is Now? and Moz began to sing and... his voice was heavenly. I was mesmerised... transported to a dark basement, sitting on the cold, carpeted floor, listening to The Smiths and feeling what so many teens at the time were feeling... somebody understands me. This is why, the simplest gesture, such as an outstretched hand, means so much when executed by Morrissey. Every time he gracefully reached out to the crowd, adoring fans in the front row struggled to touch his hand. I envied them, from my balcony seat. Oh well. Next time I'll be closer. I really hope there will be a next time.

In the meantime, I've got a lot of catching up to do. I have to admit, despite owning everything The Smiths ever released on vinyl, the only solo album of Morrissey's I have in my collection is Viva Hate (1988). While I enjoyed every minute of last Sunday's performance, and certainly recognised tracks from albums I may not actually own, there were only six songs (How Soon is Now?, Every Day is Like Sunday, Meat is Murder, I Know It's Over, Shoplifters of the World Unite and Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me) with which I was able to sing along to in their entirety.

I've heard horror stories from friends who've seen Morrissey live; tales of the singer insulting the audience or getting pissed off about something and leaving the stage after only five songs, never to return. However, he was gracious and kind to the audience in Seoul. It was his first time in Korea. At one point, he emphatically expressed, "I never thought my career would bring me to... Korea," then proceeded to clutch his face in his hands, as though overwhelmed by the love and attention. It was extremely touching. In fact, there were so many memorable moments at this show, it's hard to single just one of them out. One of the highlights of the night was when, halfway through the song Speedway (from 1994's Vauxhall and I) there was a silent pause, followed by Morrissey's crooning of, "Starry, starry night, Paint your palette blue and gray, Look out on a summer's day... and... wot?" from the song Vincent (a tribute to Van Gogh) by Don McLean. It was absurd. It made me laugh. Another highlight was when Morrissey took an envelope from one of the fans, clutched it to his heart and later stuffed it in his back pocket. I nearly swooned. Of course, when he tore his shirt off and flung it into the crowd, I also nearly swooned.

Unfortunately, the only photo I took that night

Normally, I wouldn't let a silly thing like security get in my way, but they made me put my bag in a locker, the bastards! And I didn't have any pockets! Luckily, some people managed to sneak their cameras in. The following video montage recaptures the magic, allowing me to relive this extraordinary night...

All in all, it truly was an unforgettable show. I am so glad that I finally got to see him perform live. I love you, Morrissey. I'm sorry that I had forgotten how much I do. I never will again... I promise.

Seoul Set List:
1. How Soon Is Now
2. You Have Killed Me
3. Every Day Is Like Sunday
4. Alma Matters
5. You're The One For Me, Fatty
6. Shoplifters Of The World Unite
7. I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
8. Speedway (+ ‘Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and grey
Look out on a summer's day’ - from “Vincent”)
9. To Give (The Reason I Live) - Frankie Valli Cover
10. Meat Is Murder
11. Let Me Kiss You
12. Black Cloud
13. I'll See You In Far-Off Places
14. I Know It's Over
15. Ouija Board, Ouija Board
16. When I Last Spoke To Carol
17. One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell
18. Last Night I dreamt That Somebody Loved Me

Encore : First Of The Gang To Die

22 March 2012

Stay with the music, let it play...

Duran Duran - All You Need is Now
Anyone who knows me well is fully aware that music is an integral part of my life. Okay, so I never quite got that band I envisioned back in high school up off the ground. I do, however, have a book full of poetry and song lyrics and I am known to spontaneously burst into song quite frequently. I also have a rather impressive musical library and have attended far too many concerts to list here. Not to mention, I worked in two different record stores during the late 80s and early 90s, both of which went bankrupt long ago, but I loved those jobs. My point is, without music, my life would be empty.

That being said, despite my diverse musical tastes, nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to a Duran Duran concert. Why? Because, for me, they started it all. They were the first band that I ever loved, that I could truly call my own. This was not my older siblings' music. This was my music. They opened a portal to a world where riveting melodies collided with surrealist lyrics; a world of boundless joy that soothed my teenage soul. They came into my life when I needed them most; during those tumultuous early teenage years. They taught me that it was okay to be different. I honestly believe that I would not be the person I am today if it weren't for Duran Duran. This is why, when it comes to Duran Duran, it's not just about the music. Only a true Duranie can understand: a Duran Duran concert is much, much more than a concert. It's an intensely emotional experience, to say the least. Strangely enough, I have only had the pleasure of seeing them live four times and the first two shows I saw were over 20 years apart. This was not a choice, but rather, a matter of not being in the right place at the right time, but I digress. In any case, All You Need is NOW!

