"Bringing The Music of Duran Duran Into The Classroom To Enrich Young Hearts And Minds"
Interview with John Taylor
By Andy Irvin-5th Grade Teacher
Hembree Springs Elementary School
John Taylor steps out of the elevator at the band's hotel at 2:30 sharp, our pre-arranged meeting time, and proceeds to extend a hand of friendship to me. Finally, for once, I get to interview someone who is as tall as I am.
We find a quiet spot in the lobby where we can talk freely, away from distractions.
This interview is very important to me, on many levels. For one, I always felt it was such a shame that the media, twenty years ago, seemed to focus only on the hair, the clothes, and the screaming girls, thereby ignoring the brilliance of the music, and subsequently not giving proper credit to these musically accomplished five band members.
But I'm mainly excited about talking with John because I want to let him know that I am a huge believer in using the power of music, music that he has helped to create, within the classroom, as an educational, motivational tool for learning. Kids love it when a teacher "mixes" things up. Worksheet after worksheet gets real old, real fast.
Throughout the year, my students will perform various educational tasks, especially during Math, Writing, and Current Events, that revolve around some of the band's biggest songs. The majority of the kids recognize DD's hits thanks to local radio, VH-1, their parents' lp/cd collections, etc.
I also talk extensively with the students about Duran Duran, and the band's amazing career, during the teaching of my big "History of Pop/Rock/Country Music" Unit.
When it came to creating pop gems like "Rio," "Hungry Like The Wolf," "Notorious," and "Ordinary World," it was never about the fame and fortune that followed-it was about touching people's lives, making a difference in this world, and bringing joy to the masses. My own nine year old daughter has recently started exploring their enormous catalogue of hits. It literally warms my heart to see her enthusiasm for DD's music. It kind of brings everything full circle for me-a passing of the torch, if you will.
Q: Were you into reading as a child?
A: Yeah. I liked adventure stories. There were these two great series of books. One was called, "The Famous Five." They were very much like your "Scooby-Doo" kind of thing, like "The Famous Five Go To Moon Castle," where they'd go on this vacation, and discover something weird, and would try to solve the mystery. "The Secret Seven" was the other one. There were seven of them, and they usually had a dog with them. As a teenager, I got into the Ian Fleming (James Bond) books.
Q: Some of my students were wondering how you came up with the name "Atlanta" for your daughter. They think it's because of our city here in Georgia.
A: (laughs) There was a t.v. show called "Stingray." It was about a submarine, named the Stingray, and it was based out of this city called Marineville. This show was made by the same people who did the puppets on "Thunderbirds." Really cool stuff. One of the more glamorous characters on the show was this puppet named Atlanta Shore-she was Commander Shore's daughter. The mother of my daughter, Amanda, well, she comes from this long line of names that start with "A," like her brother's, her Father's, her Mother's. So I thought, "Well, it's gotta be an "A," but I want it to be my idea." I always thought Atlanta had a beautiful ring about it.
Q: Is she into the Harry Potter books? Does she like to read? What are her interests?
A: She's actually really into music, and watching t.v. right now.
Q: Is that good or bad?
A: Well, you know it's a popular culture we live in. I think one has to be careful in drawing lines. She wants to watch "The O.C." It's complicated. I think that if you keep your kids from doing something they want to do, they'll find a way to do it, but they'll do it in secret. I don't know what the answer is I used to love to watch t.v. as a kid.
Q: One thing that bothers me, and you may be perfectly fine with it, is, we will try to watch a show like "Survivor," or "American Idol," as a family, but then all these inappropriate, way-too-old-for-my-kids commercials come on, and I'm like, "Hit the mute button now!" Do you think in this society our kids are growing up too fast?
A: I'm sure our parents felt we were. I think it's just the changing nature of society. I'm sure every generation feels that their children are growing up too fast. The kind of information our generation had to assimilate came to us more slowly, but in turn the information our parents had to assimilate came to them even more slowly, still. There are certain things that they (kids) are learning quicker, and there are other things that they're not. It all balances out.
Q: Does it surprise you that I'm using music so much within my classroom for learning? The kids love it-It's different, for a change.
