PERMANENT RECORDS: THE MUSIC IS LOUDER THAN ALL OF THEIR ROAR
Permanent Records is a year-long project. Each Friday (or thereabouts), I will post a new entry about one specific album, chosen due to its significance to myself as a fan. Though the list is numbered, a particular record's placement should not be considered a ranking. There will be 52 albums in all.
21. DURAN DURAN - SEVEN AND THE RAGGED TIGER (1983)
Personnel: Simon Le Bon, vocals; Andy Taylor, guitar; John Taylor, bass; Nick Rhodes, keyboards; Roger Taylor, drums
Producers: Alex Sadkin, Ian Little, & Duran Duran / Label: Capitol
My favorite term for a Duran Duran fan is "Duranimal." I think the most popular is "Durannie," but that never worked for me. It doesn't sound like whoever coined it was really trying, and frankly, it's also a little sissy (you shut up). Duranimal, though, that has claws. Like a ragged tiger.
Duran2 was one of the first bands I really got into, and my first real musical obsession. Strangely, it was also one of the few bands my sister and I could agree on. She owned Rio on vinyl and that was definitely a sort of gateway for me. I kind of preferred their first album and the much stranger videos--the soft focus, the frilly shirts, and bright lights--but it was just the starting point.
Seven and the Ragged Tiger pushed me over the top. It came along when I was eleven, and I found something in Simon Le Bon's cut-and-paste lyrics and the band's multilayered melodies that I could connect to. 1983 was one of the more confusing times in my life. My parents had split, I had been tricked into living with my mother, and I was generally miserable. The belief system I had been raised with had failed me, and I wasn't sure where I would go. A perfect time to discover rock and roll!
An even more perfect time for an album like Seven and the Ragged Tiger. It's an insanely catchy record. Every song has a mega hook, and given the band's popularity at the time, all nine of them could have been singles. Duran Duran could have probably even cracked the top ten with the instrumental "Tiger Tiger," little girls everywhere cowering under its fearful symmetry. So, with young ears that desired to hear some bubblegum go pop, I played my cassette tape to shreds. Even today, at the bridge of "I Take the Dice," I still expect to hear the fade-out at the point where my tape had gotten a kink in it. It's a memory forever burned in my brain.
Oh, cassette tapes. What different days! I had a sixty-minute tape, and I decided that the thirty minutes on each side would be well suited to one song each. I had a friend's copies of the 45s for "The Reflex" and "New Moon On Monday" before I had the album, and I filled one side of the tape with one single and the other side with the second. This meant hitting the record button as the needle met the vinyl, playing the song, pausing, and starting back at the beginning over and over until it was all done. Then I could listen to my favorite songs as many times in a row as I wanted, no effort required. I remember taking my tape player down to the apartment building pool and playing it loud enough so I could hear it while I was even underwater. God, how I must have annoyed my neighbors! "The Reflex" would have fit on the tape about six times, and "New Moon on Monday" about eight. Plus, my tape player switched sides automatically, I didn't even have to get out the water.
It wasn't just about the adrenaline surge of a great pop single, though. As I said, I was a confused kid at that point in time, and I sort of got it through my head that Seven and the Ragged Tiger was almost like a message for me. A road map, maybe, for getting on track again. I'll be perfectly honest, I was eleven, so I didn't really sort it out, and I had no clue what I was really talking about, but that's probably why I was so intrigued. Simon was writing in a jumbled style, inspired by the likes of William Burroughs, and though I didn't know who Burroughs was (and now that I know, I don't much care), I could just feel there was something going on in those nonsensical non sequiturs. Not even the title of the album added up. There were only five people in the band! Even so, I was the lonely child left in the dark in "The Reflex," and as a latch-key kid, I was ready to get with the solitude of "(I'm Looking For) Cracks in the Pavement." "Don't want to be in public/ My head is full of chopstick/ I don't like it," I'd sing, convinced that this sentiment, this search for the other side, was mine.
