Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!—Irene and Amelia Redecorate Their Room

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day! This year I’m presenting Chapter 54,” Irene and Amelia Redecorate Their Room,” from my long-hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up. It’s a modern retelling of sorts of Phronsie Pepper, set from 1979–84. Enjoy!

Though visits home have long since become a necessary, irregular evil, Justine and David can’t totally brush off their family. Besides, it almost seems like a mini-vacation from the stress of grad school, and Justine can hardly refuse when her dearest nieces have asked her to come. She and David are staying with Adicia as usual, but Justine quickly goes next door after arriving and depositing her things in their guest room.

“Dad is hopeless,” Irene says, brushing her raven hair out of her green eyes. “He’s begun treating us almost like he treats you. It never occurred to him that we’re old enough to have celebrity crushes.”

Lenore smiles. “You haven’t been here in awhile, Justine. Maybe Irene and Amelia should give you a tour of their room. They recently redecorated, and now it looks like the room of two teen girls. You might not recognize it.”

“Is that good or bad?” Justine asks.

“Just let them show you. You’ll see what it’s all about soon enough.”

Irene and Amelia lead Justine upstairs to their room, where Justine is greeted by the sight of walls almost completely plastered in posters and magazine pictures of men. Gone are the posters of cute animals and stuffed animals that used to dominate their room.

“I take it these guys are famous?”

“Don’t you have MTV or follow entertainment news?” Irene asks.

“David and I only have a few cable channels, and we’re too busy with grad school to watch much TV or even read the newspaper. It’s been awhile since we last saw a movie, and I don’t go to discos anymore.”

Amelia giggles. “You’ve really fallen behind the times. This is Duran Duran, from Birmingham, England. We just got into them a few months ago, but they’ve been around for a few years. All the girls at school like them too. Even little Simone likes them, though not for the mature reasons we do.”

Justine smiles and nods politely as the girls take turns telling her about each member of the band in minute detail, along with a recitation of song titles, chart positions, magazine articles, and media appearances. This kind of thing seems so unlike her nonconformist nieces, but even the most unconventional teen girl has to have a celebrity crush sometime.

“You were right when you said the right first fantasy crush doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone,” Irene goes on. “But for Amelia, Nessa, and I, it’s about a lot more than looks. Only stupid teenyboppers like a band for such a shallow reason. The music has to be good too, and the people in the band have to be intelligent and artistic.”

“I hope you don’t go around talking like that to the other girls at school,” Justine says. “No one appreciates being told she’s immature or silly for only liking a band for their looks. They probably think you’re the nerdy losers for having the exact opposite attraction.”

Amelia smiles. “It does help that they’re handsome. I don’t like ugly people, no matter how talented or nice they are.”

Justine surveys the room, a small lump in her throat. She and her four closest sisters never had the luxury of having teen crushes on celebrities, let alone papering their tiny shared rooms in posters and magazine pin-ups. They always had more important priorities, like where their next meal was coming from or if a utility might get shut off due to their derelict parents. Even Ernestine’s Beatlemania was tempered by the reality of growing up poor. Now there’s finally a generation who takes for granted being able to be normal teen girls. Even if Irene and Amelia were only attracted by looks, it wouldn’t matter. They’ve earned the right to be normal and carefree.

“Would you like to hear some of their music?” Irene asks. “You might like it. We’d never make fun of you as too old to like them. A lot of older people today like The Beatles, and twenty years ago they were written off as only for young people.”

“Maybe you can play it for me later this weekend. I’d like to relax a bit after the long drive. We could go out for sundaes or something tomorrow, or maybe the movies and dinner too.” Justine looks around at the pictures for the umpteenth time. “I don’t think you told me if you’ve got favorites. Even girls who like a band for serious reasons usually have favorites.”

“It worked out perfectly for us. We all have a different favorite, each matching our personality. Nessa, Amelia, and I based our choices on serious reasons. Only little girls and teenyboppers who like whatever’s popular pick a favorite for only looks. That’s as stupid as only dating for looks. A pretty face doesn’t mean anything if the guy is stupid or mean.”