A: Well, your job is definitely to keep the kids interested and stimulated. They'll listen to the information that way, but I personally don't believe in the idea of gifted children (being more attentive than others). I hate it when people tell me they're tone deaf. I don't believe in being tone deaf. My phrase is "practice makes possible." The best thing you can do for a kid is to make them feel good about who they are. The more confidence they have, the more receptive they will be to learning, or to whatever is going on around them. It's hard for teenagers (to maintain focus). Your own kids are just about to get to that age where boys start knocking (on girls' doors), and getting their attention. (I sigh at this, worrying about the inevitable.)
Q: In our society, there seems to be so much pressure on kids to perform, to qualify for gifted classes-the drive for excellence.
A: In Los Angeles, where I live, it's very intense, especially in the private school system a lot of late-life parents, who are very, very driven to wanting their children to do well. In some of the schools, the kids don't get below a "B," because you know why? If they do, the parents will take them out of that school, and take them somewhere else. An "A" earned by a kid at a typical urban school, and what they have to achieve to get that grade, perhaps is possibly less than what they would have to do (to get it) in a private school. These (private) schools end up giving the parents what they want. Now, with a private school, maybe you're able to get better teachers, because the pay is possibly more, perhaps younger teachers, who aren't burnt out yet. The school where my step-son goes, and where my daughter is going to go to, well, seeing some of the presentations these teachers made, it made me want to go to school there. It didn't seem like people really loved to teach when I was a kid.
Q: Any desire to watch shows like "American Idol?"
A: I've never liked talent shows. Even when I was a kid, I couldn't stand them. I don't know why. I hate "Candid Camera" style shows, where people are made fools of on t.v. And I don't like reality shows, either. I think I take music far too seriously to appreciate the irony of talent shows. I don't need to see who can sing a Marvin Gaye song the best. I think for everybody who is looking for someone to do well, they're also looking for someone to make fools of themselves.
Q: I think people are finally realizing that you guys are amazing musicians, and top of that, you guys wrote some incredible songs.
A: Nobody ever told us what to play. We played a kind of music that we loved, and that makes us authentic. What we were really like was Linkin Park, but the media kinda said we were Britney Spears, because we had so many young, girl fans back then. I think that the music got lost in all the hype that surrounded us, and I think that people thought that we were a product of someone else's imagination, like a band like 'NSYNC, where you have a Svengali type guy who auditions all these people, and says, "We're going to use you, you, and you." I think a lot of people think that about Duran Duran. We were actually drawn to each other through our mutual passion for a particular kind of music.
Q: Britney Spears keeps saying that she's not the parent (of these young fans of hers), and feels that she shouldn't be made to feel responsible for being a role model, or having to act a certain way. But let's face it-kids are easily influenced by the image that celebs put out there. As I've already said, I just don't want kids to grow up too fast.
A: Well, I was very appreciative of The Spice Girls. I thought they were terrific. I took my daughter and step-daughter, and I hate that term, "step-daughter," to one of their concerts, and the "girl energy" was amazing. They introduced music to a generation of kids who had never bought music before.
I think that there is something to admire about what she (Britney) has achieved for a girl her age. When you take her show that was on HBO, I mean, I wouldn't dare to judge it musically-it's not my right. But I would credit her for being able to put herself at the center of all these dancers, musicians, and lighting technicians. That's a big production, and that takes a lot of guts and talent, whether you like that kind of music or not, to be able to position yourself in the middle of all that. I have a lot of admiration for her, because I couldn't do that. She's got some great songs, and she's very cute.
Q: But what about the whole "lip-syncing" thing? I mean, she hardly ever sings live, free of pre-recorded vocals.
A: That's just the changing nature of the culture. I just don't think it's that important. You take what you get from entertainment. If you don't like it, then leave it alone.
Q: Sometimes I've been guilty of making fun of her, during class, by singing the "Yiyiyiyiyi" line heard at the beginning of "Oops." The kids know I'm totally ripping on her.
A: Well, somebody might say the same thing about "Whyyiyiyiyi" (from "The Reflex")! We're not virtuosos.
Q: In closing, is it a nice feeling on this tour hearing people say, "Hey these guys are for real!" ?
A: It is. We started playing again in July, and I noticed an enormous change in the way the audience was responding to us. Any artist will tell you however well they're received, they're insignificant compared to artists like The Beatles or The Stones. For me personally, I can never seriously compare my achievements to The Beatles. But what I've finally realized is that we're important to people who came of age in the 80's. I told myself, "It's okay, you don't need to compare yourself to The Rolling Stones. What you're doing is just as relevant to this moment."