There was definitely a sense of the dramatic in my appropriation of this music. "Of Crime and Passion" and "Shadows on Your Side," for instance, spoke of dark corners, of letting yourself loose in places most people fear. I wanted to scream out to my parents, "Why did you let me run/ When you knew I'd fall for the gaping hole/ Where your heart should be?" I'd go to school and I'd see my friends at church, and I'd put on the brave face I'd been cultivating since childhood. Everyone thought I was a happy kid, that nothing got me down. "With everybody to say that you're having the time of your life when you life is on the slide."
"The Seventh Stranger" was my favorite song. This seemed like the code that needed to be cracked, and then it would all come clear. Once I told this to my father. We were in the car, and I said, "Dad, I don't know why, but I think this song is about my life."
Bless him, he turned up the volume and said, "Let's listen and see if we can figure it out."
Of course, we couldn't, we were trying too hard. Or maybe he sussed what I thought I was hearing, and he didn't want to say. What did he make of lines like "Was I chasing after rainbows?/ One thing for sure you never answered when I called" and "I'm changing my name just as the sun goes down"? They seem like pretty harsh things to be hearing from your only son.
Now I see what I was groping for, of course. Like much of Seven and the Ragged Tiger, "The Seventh Stranger" is about regret, about not having things turn out how you wanted, and desiring something more for yourself, some way to make a change. It's in a lot of the songs. The second verse of "The Reflex" talks about being on a ride and wanting to get off, and selling prized possessions to get the hell out of wherever you are. "Cracks in the Pavement" opens with "I shed my skin/ When the party was about to begin," while "Of Crime and Passion" is about betrayal and "Union of the Snake" is something outside of you that is alluring and damaging all the same, a crowd you distrust while wanting to join. It's "The Seventh Stranger" that finishes it off, though, a melancholy ballad that edges into hopefulness, crying out against something while you cry for yourself. Brush off the tears, and look at something new. The stranger's eyes are yours, as you look at new experiences, or they are the people whom you can present yourself to as a fresh person. The song exists to be your rock. "Those words are all remainders," it begins, almost sounding like "reminders." Listen, and be reminded.
This is why it hurt when I had to pretend not to like Duran Duran when I was in a Christian school full of heavy metal wild boys. In the dark nights home alone in Canoga Park, CA, while my devious mother went to Lockheed to help build war machines no one really needed, Seven and the Ragged Tiger became my first lifeline, when a rock band offered me something to hold on to rather than sink into the muck of my own despair. Like Peter did on the night Jesus was arrested, I'd have to deny my saviors to the rabble that refused to understand.
Thankfully, I was to get some vindication. In the spring of my sixth-grade year, we took a field trip to somewhere in Los Angeles, and Matt Auna's mother was driving. The single being pushed at the time was "New Moon On Monday," and on the drive, we heard it twice. All through the field trip, which I think was to some kind of courthouse or government building, whenever there was a pause, Matt would turn to me, pantomimed microphone in his hand, and sing, "I light my torch and wave it for the New Moon on Monday!" I would laugh and wait for him to do it again, and pretty soon he said, "You know, that song's pretty good." He was into it now, and it was suddenly okay for me to be into it, too. I had turned my back on Simon, Andy, John, Roger, and Nick, but they still managed to pull me up out of it when the time was right.
Notable B-Side: Before they had done a James Bond theme for real, Duran Duran released their own take on Cold War paranoia on the flipside of "Union of the Snake." "Secret Oktober" is a quick song, two minutes and forty-three seconds. The music is like a carnival dirge, rising and falling to the point of seasickness. Simon doesn't pause, singing straight through, like he can't stop, he's caught in the inertia of the situation. The lyrics toss out cocktails, killing jars, gunshots on the wind, and other abstract images of nights lost in a haze of espionage. It's an all-night party heading for a hangover--or maybe the grave. "Secret Oktober" and Seven and the Ragged Tiger probably express the weird head trips Duran Duran would have been going through around then, as they were easily the most popular band in the world, their change in lifestyle reflected in the bizarre dream images and sense of doom that would cover both the A and B of this single. "Secret Oktober" stood apart, though, as being cinematic, its own mini movie.
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Current Soundtrack: Carla Thomas, Stax Profiles
Current Mood: indifferent
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich