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A Blog From John

July 23rd, 2008

We had a day off in Atlanta that Friday, and when I opened the curtains I knew two things. One, that I had to take it slow and easy if I didn’t want this sore throat to turn into something ugly, and two, I just had to get outside into that beautiful Georgia day, with its sullen warmth, and do something. I couldn’t stay in my room all day, but I stay away from too much excitement, for want of a better word. Perhaps the one does contradict the other in hindsight, but there you go.

Did I tell you that we have all become vinyl obsessed since Nick suggested getting ourselves a record player for the dressing room? I know that I have mentioned it and I am pretty sure that Nick has written something about it that appears on the site somewhere else.

Atlanta has to be a great place to find old soul albums, and second-hand classics generally, so I Google up a couple of places that are a taxi ride away, and take Craig and Davey with me off on an oldies hunt. To say that it was a success would be an understatement. To say that the day’s purchases helped change the course of my listening habits would not be. I pulled out a lot of great shit, as did they both. From Isaac Hayes to the Village People, from Cheech and Chong to David Essex, our vinyl procurements knew no bounds, ‘And look, it’s only a dollar!’ was Craig’s catchphrase of the day.

That night, with one eye on The Lakers, I was talking to wifey back home. We had been obsessing over what we should get Jef Levy for his fiftieth birthday. Jef is the husband of Pam, Gela’s partner in Juicy, and he is perhaps the most generous person I know. One of those people who will never let you pay the cheque (my favourite kind of person), he is also an extremely creative gift buyer. For my last birthday he bought me a made-to- measure three-piece suit!

So here we are mulling it over, ‘got to get him something special… etc…meanwhile sitting in the corner is a large cardboard box containing maybe a hundred vinyl platters, some kitsch, some important, and some hilarious, and I get to thinking…

I decide to start researching albums that were released in1958, the year of Jef’s birth, and on right up until the present year, with the purpose of choosing something that has some significance for me, and hopefully for Jeffrey too. I spend the next few early hours of that Saturday morning getting a first draft rough list together. Elvis for ’58, Miles Davis’ ‘Kind Of Blue’ for ’59 and on through The Beatles, The Stones and Motown, Led Zep and Prince, right up to Nirvana, Lauryn Hill, The Strokes and Radiohead. And yes, I did place ‘Rio’ for 1982…

I whisk off an email to my old chums Mike and Gareth at Swordfish in Birmingham. They were the fuckers who introduced me to ‘premium vinyl’ in the first place. I would leave the nuts and bolts of the procuring to Mike, that was the least he could do! Wherever available I should get a new copy of the album. If it was a crucial release that had not yet been reprinted I would have to find a second-hand copy somehow.

I awoke next morning to several return emails from him, in varying degrees of excitement and frustration. I could tell he was into it though, despite how much work would be involved. He was all of a flutter.

He came back to me right away with some revisions, based in part on what Swordfish had in stock, and also albums he felt were necessary. He had a mint second hand copy of ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ by Frank Sinatra he suggested for ’58, which I would never have considered, but which would make a terrific opening year, and he insisted that John Coltrane’s ‘Love Supreme’ must be in at ’64. Had it been up to him he would have had two Coltrane offerings but I felt that one was enough. You may discuss that amongst yourselves. He also suggested James Brown’s ‘Live at The Apollo’ and the Lou Reed/John Cale ‘Songs For Drella’ tribute for Andy Warhol to close the ‘80’s out at 1990, a rather tender and inspired choice I thought. He suggested ‘Brothers in Arms’ (Dire Straits album with the MTV ‘micro-wave oven’ song on it) for ’85, reluctantly I acknowledged the significance of that. Already we had problems however; Alannis Morissette and Lauryn Hill were ‘impossible to find’ according to Mike, ‘Out of print for years,’ he said.

“We’ll see about that, “ I thought to myself. It was time to draft in the e-bay secret agent Patty Palazzo.

