David, Milan, and I
The following essay is really old. I include it here simply because I am lazy and I wanted an excuse to post some of these videos. It started as a response to request from Heather that I explain some of the references in the black dress project essays, back when that was still a writing project and not the compulsion to buy and photograph black dresses that it has since become.
Duran Duran is responsible for my thesis and my artistic career (such as it is).
I don't have to tell you who Duran Duran is, or rather, was, as their significance in early to mid-80s popular culture was so huge. I received Seven and the Ragged Tiger for my twelfth birthday and became obsessed. My bedroom walls were covered in Duran Duran photos. I listened only to their music. I was going to marry John Taylor (who was, by far, the cutest and has aged the best. Which probably goes to show that while smoking and sun exposure will destroy your looks, a serious cocaine addiction will not.) By the time I turned 13, I was over them, my musical heart having moved on to U2, the Smiths, the Cure, and Aztec Camera (another band who I initially only read about) and my romantic heart having moved on to real life boys (not that I was any more successful with the boys I knew. At least I can explain away my failure with John Taylor as being due to the fact that we have never met. I have no excuses for all those real life rejections).
Anyway, as I was saying, I was really into Duran Duran and bought every magazine that had an article or photo of them in it. In a number of the music magazines the band Japan was mentioned. Most of the articles talked about their breakup and how their lead singer, David Sylvian, was embarking on a solo career. I was curious. Now, it probably goes without saying that Japan was not played on the radio and any curiosity I actually had about them had to be indulged by buying the records and the prospect of buying a record by a band when I have never even heard a single song by them is terrifying to me even now, as an adult with disposable income of my own. It was truly impossible to imagine doing this as a preteen with an allowance and so many things I wanted (Guess jeans, le sportsac purses, makeup) to buy. But somehow I did buy the live album Oil on Canvas and I liked it. A lot. I never actually got around to buying another Japan album (although Maria still remembers that I always looked at the Japan section in used record stores, so it was not that I didn't intend to buy another Japan record, just that I never got around to it as there were always records I wanted more). I bought copies of David Sylvian's solo records (at the time they were the Forbidden Colours single, and the albums Brilliant Trees and Gone To Earth).
So, I went to high school filled with all my interest in music and my past experience as an obsessed fan of Duran Duran. Yes, I was one of those people who believed that what you listened to revealed important information about who you were as a person. When I would meet someone, I thought nothing of grilling them with regards to their musical tastes and then deciding whether I wanted to be their friend based upon the answers (looking back, I was pretty insufferable).
Sometime between my freshman and junior year I met a girl, Sherri, who was still a Duran Duran fan (which I had to admire as it was pretty uncool at that point, most people, having moved on past the glory days of "Hungry Like The Wolf") and she was also a David Sylvian fan as well, which was fairly impressive, to me, as she was the only person I encountered who had heard of him. How did she develop this interest? Sherri's favorite member of Duran Duran was Nick Rhodes. One thing about David Sylvian that I have thus far failed to mention is that he bore a very strong resemblance to Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran (or at least, we thought he bore a strong resemblance to Nick Rhodes. In truth, they have drastically different bone structure and look nothing alike, but they had the same hairdresser and everyone wore so much eye liner back then, and I think we were all a little in-observant). So Sherri saw a picture of David in some magazine and developed a curiosity about him based on who he looked like. I mention this because it is an even more extreme version of my own journey and, to this day, Sherri is the only person who has ever admitted discovering music this way. Sure, everyone can say how cool they are and how they heard snippets of a song on an underground radio station or on the band's MySpace page, but yeah, some of us did take a leap of faith and judge books by their covers.
Sherri wasn't really a friend of mine in that we only chatted at school and, maybe, once or twice on the telephone. I really have no idea how it came to pass that we saw the film The Unbearable Lightness of Being together. I know she must have been the one to suggest it as I had not heard of Milan Kundera (I don't have to tell you who he is, do I?), or even the "new Daniel Day Lewis (ditto?) film" when I bought my ticket at the Water Tower Place box office. But she must have asked me to see the film and I said yes and it is lucky I did because I loved the film. I went looking for Milan Kundera's books at the bookstore. There was The Unbearable Lightness of Being on the bookshelf, next to The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, which I became the first Milan Kundera novel I read. Why did I choose that book, as opposed to the novel of which I had just seen the film version? Why, because David Sylvian had a song on Gone To Earth called Laughter and Forgetting.
So it isn't just looks that get one to buy records, it's records which gets one to buy books. Imagine how much more well read we would all be if everyone behaved this way.
Later, I asked Sherri and she confessed that this was why she started reading Milan Kundera.
Though I discovered Yukio Mishima in a different yet equally random way, it probably helped that one of his books was titled Forbidden Colours. My obsession with Yukio Mishima and Japanese No theatre resulted in me writing a thesis in Japanese history.
I audited a class on post modern novels my junior year of college. I did so because Milan Kundera was on the syllabus. So was Salman Rushdie. While I had remembered the fatwa and had even tried to read The Satanic Versus when I was 17 (I got about 20 pages into it, maybe), it was reading Midnight's Children for this class which hooked me and turned me into the Salman Rushdie fan girl that I am today. In 1998, Jenny and I used The Satanic Verses as the foundation for our choreography. So, Milan Kundera is responsible for Submission.
To recap, the flow chart would be Duran Duran to Japan/David Sylvian to Milan Kundera to Salman Rushdie to Submission (i.e. the work Jenny and I did as Gravisphere). There would also be an arrow from Japan/David Sylvian pointing to Yukio Mishima to No Theatre to Geisha to my thesis. Which means that whoever gave me Seven and the Ragged Tiger in 1984 changed the course of my entire life.
This probably wasn't what they expected.
Of course, the real surprise is that all these videos now live on the internet and there is no mystery whatsoever about them. I wonder if I would have found any of these bands or writers interesting if I didn't have to work to find them. Maybe being forced to take a leap of faith was valuable after all.