“I feel kind of bad for you that you never got to have a favorite band or celebrity crushes,” Amelia says. “I guess it’s not the same to do that at your age. It probably doesn’t feel as special as when you’re young.”

Irene indicates a somewhat androgynous-looking member of the quintet. “I chose Nick as my favorite. God forgive me, but I wasn’t entirely sure what he was the first time I saw him. Then I realized that’s a normal look for a New Romantic, and that I was pretty ignorant for assuming a man in makeup with a pretty look has to be a cross-dresser. I like how he’s not afraid to be himself, no matter what people might assume. My parents always taught me how important it is to beat to your own drummer. Different is good.”

Justine takes in Irene’s favorite. “I kind of agree with you, but I’m not sure I’d know what to think if David came home one day wearing eye makeup, styled hair, and feminine shirts.”

“I like that look on the right man. A man who’s not afraid to look pretty in public is really sure of his masculinity. He doesn’t need silly things like leather jackets or a motorcycle to prove his manhood.”

“Yeah, but there’s a lot of ground between wearing mascara and being a Hell’s Angel!”

“I was never interested in jocks. I always liked artistic types, like the guys in art, film, dance, or music clubs. I don’t know how girls in the old days could be attracted to things like crew cuts, letter jackets, and square jaws.”

Amelia points to one of the brunets. “My favorite is Roger, the drummer. Most of the girls at school have other favorites, but I don’t care. I guess I just like that he’s quiet like I am. My favorite guys at school are the quiet, shy ones.”

“You can never go wrong with a quiet one,” Justine agrees. “I think it’s safe to say that the average introvert isn’t using that as a façade for a jerkish personality. What you see is what you get.”

“And it adds mystery. Plus when a quiet person does speak, it’s usually pretty deep and profound. Everyone always underestimates us, but you know what they say about the quiet ones.”

Justine smiles at her. “Yes, I sure do, even though I’ve never been guilty of being too quiet and shy. Is he one of the brothers?”

Irene vigorously shakes her head. “None of them are related, though a lot of people assume that at first. It’s just one of life’s funny coincidences that three out of five share the same last name. I’m glad we’re Troys and don’t have that problem of an overly common name. Well, you’re a Ryan now, but Ryan isn’t overly popular.”

Amelia continues pointing. “Nessa chose Simon as her favorite. She likes his poetic lyrics, and you know how much she loves books and poetry. It’s kind of unusual that she likes him best, since normally she doesn’t like blondes all that much. Did we tell you he’s part Huguenot just like us?”

“No, you didn’t,” Justine says, starting to feel like a fish out of water with her teenage nieces. She’s not even a generation away from them, but suddenly they seem like they have less in common. They have mainstream teen girls interests now, as opposed to how they often used to talk about deep things like indie films, current events, and classic literature.

“Little Simone likes John best,” Irene concludes. “She thinks he’s the best-looking. No deeper reasons. What else can you expect from a ten-year-old? She’ll learn when she’s a little older.”

“You and Nessa are only five years older, and Amelia is only three years older. Not so long ago, you were ten and had a similar childish mindset.”

“Are we really that close in age? It seems like a lot bigger gap at our age.”

“It always does. Things level out once you’re both adults. David only started to see me as more than a friend when I was twenty and he was twenty-five.”

Amelia puts on a begging look. “If they’re ever nearby, could you please drive us to the concert? We’ve never been to a real concert before, and we’d spend our own money and everything. We’d be so thankful to you forever.”

“Yes.” Justine doesn’t even take time to think about it. “You girls deserve all the best things in life after everything our family went through to get out of poverty. But you’d have to let me know well in advance so I can arrange my schedule. It’s asking a lot for a grad student to take off personal time to chauffeur her nieces to a concert.”

“They’re not touring in the area now,” Irene reassures her. “We just wanted to know for in the future, and we wouldn’t make you take us if someone else could do it. Our dad probably wouldn’t hear of it, since he thinks we’re too young and innocent for musician crushes, but our mom might. It’s not like we’d be going there as groupies.  We’re good girls.”