Needless to say this one would run and run, at least for the next two weeks, which is how long I had to Jef’s birthday. If I could have I would probably have dedicated my every waking breath to this project from this point on had I not had a day job, but there was a show to play that night. Hair had to be washed, fingers to be warmed up, children had to be called, I could not disregard the world around me just because this silly idea had got me by the throat. Also a special case would have to be found. I wonder… would Louis Vuitton have a record carrying case? Another task for agent Palazzo…

From Georgia we ran down to Florida for a few days, based out of Palm Beach. This is where I have to get a Doctor in. He prescribes me some meds and tells me that whilst I continue to smoke (any amount, even the two or three I have most evenings) I am going to keep getting recurring bouts of throat ailments, which I do. So for now, NO SMOKING.

From Florida we head up to Raleigh where we get to watch Man Utd beat Chelsea in the European Champions League final. The sporty members of the party (read: all except Nick) descend on a sports bar in a local mall to watch it. It’s not the greatest game of the season but it’s a fun outing for us all. Le Bon well chuffed when his mighty United haul off another massive win.

From Raleigh to Philly and my old mate Jimmy Pop who comes to see the show. Jimmy is one funny motherfucker. He’s deceptively smart too, with his greasy fingers in many greasy pies. Not just a master poet (‘The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire) or social commentator (‘the drummer from Def Leppard’s only got one arm’) he’s an all rounder. And it was good to see his skinny ass.

We fly out from Philly after the show down to Nassau Island, in the Bahamas. It’s been a long time since I had last been there, visiting Robert Palmer, who made the island his home for many years, during the making of ‘The Power Station’. When I last saw Robert he told me a funny story about myself that had always stuck with him. We had been driving the coast road from the airport to his house, and suddenly I had screamed, ‘Stop the car!’ and made the driver pull over onto the roadside. I had gotten out and ran towards what was, in essence, a tire store, called ‘The Wheel World’. “Here it is!’ I had exclaimed, excitedly,‘Every day someone says to me something like, ‘you don’t live in the real world,’ and I’m thinking, ‘what’s the real world?’ Well, now I know, here it is!…”

It was pretty funny at the time, and sweet that it had stuck with the old crooner. I miss that bastard. Thank god we had a moment in Tokyo, weeks before he died. He knew how important he was to me, and I to him. I miss him constantly.

The gig is on Paradise island and as part of our fee we get to spend several days R & R-ing at the hotel, enjoying the beach and the vibe. I’m still not feeling great and wake up late after getting to bed around 5am. I take a walk outside and the whole place is like being in an episode of MTV’s ‘Punk’d’ or something. Let me put it this way, my daughters would love it. Acres of tattoos, it was where I first heard the term ‘tramp stamp’ to describe those tattoos girls get at the bass of their spines (top of their ass…) I walk as far away from the festivities as I can get, onto a rock promontory that sticks out into the water, trying for some peace, some spiritual exchange with nature, and what happens? I get attacked by a gull. I’m serious, and so was the gull. That bird chased me down the beach like she was auditioning for a part in ‘The Birds; The Musical’. For a few moments it was downright scary. That was the last time I went looking for a little P & Q on Paradise Island. Davey was probably right, he said I must have gotten really close to its nest, and its eggs. Hell hath no fury like a woman whose eggs are in danger.

The gig is on the Saturday and quite honestly it felt like a blood bath. Meaning: we kill ‘em. STONE DEAD. The audience just isn’t expecting the full on DD live experience. I think they are more used to… what? I don’t know… playback appearances? Twenty minute sets by one hit wonders? That show was good to perform and I was glad to have it done with. Some of us were enjoying ourselves at the resort, and some of us were counting the minutes to departure time. Have I made clear which side of the bed I am sleeping on? Sunday was another day off and I drive up to Compass Point, where Chris Blackwell had his fabulous studio, and where Robert had lived. Much had changed. The studio, smashed in a storm. The apartment Robert had lived in now part of a small hotel and restaurant complex. The other significance Nassau holds for Duran is that of Alex Sadkin, producer of ‘Seven And The Ragged Tiger’, who died in a car accident on the coast road driving back to the studio one night. At one point in the road we took a sharp left bend, with the ocean to our right and I see a large wooden hand-made cross that has been erected. I don’t know where Alex had his accident, but seeing that cross took me by surprise and put a chill in me. I felt for certain that this was the place.

