Tag Archives: Duran Duran

Which one is Floyd?

My latest article for The Week is in honour of Walter Becker, guitarist for Steely Dan, who died recently. It’s about bands like Steely Dan: ones that have names that make you think they’re the name of one of the guys in the band.

11 band names that don’t mean what you think they do


And when you’re done reading that, here are four honourable mentions that didn’t make it into the final version:

Duran Duran
The hit electro-group from the ’80s (and on) probably haven’t ever had anyone ask, “Which one is Duran?” But they’re named after a fictional character: Doctor Durand Durand, from the movie Barbarella.

The Ramones
The Ramones, great punk pioneers of the 1970s and later, did not have any members whose real last name was Ramone, nor were any members related to each other. But they all took stage names with the last name Ramone, starting with founding member Douglas Colvin, who called himself Dee Dee Ramone, inspired by Paul McCartney’s one-time use of the pseudonym Paul Ramon.

Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper is now the name of the shock-rocker born as Vincent Damon Furnier. But it was first the name of a band he sang with. When the brand broke up, he kept the name. Their — and his — namesake was an 18th-century witch who was burned at the stake.

Anonymous 4
Anonymous 4 is one of the world’s great medieval and folk music quartets. Its members aren’t anonymous; the four women with the ethereal voices are Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Ruth Cunningham, and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek (Johanna Maria Rose was an original member; Horner-Kwiatek joined later). But, like many classical music ensembles, the group is actually named after a real person: Anonymous IV was the author of an important medieval treatise on music — an author whose name is lost to the ages, so he was later designated Anonymous IV (because Anonymous I, II, and III were already in use).


Oh… and there’s this line in a Pink Floyd song (click on it and it will take you to the line):


I have of late, for no particularly good reason, been listening to a lot of covers (remakes) of Duran Duran’s song “The Chauffeur.” They’re easy to find on YouTube, and when you find one there are links to more.

“The Chauffeur” is the last song on the 1982 LP Rio. Rio was a seminal record of my high school years and is still one of my favourites. The album cover is a classic of early ’80s style. It features a painting of a beautiful vamp by Patrick Nagel, who died two years later at age 38. Rio’s biggest hits were “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Rio,” but the songs that I have been most drawn to have been “Lonely in Your Nightmare,” “Save a Prayer,” and – of course – “The Chauffeur.”

These songs are steamy, yearning, louche. “The Chauffeur” features an inexorable synthesizer riff like beads of sweat slowly rolling down smooth skin. Whose sweat? Yours, when you listen to Simon LeBon’s voice, torrid yet trending towards torpid, dripping down over the synthesizer and bass:

Out on the tar plains, the glides are moving
All looking for a new place to drive
You sit beside me, so newly charming
Sweating dew drops glisten, freshing your side

Yes, they have paid much attention to the sound of the words. Say that last line aloud: “Sweating dew drops glisten, freshing your side.” Not fresh on and not freshening and certainly not refreshing; freshing. Listen to how the vowel peaks roll in the line, /ɛ u ɑ ɪ ɛ ɔ aɪ/ (the reduced ones in second syllables simply drip away). Listen to the sequence of consonants, the weaving of stops and soft fresh hisses, the rhythm that insists and then pulls back for just a moment before pushing and holding. Every sound is in place.

But is that word out of place, freshing? Is that a word you have ever used that way? Does it seem like an unexpected, half-unknown, entirely perfect new companion, so smoothly fitting and yet so strange, like a piece that works as though always made for that spot and yet has come from nowhere? Does it make you nervous, does it seem too right and not familiar enough to be right?

Songwriters are known for making strange bedfellows at times. The sense can be obscure, obnubilated. The lyrics may be hazy and suggestive. What, after all, does the repeated line “Sing blue silver” mean at the end of each refrain in the song? Sometimes words are chosen for form, not sense; sometimes they are like books shelved by colour and shape. The more rigid among us may accuse the writers of being undereducated, semi-literate.

And yet fresh is a word we have had as a verb since the 1300s. It is converted, of course, from the even older adjective, a word that we have gotten from Germanic languages directly and by way of French. Fresh is ‘new’ and also ‘not stale’; freshing is ‘making new’ and ‘making not stale or wilted’. And ‘refreshing’. Why use freshing when we have a word already, refreshing? But before refreshing we had freshing. What was old is camouflaged as new. And you should use the part that fits more smoothly. Sometimes there is more than just the colour and shape. Listen: it is newly charming.

Yes, listen. Listen to Duran Duran’s original. Listen to the last stanza, ending “I’ll only watch you leave me further behind”; listen to the last refrain, ending “Sing me, sing blue silver”; listen then to the long instrumental tail of the song, what is left when the words have been doffed like cool silk, and you will hear, woven underneath, clips of a voice, a crisp accent saying things that may not fit at first but fall into place. “There’s more to this kind of camouflage, more than just colour and shape.” And… what is the next bit? The next bit is a stretch of words that prove that people will hear what they want to hear, even if it makes no sense.

But a sultry song like this is like a hazy, hot afternoon, when nothing is quite real and you piece it together from memory even as it is happening. The dewdrops glisten and fresh. But the dewdrops have come from within: you are refreshed by yourself, by something that has come from within you – and then falls away and evaporates, leaving just a faint trail. Freshing.

The vinyl version of Rio has a very full back side, full to the inner groove. After the dripping words laid over the inexorable refrain, after the almost-impenetrable stolen clips of voice, after the synthesizers and flute grind and swirl to their climax, there is a sound of chains or coins being dropped on the floor – and then, just like that, without even a moment of final hiss, the needle on my record player would pick up and return to inert.

Yet More Poetry Minute and a Half

I’ve added six – six! – more Poetry Minute and a Half videos:

Hotel California

Hungry Like the Wolf

Let’s Dance

Born to Be Wild

Let It Go (from Frozen)

Let It Go (by Luba)

Nothing to chauffeur a classiomatic

One of my favourite records (now CDs) of all time is Duran Duran’s Rio. I’ve listened to it countless times, and almost all of those times on speakers, not headphones, until recently, when I started listening to music at work in the afternoon to keep from getting drowsy.

Towards the end of the last track, “The Chauffeur,” there’s some speech and other sounds. The speech is in a resonant male voice with a somewhat toasty British accent. For years I really didn’t know what the voice was saying. You can’t tell that well over speakers, especially with the pan pipes, synthesizer and especially drums going all at the same time. I amused myself imagining the most audible bit was “It’s Maury Niska-Nagay, and Maury’s… covered in shit.” I knew, of course, that that certainly wasn’t it, though there were sounds of that general order.

But recently, listening to it on headphones, I thought, “No, really, what is that dude saying?” Continue reading