Simon at Le National, Montreal, April 2011
As I mentioned in my last post, I hadn't seen Duran live since April 2011, at their unforgettable show at Le National in Montreal. Shortly after that whirlwind tour, Simon Le Bon lost the top of his vocal range, for reasons that will forever remain a mystery. It was a devastating blow that came at the worst possible time, as they were still on such a high from the North American promotional mini-tour of their brilliant album, All You Need is Now (2010) produced by the uber-talented Mark RonsonFurthermore, they were getting set to begin an impressive European summer tour which was scheduled to start in July and run through mid-September and included dates across the UK and continental Europe, all of which were postponed, due to Simon's vocal problems. Devoted fans (including myself) across the world sent an outpouring of support to our beloved frontman and waited, with bated breath, for news of his recovery, as he spent several weeks consulting with numerous doctors as well as a vocal therapist. 

When the band announced another North American tour scheduled to begin at the end of September and run through the end of October, we all rejoiced, regardless of whether we were able to attend or not. It wasn't easy, knowing that they were headed back to my hometown of Montreal while I was so far away, but I was thrilled that Simon was ready to hit the stage once again. The band also played a series of special rehearsal shows in the UK in September before embarking on the North American tour. I can't begin to describe how relieved and ecstatic I was to hear, from friends who were lucky enough to attend the rehearsal shows, that Simon was back in top form. 

Waiting for my favourite band on Planet Earth
Of course, all of this happened after I had already begun a very restrictive one-year contract in Seoul, South Korea. Over the next few months, thanks to social networking, I lived vicariously through my friends who attended shows in North America in September and October, then later in the UK for the re-scheduled shows throughout the month of December. Duran Duran also re-scheduled some of the European dates and I followed my friends' experiences at shows in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Belgium and Slovakia in January. When the band announced plans for an Australian tour, I started to get really excited, as it's closer to Asia and in the past, they've always announced Asian tour dates around the same time as Australian tour dates. When they announced tour dates in Singapore and Hong Kong, I immediately started looking into flights. I soon figured out that neither my pocketbook nor my restrictive work schedule would allow me to attend those shows. I was gutted. I kept my fingers crossed. Then, the first week of January, they announced that they would be playing Seoul on 12th March! I was over the moon! I walked around in a dream-state for the next two months... 

Members of Duran Duran Korea Fan Club
Duran Duran have only played Seoul three times in their entire 30+ year career. They came here for the first time in 1989 on The Electric Theatre Tour, promoting their Big Thing (1988) album. It took almost 20 years for them to come back to the Land of the Morning Calm. I was lucky enough to be living here at the time and I attended the electrifying show at Seoul Olympic Gym in April 2008 as part of The Red Carpet Massacre Tour, celebrating their 2007 album of the same name. At the show, and on local television, they promised that they wouldn't wait as long to come back here again and, to my delight, as well as to the delight of all the dedicated Korean fans, they kept their promise...

Me and my sign outside Seoul Olympic Hall
On 12th March 2012, the energy and anticipation in Seoul Olympic Hall, as I waited, along with thousands of adoring Korean fans, was palpable. There I stood, second row centre, still in my dream-state, swaying to the sounds of the enchanting instrumental Return to Now. When the band took the stage, the crowd went wild! The haunting, opening notes of the atmospheric Before The Rain, off their magnificent, latest album All You Need is Now, sent shivers down my spine. Then, when Simon started to sing, I lost myself completely in his extraordinary, pitch-perfect voice, not to mention, his mesmerizing ocean-blue eyes. At that moment, I told myself, there is no place on earth I'd rather be.

Next, they launched into the New Romantic anthem that put them on the charts back in 1981, their first single, Planet Earth, featuring what is perhaps Duran Duran's sexiest bassline ever by Bass God John Taylor. This song always gets the whole audience dancing and despite the packed crowd, I joined in on the boisterous revelry, of course. Their next song was the phenomenal Bond theme song, A View to A Kill and yes, we danced "into the fire" and got all revved up for the amazing title track off All You Need is Now, which holds a special place in my heart, as the message of this song resonates deeply with me for a multitude of reasons.

Play the f**king bass, John 
When Simon came down into the crowd, searching for, "A man who can sing," I knew exactly what the band had in store for us. He chose a male fan to sing the intro to The Reflex, as the supremely talented Nick Rhodes played the familiar keyboard tune from one of my favourite singles ever. I reckon I was singing, "Ta na na na," much louder than the lucky man who got to share the microphone with Simon... something I can only dream of doing someday. Sigh. Nonetheless, it was an extraordinary moment and once again, I danced and sang my little heart out!

