SM Artist of the Week: Simon LeBon
Even at the height of their pretty-boy, fashion-plate, centerfold, popular heyday of the ’80’s, I always thought there was something more to Duran Duran. Yeah, I suppose their videos were drenched with supermodels and their wardrobe cost more than I’ll make in my lifetime, but there was actual substance there.
Musically they were extraordinary. Nick Rhodes was back there on the cutting edge of synthesizers, not so much playing an instrument, but brewing a weird sonic concoction like a mad-scientist. Roger Taylor’s kick drum was big and syncopated like Bonham’s bottom, but on top was interesting mix of electronic drums and hats that always made for an interesting rhythm: the perfect blend of old-school and modern technique. John Taylor is as sick a bass player as you will find in ’80’s pop music. Most of Duran Duran’s musical bridge breakdowns feature him going to town slapping the holy crap out of that bass. I mean give the song Rio a listen and turn up the low end on your EQ. The guy is nuts. There was quirky Andy Taylor on guitar, who just didn’t seem to fit with Duran Duran’s new wave British synth-pop sound. He seemed to me like he wanted to be a typical, 80’s rock guitar-god, but he was stuck in a fashion band – but it worked!
Then there was Simon LeBon. If you were alive in the eighties you were probably as likely to see Simon in a tween’s room on a poster, on a lunchbox, or on a school folder as you were to hear his music. But he was never the shallow, vapid, teeny-bopper star that MTV, music rags and (I’m guessing) his publicist would have you believe.
His lyrics were opaque and atypical of top 40 subjects. He had a poet’s mind and his lyrics showed a depth that didn’t coincide with his or the band’s image. I mean, he references Voltaire on “Last Chance on the Stairway” which is on their second album. Not since Sting dropped Nabokov on us in his lyrics had we seen such a literary reference from a pop band. Underground bands, sure, but bands that scored top 40 hits in the eighties didn’t just happen to throw in references to 18th century French philosophers.
So, I was a Duran Duran fan in the eighties, and even stuck with them and kept buying their albums after the glory days of the Reagan era (which I’m happy to say contains some of their best material). So you can imagine how glad I was that Simon LeBon was included in a book entitled, The Atheist’s Guide To Christmas. where he shared an essay ‘Losing My Faith’. He was in good company, too. Also featured in the book were the likes of Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling, Phil Plait, Simon Singh and other prominent atheists. I’d had my suspicions about LeBon being an atheist, as early as 1993 he was writing lyrics like this from the song ‘None of the Above’: “When it comes down to my soul, freedom puts my faith in none of the above”. But now LeBon was in a book along side the “strident” atheist Richard Dawkins. It was nice. Here’s LeBon reading his essay from that book:
This declaration of atheism from Simon LeBon was really refreshing for me. Obviously it isn’t a necessary condition for an artist to be a skeptic and/or atheist, because I’d been happy to listen to Duran Duran’s music for three decades without this knowledge and I enjoyed it just fine. I even love the music of downright loony believers (Prince comes to mind). But Simon LeBon stating his atheism in such a public way was somehow the icing on the cake for my enjoyment of his music. He’s one of us I thought, and that kind of belonging, that kind of pride in what I believed in, definitely helped fuel the idea of Skeptical Music. I’m human. I have emotions both good and bad, and I happen to think celebrating science, logic, reason, atheism and skepticism in art is a healthy way to participate in positive human emotions. I think art can bond people like other forms of community participation can’t.
So cheers to Skeptical Music’s Artist of the Week: Simon LeBon.