Irene and Amelia lead their aunt to their desks and show her the scrapbooks they’ve begun compiling. Each girl has nearly an identical scrapbook, though there are a few minor differences in layout, order, and focus. Justine thinks back to the bulging scrapbook of The Four Seasons Betsy probably still has in storage somewhere. This pursuit must be taking quite a bit of time away from more constructive things like homework and studying, but her nieces will only be young once.

“Would it be stupid if we reorganized the walls every so often?” Irene asks. “We plan on getting a lot of new posters and pinning up new magazine pictures, and it might be nice to change which goes where. It could get boring if they stay in exactly the same place for the next few years.”

“Years?” Justine teases. “Why don’t you wait more than a few months and see if you still like them so much? Or you might still like them but no longer want to have them all over your walls.”

Irene considers this. “Yeah, we probably will organize our walls a bit differently when we’re a little older. We’d never want anyone to think we’re not maturing past teen crushes. But when you first really like a band, you want everyone to know it. And we need time to develop our fandom.”

“Are you sure you’re only fifteen? You don’t sound like any other teen girl I’ve ever known outside of our family.”

“Amelia and I aren’t teenyboppers. We were never part of the crowd falling for whatever teen idols we were told to scream for. If we’re lucky enough to go to a concert and you’re taking us, we promise we won’t scream like maniacs. Sure we’d be excited, but we wouldn’t act like animals. We’d want to hear the show. It’s about the music for us, more than looks.”

“You don’t need to keep telling me that. I believed you the first time. But remember, you might like other bands too, later on. Most people don’t have the same favorite band forever.”

“We know. We don’t expect to. But right now, we just want to have some fun. This is probably the closest we’ll ever get to being like the other girls our age.”

Justine has one final look around the newly-redecorated room before heading back next door to Adicia’s house. As she settles into the guest room, with David in the shower, a funny feeling takes hold of her. She doesn’t know what to make of it, or what it means, but she can’t help thinking that Irene and Amelia’s sudden move into young womanhood may have just helped to pave the way for her to finally prove once and for all to their family that she’s an independent, capable adult woman and not an overgrown Phronsie Pepper. But only time will tell how this might unfold. All that matters is that the three of them demonstrate they’re not the cute little kids everyone remembers them as.

With her nieces’ status as real young women at stake, suddenly her long-simmering cold war with their family just got a whole lot more serious and significant.

WeWriWa—Welcoming 1980

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

For my New Year’s snippet, I’m sharing from Chapter 11, “New Year’s Eve Delight,” of my long-hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up, the third book in my contemporary historical family saga about the Troys and the Ryans, and a modern retelling of sorts of Margaret Sidney’s Phronsie Pepper. It’s now New Year’s Eve 1979, and instead of spending the entire holiday sharing private romantic moments, Justine and David are forced to endure the negative running commentary of older siblings who still see them as children.

David’s term of endearment for Justine, cuisle mo chroí (COOSH-la ma cree), means “pulse of my heart” in Irish.

Working synopsis:

Justine’s jealous feelings at the birth of Julie’s first child are quickly turned around when she reconnects with David, now twenty-five and a Ph.D. student. Unfortunately, her older siblings and their friends have a hard time seeing her, after years of being the precious family baby, as a grownup woman who’s old enough for marriage, motherhood, and moving out with her new family. But then, when her young nieces become Duranies, an unexpected opportunity opens up for Justine to finally prove once and for all to her family that she’s a responsible, capable, mature adult.

When the tray of food is passed around to her, she takes a handful of nuts and a few crackers.

“Would you like something to drink with that?” David asks.

“Watch it,” Adicia says. “Justine won’t be twenty-one till March. Have you ever given her alcohol before?”

“Of course not! I rarely drink myself, but it’s nice to have a little on holidays and special occasions.”

“You’ve let me have champagne and wine before on New Year’s Eve,” Justine says.

“Yeah, but I’m your sister, not an older boyfriend who’s slept his way across Europe!”