Simon Le Bon & John Taylor
I should mention that while I was queued-up, in the garage of the venue, I had noticed two girls handing out bright pink sheets of paper with the Duran Duran logo printed on them. Everyone was making paper airplanes, so I asked them why. One of the girls told me that the plan was to launch the airplanes onto the stage during the song Come Undone, which I found rather odd, so I asked her why. She said, "I just really love that song." Fair enough. I can't begin to describe the perplexed looks on the band members' (especially Simon's) faces when that happened. As much as I enjoy the song, I also found myself having a personal, internal giggle, as I tend to walk around Seoul in a perpetual state of confusion myself, so it was particularly funny (to me) to see the looks of "What? Why?" on their faces. Naturally, when Simon licked his fingers after the line, "Or the magic I'm feeding off your fingers..." I totally came undone! And yes, I do know that Simon wrote the song for his stunning wife Yasmin, but hey, a girl can dream... 

The Controller - Nick Rhodes
Their next song was the disco-flavoured, Larry Levan inspired, Chic influenced tune Safe (In the Heat of the Moment) off the brilliant All You Need is Now. The album track features a rap by Ana Matronic of Scissor Sisters. In the live show, the lovely  Anna Ross amazed us with her rapping skills. It's an energetic and playful song that I dare you not to dance to! Honestly, I can't get enough of the new album and I kind of wish they had played as many tracks off it as they did at the Montreal show at Le National, but believe me, I'm not complaining, because their next song was Is There Something I Should Know, which I hadn't heard live since 1987. What a thrill it was hearing it live again after all these years!

Next, they played another track off the new album; Girl Panic! an enthralling song that is infused with their classic, 80s New Wave sound, yet (like the entire album) feels entirely fresh and relevant. The lyrics were written by keyboardist Nick Rhodes and it's one of my favourite tracks on the album. The stunning video, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, featuring supermodels Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Eva Herzigova, Helena Christensen and Yasmin Le Bon was banned by MTV (as if they even play videos anymore) and has become an Internet sensation with over 5 million views on YouTube.  The live performance was accompanied by a montage of clips from the superbly stylish video, but I must admit that I was too distracted by Simon's exuberant dance moves to really notice. Needless to say, I was thrown into a Girl Panic!

This was followed by what is probably my favourite track off All You Need is Now, the breathtaking The Man Who Stole a Leopard. This song simply transports me and if I were to try and describe it, I'd say it's a cross between The Chauffeur, David Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World and William Blake's poem The Tyger, but that's just me. Apparently, the song was inspired by The Collector, a disturbing 1965 film starring Terence Stamp, that I have always loved. In a November 2010 interview, Nick Rhodes compared it  to The Velvet Underground's The GiftOn the album, the song features string arrangements by Canadian composer, violinist, keyboardist and vocalist Owen Pallett as well as vocals by alternative R&B singer-songwriter Kelis, which were performed beautifully by Anna Ross live. Furthermore, performed live, the song requires some audience participation, in the form of a series of hand claps, while drummer Roger Taylor sneaks out from behind his drum kit to clap along with us. The song concludes with a fabricated news story written by Nick Rhodes and spoken by British journalist Nina Hossain (who also lends her voice to the wonderful album track Blame the Machines) and in the live show, she appears on the big screen situated behind the band, superimposed before the image of a magnificent leopard. I had never had the pleasure of hearing it live, so I was absolutely delighted! 

John Taylor & Simon Le Bon
Things really got funky with the title track off Notorious (1986), the first album released by Duran Duran as a trio, after the departure of Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor. This ground-breaking album was produced by the brilliant Nile Rodgers. There was a time when this song, the first single off the album, was somewhat bittersweet for me. In retrospect, I realise how silly that sounds, especially since there is no mistaking the simple fact that this song, as well as the entire album, is pure genius. I recently came across this little bit of history (from my hometown of Montreal) on Wikipedia: 
When the track made its debut on Montreal radio station CHOM during the October 20, 1986 edition of the nightly radio show Rock And Roll News, DJ Randy Renaud declared that by the next night, the song Amanda by Boston (which had been holding on to the number one spot on CHOM's charts for several weeks) could "kiss the number one spot goodbye." Sure enough, by the next night, CHOM had received enough requests for the song that it supplanted Amanda from the #1 spot on the stations nightly countdown show, The Top Six At Six.
As if things were not already sufficiently heated-up, the band then exploded into their energetic cover of Grandmaster Melle Mel's White Lines. It may not be my first choice off 1995's covers album, Thank You, but it certainly is a treat to experience live, infused with unabashed energy and bringing the crowd to a whole new level of frenzy. They actually played this song at their last show in Seoul and I personally enjoyed it this time even more than the last time.