The next day rolls creakily into place and it’s time to get back to the mainland. We fly into Baltimore where we are met by our friend and colleague, Sony’s own ‘Leapy’ Lee Leipsner. The drive to our hotel seems to take forever, rattling around in some grotty van built for airport transfers. It’s enough to make you travel weary. My friend Bret from Studio City is in town with his family and he visits me in my room later that evening. It’s good to see someone from home. At this point on the tour I am getting somewhat in my head and need help getting out. I also get on the phone to my brother-in-law (and family physician) Steve Weiss, telling him my woes, that basically the antibiotic I got in Florida has done bugger-all, that I’m not sleeping, that I’m coughing up foul green stuff all day long and have a throat that feels like a pyre from ‘Burning Man’. Steve prescribes another, different antibiotic. Maybe that will work.

I meet Bret and his lovely family for breakfast on the morning of the show. I like Georgetown and take a walk with them up Main Street, buying a few books and the new Portishead CD, one for myself and one for Mr. Rhodes.

Have I mentioned that I dislike the word’ blog’? I guess one of the reasons I am sitting here, weeks after the D.C. Show day, in a hotel room a dozen miles from Venice, Italy, set to continue my reports of touring derring-do and double talk, is that I have some sort of belief that there is a central purpose to it, ideally one of enlightenment for both you and I. It might just be sheer vanity however, brought forth from many compliments I’ve received from those of you who have read what I have written so far. I don’t know, but whatever it is, ‘blog’ doesn’t make me want to rush to the page and share my feelings and experiences with anyone. Your thoughts, please?

Having gotten that out of the way, let us proceed. You were in Washington D.C., Georgetown precisely, and about to join Dom and Craig and myself for a drive south to the Merriweather Post venue. A famous venue in the neighbourhood, I’m glad it still survives, as it’s one of the few ‘indoor-outdoor’ venues that has real character. I first went there with Power Station in ’84 and I’ve been back several times since with Duran. Today we are hoping to beat the traffic out of town and it’s a miserly, sultry sort of early summer day, and I’m just glad it’s not August.

I have been wearing a t-shirt with Barack Obama’s face on it for our encores on this tour since Davey gave it to me in Illinois. It’s a cool design, by Shepard Fairey. I have a lot of love and respect for Obama and have sang his praises elsewhere on this site. As Nick said recently, getting him the presidency would be the best thing that could happen to America in a long time.

I had put it to the rest of the boys, in the van that night of the Chicago show, on our way to the venue,‘Would anyone mind if I wore an Obama shirt for the encore tonight?’ Nick had replied, ‘Not if you don’t mind potentially alienating 50% of the audience!’, he then went on to say, ‘Well, at least you’re letting people know what side of the fence you’re on’. In this case, there is only one right side of the fence, and that’s a left turn for my beloved adopted country, which has to have a change of leadership as soon as election day rolls around, and I truly believe we all should be grateful that a man as dedicated, idealistic and heartfelt as this one should make himself available and up to the task.

Stepping onstage in Illinois with a political statement on my chest felt a little weird as I had never done it before, and it didn’t seem too, well… rock n’roll… but it seemed right, particularly to be doing it in Obama’s backyard, and I haven’t looked back. At the Merriweather Post the audience went nuts!

I felt an extraordinary connectedness, almost a sense of relief from the people out there that I had made that choice. There was a palpable sense of love that went beyond the usual.

The D.C. gig was the highpoint, for me, of the US tour. From there we flew to Boston and then on to New York where we were to receive some news that was to rip the guts out of us all.