Duran Duran's legendary bass guitarist, aged 50
What would you say to your 16-year-old self if you could go back in time? Every week we ask a well-known name to offer their younger self words of wisdom.
I was music obsessed when I was 16. I didn’t know it but I was finding my identity through music. I think I got quite lost when I was about 14 – I never quite connected to grammar school. I wasn’t a sporty kid, I wasn’t academic - but then I found pop music. I read the NME from cover to cover, started going to concerts, listening to Radio Luxembourg in bed at night. It was a fantastic time for a lost boy to discover music – you had David Bowie, Roxy Music.. and just around the corner was the Sex Pistols and they were going to knock me off my feet.
I wore glasses at school, and that definitely increased my shyness. I was still wearing them when I started the band. I remember this pretty girl who worked at a club we played at said I should try contact lenses. That changed my life at 19. I went from this nerdy shy introverted boy to this outgoing party animal. I changed my name from Nigel to John and within a year I was a pop star.
In the last couple of years I’ve thought alot about the boy I was, about Nigel, and I’ve tried to get back in touch with him. I dumped him, I forgot all about him. But now I love him, I totally get him, and I see how he was a product of his parents. I understand now why it was hard for my dad to talk about certain things, how my mum was a real people person and a raving Catholic, and I understand the psychological impact of those things on me.
I couldn’t have coped with the success of Duran Duran if I hadn’t had had my 4 brothers, the rest of the band. I was an only child so I drew those brothers to me. We were a gang and there was tremendous security in that. I could never have been a solo star.
If I could go back and talk to that teenage boy I’d tell him he’s as good as everyone but at the same time, no better than anyone else. Fame can put you on an ego ride so you bounce between thinking you’re a piece of shit and thinking you’re better than other people. I realise now I had to pay that price for feeling superior and it’s not worth it.
There’s a tremendous loneliness when you’re famous. Constant waves of sadness when the highs are over for the day, when people stop shouting your name and you close your door. I didn’t ever want to be alone and if I was high I always found a way to make sure I wasn’t. Drugs and alcohol took control of me and I became ashamed of myself. And I couldn’t talk to anyone because they’d all warned me and I told them all to fuck off. I eventually got into a 12 step programme and I’ve never gone back. But God, that was really hard work.
If you told me at 16 I’d still be making a living out of being in a band when I was 50 – Jeez! It’s unbelievable. Along the way I’ve had lots of self doubt – but I have to believe now that I’ve found my place.
courtesy The Big Issue Scotland