Gave me goose bumps when he sang Ordinary World
I think it was around this time that Simon started speaking in what I can only describe as a cartoon character (or perhaps even Muppet-like) voice. I normally hang on his every word, but I can honestly say that I have no idea what he said, as the giddy crowd was roaring with laughter. He then returned to his normal speaking voice, which took on a much more serious tone, as he reminded us how fortunate we all are to live "good lives" while others on our planet are suffering. The crowd remained respectfully silent as he dedicated the exquisitely melancholic Ordinary World to the people of Syria. This was a show highlight for me because, when Simon hit those supernaturally high notes at the end of the song, it was made abundantly clear that his incredible voice is stronger than ever. Any fan who has not had the pleasure of seeing them live since the recovery of his voice, please believe me when I say: you can stop worrying. He's back and he's better than ever.

My favourite photo of the night
Next, the band exploded into the iconic Hungry Like the Wolf, and the crowd went mental! It's always exciting to hear this song live, not only because, as an adolescent in Canada, it was one of the first Duran Duran songs I ever heard, but because it truly showcases what talented musicians they truly are. Now would be a good time to say that while I do, of course, miss original guitarist Andy Taylor, this Duran Duran, consisting of four of the founding members: keyboardist extraordinaire Nick Rhodes, eternally funky bass player John Taylor, supremely gifted drummer Roger Taylor and phenomenally charismatic lead vocalist Simon Le Bon also features the excellent Dom Brown on lead guitar, the exquisite Anna Ross on backing vocals and the wonderful Simon Willescroft on saxophone and let me say that this tight group of musicians are, in a word... sublime. Not only do they sound fantastic, but there is an unmistakable sense of camaraderie and joy on that stage that shines through for every single member of the audience and I have no words to describe just how amazing that feels and how much it means to me to be a part of it, however small.

Wild Boys never lose it!
If any song could embody that feeling of jubilation, it's got to be Reach Up (For the Sunrise), the first single off 2004's Astronaut, as well as the first single to feature all five of the original band members since 1985's A View to a Kill. I absolutely love hearing this song live! It's simply exhilarating to sing along with the entire audience, as we triumphantly thrust our hands into the air along with our beloved frontman.

Next, the band plunged into the raw intensity of The Wild Boys with reckless abandon and, well, so did I. I vividly remember the day the cutting-edge video for their twelfth single, which appeared on 1984's live album Arena, was released. Whenever I hear this song, the memories of being a 15 year-old, gawking at Simon Le Bon strapped to a windmill flood my brain. This was not the first time I'd heard the song live, but it was the first time that I got to hear it combined with a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Relax and it was bloody brilliant! Yes, I did have that t-shirt when I was 15, and yes, I wish that I still did. The band left the stage after this song, but it wasn't too long before they came back for an encore...

Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand
I always look forward to Simon's band introductions during the delectable Girls On Film, but I also start to feel sad because I know that the party will soon be coming to an end. Nonetheless, I, along with the entire crowd, enjoyed every blissful minute of this forever popular, sexy signature song. I've been promised a professional video of this, along with Rio, filmed by a cameraman friend of one of my new Korean Duranie friends. In the meantime, I have no footage, so for those of you who may be unfamiliar, the phrase "Play the fucking bass, John," is an awful lot of fun to chant and I highly encourage you to try it. Also, you should know that Nick Rhodes is “The future of the human race, man. Comes from outer space, man. Got such a pretty face, man. Can I come over to your place, man?” When Simon jumped down into the crowd and asked if anybody could introduce him, I can assure you that I raised my hand and calmly suggested, "ME!" Then, he said, "In Korean, of course," so I put my hand down and said, "Oh. Not me." In retrospect, I should have said, "Je peux te présenter en français, Simon," because that might have got his attention. Anyway, the first Korean girl he asked just gave him a blank stare. He gave up and walked right in my direction. My heart skipped a beat. He chose the girl standing directly in front of me. On impulse, I decided to put my arm around him. I mean, this man, whom I've adored from afar for nearly 30 years of my life, was standing right there beside me. How could I not? It's okay. He'll choose me next time. Tee-hee.

The last song of this spectacular show was the iconic Rio, featuring the most memorable sax solo of the 80s, performed on stage by the talented Simon Willescroft. It was our last chance of the evening to fully appreciate the magic that is Duran live and I embraced it with every fibre of my being. It's been a week and a half since the show ended and I'm still on cloud nine. The really good news is that I'll be back in North America in the autumn, just in time for the second leg of the North American tour. I'm so pleased that the boys thought of waiting for me. I will try to see as many shows as I possibly can, because honestly, there's no place on earth I'd rather be.