“I slept with a handful of women, not the entire female population!” David says.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

Justine grudgingly accepts the orange egg cream David brings her in place of champagne. During the remaining few minutes of the decade, she sits snuggled up against him, trying to tune out the rest of their families. If they were in Times Square, she’d probably be kissing her new boyfriend, but for now she’ll have to settle for a hug to greet 1980.

“Don’t worry,” David whispers. “We’ll be back in Albany soon enough and can have all the privacy we want. In the meantime, the anticipation will make it better.”

“I hope so.”

He hugs her again. “Welcome to 1980, cuisle mo chroí.”

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!—Celebrating my fave music videos

Since I spotlighted my fave songs the last two years (for a total of twenty), I thought I’d continue the theme by featuring music videos this year. To make it clear, these are only official music videos, not fan-made videos.


1. The long version of “Wild Boys.” Amazingly, I thought this video was too weird even for me the first few times I saw it! I’m glad I gave it another chance, since I grew to absolutely adore it. This video is so deliciously macabre, and I love most things weird, spooky, and macabre. I attribute this to the huge subconscious influence of Grimms’ Fairytales being the first book I ever read (though not all the way through), at the impressionable age of three. I had hyperlexia, which is advanced, full-blown reading at a young age, and that book was the first thing I gravitated towards!

2. “Out of My Mind,” another video after my own macabre heart. It takes the lyrics in such a deliciously dark direction and makes them even better.

3. The long version of “Falling Down.” I love how it tells an entire story instead of just sticking to the lyrics, and blends the story with the song so seamlessly. Some music videos which attempt this awkwardly bring the action to a halt when non-music bits are inserted, and add absolutely nothing to the performance.

Warning: NSFW or under 18!

4. “The Chauffeur,” a classic example of how a sexy, sensual video doesn’t need to feature nearly-naked women to convey its message. There’s a big difference between erotic and pornographic, celebrating sexuality and sensuality instead of looking like a vulgar, exploitative peepshow.

5. “Friends of Mine.” I love the dark mood set by the music and the gritty, snarly, acid-edged vocals. The uniforms are also awesome.

6. “All She Wants Is,” one of those songs I really disliked till I saw the music video. Having images to go along with the lyrics made all the difference. They complement one another perfectly, so much so the song feels kind of empty by itself. And of course I love all the weird visuals!

Warning: NSFW or under 18!

7. The long, uncensored version of “Girls on Film.” While many of the scenes are more explicit than those of “The Chauffeur,” and while I have returned to my original anti-porn stance (after uncharacteristically getting into it thanks to my ex’s toxic influence, but that’s a whole other story), I still wouldn’t classify this as anywhere near the league of modern-day music videos. It’s racy and sexy without being one long parade of nudity and suggestive antics. I also love how, while there’s no real full frontal, we can see the women have pubic hair. Not all that long ago, pubic hair was considered sexy and desirable instead of grotesque and unnatural.

8. “Is There Something I Should Know?” I love all the surrealistic imagery, like paintings come to life. It’s also sobering to think of how the baby is now an adult, only a few years younger than I am.

9. “Lonely in Your Nightmare.” It’s so beautiful, sensual, tender, and romantic.

10. “Come Undone,” the song and video that made me come undone on Valentine’s Day 2011. This was what flipped the switch after several months of increasing interest and made me realise I’d fallen in love. I cannot believe I marked my tenth Duraniversary this year! How did an entire decade fly by so fast?

Happy 40th birthday, Double Fantasy!

Image used solely to illustrate subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

Released 17 November 1980, Double Fantasy was John Lennon’s seventh and final studio album, and the fifth album he did in collaboration with Yoko Ono. Many critics panned it initially, not necessarily because of the music itself, but because they thought it painted an unrealistic picture of John and Yoko’s marriage. Strangers always know best about other people’s personal lives, don’t they?

Sales weren’t particularly good until John’s murder three weeks later. The album then proceeded to jump to #1 in many countries. It also won 1981 Album of the Year at the 1982 Grammy Awards, and was ranked #29 on Rolling Stone‘s list of best Eighties albums.

But does it hold up on its own merits 40 years later?

