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.