Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Duran Duran's Rio (book)

"Duran Duran's Rio"
by Annie Zaleski
Pengo’s 2021 Summer Book Club

Almost ten years ago, I met the biggest Duran Duran fan in the world. She was sixteen and went to Berea (now Berea-Midpark) High School. She had seen them in concert three times, was furious they were not already in the Rock Hall, and educated me on how Red Carpet Massacre (2007) and All You Need Is Now (2010) were the best albums they have ever recorded, at least until that point in time.

I have seen them in concert only once (though I have bought tickets to see them twice, which is story for another time) and must admit I haven’t kept up. She may have been right about that. But we definitely agree they should be in the Rock Hall. They still aren’t. They may never be. Rock critics have always dismissed the “Fab Five” and they are the ones who decide.

One rock critic does take them seriously, and that’s Cleveland scribe Annie Zaleski. You can find her work everywhere, Rolling Stone, A.V. Club, Vulture, Stereogum, she wrote the liner notes for the 25th anniversary re-release of REM's Out of Time album.

Bloomsbury tapped Zaleski for their "33⅓" series, which are little books about big records. In her edition, Zaleski examines the creation and cultural impact of the Duran Duran album Rio. I didn’t need her to tell me why this is a very important album to me. What I did need her to tell me is how.  

(Before I really dig in here I want to report how relieved I was to read, in the very first paragraph of Zaleski's introduction that she, who is a little more than ten years younger than I, was first introduced to this record in the 1990s. So, though much of what is to follow is steeped in nostalgia, it is the music itself that is doing the heavy lifting.)

Carnival EP (1982)
Sophomore efforts generally suck. There is an urban legend that Kurt Cobain wanted to call Nirvana’s second big label album Mediocre Follow-Up but the money people wouldn’t let him. That’s actually a good record, but that title (and others, including Verse Chorus Verse and I Hate Myself and Want To Die) was more inspired than it’s ultimate title, In Utero. And that’s the thing, artists - all artists - can get told what to, or second guess themselves.

You wrote a dozen songs, made them tight and perfect by playing them in clubs across wherever, for years, put it on wax, and it’s a hit! Then you have to go back into a studio and create something new and untested, from scratch, and right away, too.

But it was all happening so fast for Duran Duran, they were touring their eponymous debut album, and still writing, and playing in the studio, and seeing the world, and it was all fuel for a record that would be, had to be, even more interesting than their first.

Rio was released in 1982. The year I turned 14. The year I broke up with my first girlfriend. The year I stepped from young, innocent romance into something a bit more tremulous.

Of course, we didn’t get Duran Duran in the bedroom communities of Ohio that early. We didn’t have MTV that early. But some suburbs did, and they were requesting singles on WMMS. And my college-aged brother (where they did have MTV; Athens, Ohio was one of the first places that received it right away, in August 1981) had the vinyl and dropped it onto a cassette for me to listen to on his Walkman.

And then one day we did get MTV, in spring 1983. And that was a heady summer. Even at that age, in that place, at that time, there were nights. Crowded, unchaperoned parties. Small get togethers in basements or backyards. Late nights with old girlfriends, early mornings with new girlfriends.

Alternate "Rio" cover
(Patrick Nagel)
To me, Rio, the album, describes an entire summer’s night, from dusk to dawn, in that place, at that time.
  1. Rio is walking into the party, seeing who is there, and who isn’t.
  2. My Own Way is dancing, with absolutely everyone.
  3. Lonely In Your Nightmare is the first possibility, a private conversation.
  4. Hungry Like the Wolf is utterly failing to get off with that person you have had your eye on.
  5. Hold Back the Rain is the second wind, an impossible rush of ebullience.
  6. New Religion is making out with someone unexpected in the toilet.
  7. Last Chance on the Stairway is, well … exactly what the title means.
  8. Save a Prayer is that moment you discover something stranger than love.
  9. The Chauffeur cuts either way. You are going home alone or you aren't.
When such things were not so easily acquired via the internet, one of my prized possessions was Duran Duran's Carnival EP, featuring four club mixes of tracks from both Duran Duran (1981) and Rio. I came across it, in all places, in a record store in Rockland, Maine.

Zaleski mentions this album, pointing out how the tracks are not just extended, but in fact remixed, pushing drum and bass forward in Hungry Like the Wolf, or that My Own Way is an entirely different recording.

How to describe possessing your own, unique version of something? That you can’t just dial up, the moment you want it via the internet? I guess you really can’t.

Flood's Cove, ME. July 1983
(Me, far right. See the bird?)
My senses were overwhelmed that summer. I was an early-bloomer, when it came to dating. I had my first serious girlfriend when I was thirteen. Now, two years later I was seeing someone new and we were navigating the boundaries of our bodies. And I was introduced to pot, which she did not know about and would not have approved of. So, already. Secrets.

When I had been in Maine, in late July (for my birthday, as it was, as it always shall be) I was gripped by what the kids call FOMO, I was skittish and squirrely and unpleasant, I wanted to be home. I needed video games and videos, and I needed her. I also needed a turntable for the Carnival EP I just bought.

The family returned to the cove for Labor Day weekend, for a wedding. That was odd, the air was crisp, no longer summer. The leaves were beginning to turn and I had never seen the cove like that.

Just before we drove to the service, I put on my Walkman and took a walk through the woods to Beatrice Bay. I was wearing a jacket and tie, not my usual attire for this trek. I stood on the rock overlooking Bremen Long Island, across the narrowing Muscongus Bay. It is a sacred space, that rock. The ancestors come and go, the rock remains.

I listened to Save a Prayer (that first trippy eight count, which then explodes across your mind) as I looked past the green waters to the evergreens and wide and brilliant sky beyond. I felt that I was a different person than I had been even six weeks earlier. I didn’t imagine I was an adult, but I knew I was completely a teenager.
"There's been nothing like Rio since." - A. Zaleski

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