DF is a concept album, structured as a call-and-response dialogue between John and Yoko. They each sing seven of the fourteen songs, going on a journey through their relationship, from fractured bonds on Side One to domestic bliss on Side Two.

This was the second of John’s solo albums I got, since it was the only one available at Mystery Train Records on that day. Back in 2002, online shopping hadn’t really taken off, so we were at the mercy of whatever merchandise was in a store, or had to put in a special order.

I gave it 5 stars on my old Angelfire page, and really liked it. Listening to it again after many years, I’m more inclined to give it 4 stars. There’s a lot of strong material, but it’s not one of the greatest, most memorable albums of all time. Some of the songs also veer a bit close to filler.

If you’re a Yoko-basher and don’t want to even try giving her music a fair listen, you’re gonna have a bad time with this album. Half of the songs are hers, like it or not, and it wouldn’t be the same album if it were only John’s songs.

Yoko was well-known and respected in the avant-garde world long before she met John, and her music has been hugely influential on other artists. Like The Velvet Underground, her influence is massively disproportionate to actual sales, radio play, and visibility.

People who think she only did tape loops and screaming betray their total unfamiliarity with her musical evolution. Sure she doesn’t have a classically-trained, conventional voice, but her music took on a more mainstream direction as time wore on.

Some of her DF songs have a very New Wave sound, which was right in line with other early Eighties music.

John and Yoko famously separated during the 18-month Lost Weekend, reconciled at the start of 1975, and welcomed their son Sean on John’s 35th birthday that October. From that time on, John was a contented househusband and put his musical career on hold.

During a sailing trip from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda in mid-1980, John was caught in a bad storm, and was the only one not stricken by seasickness or fatigue. As the last man standing, he had to steer the yacht for hours.

This experience fortified John’s confidence and made him contemplate the fragility of life. As he explained, “I was so centered after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos—and all these songs came!”

John and Yoko recorded dozens of songs that autumn, some of which later found their way onto the posthumous Milk and Honey (1984). Their sessions were top-secret, and they had to pay for studio time out of their own pockets, since they weren’t signed to a record label.

Once their publicist broke the news, offers from record labels swarmed in. On 22 September, they signed with the new Geffen Records because David Geffen spoke to Yoko first and considered her John’s equal. Mr. Geffen believed in them so much, he signed them before hearing any songs.

John made it clear from the jump that Yoko would be an equal partner on this album (which is subtitled A Heart Play). The strength of her material compelled record execs to take her seriously. She earned her place on DF through her own talents.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“(Just Like) Starting Over” (#1 in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, and The Netherlands; #2 in Austria, New Zealand, and Norway; #3 in Sweden; #4 in South Africa and Belgium; #6 in West Germany; #9 in France)
“Kiss Kiss Kiss” (ends with an extremely realistic faked orgasm and very sexual words in Japanese)
“Cleanup Time”
“Give Me Something”
“I’m Losing You”
“I’m Moving On”
“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”
“Watching the Wheels” (#3 in Canada; #6 in Switzerland; #6, #7, and #10 on various U.S. charts; #12 in Austria; #20 in Ireland; #30 in the U.K.; #45 in Australia; #46 in West Germany)
“Yes, I’m Your Angel”
“Woman” (#1 in the U.K., Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe; #1, #2, and #4 on various U.S. charts; #2 in Switzerland; #3 in Austria; #4 in West Germany, Australia, and South Africa; #5 in Norway; #11 in The Netherlands)
“Beautiful Boys”
“Dear Yoko”
“Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him”
“Hard Times Are Over” (gut-punching, knowing what would soon happen)
“Help Me to Help Myself”*
“Walking on Thin Ice”* (released 1981) (#6 in Sweden; #13 on U.S. Hot Dance Club Songs; #18 in Australia; #22 in Canada; #35 in the U.K.; #48 in New Zealand; #58 on U.S. Billboard)
“Central Park Stroll” (dialogue)*

DF reached #1 in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Austria, France, and Japan; #2 in West Germany; and #6 in Italy. It was certified triple platinum in the U.S.

While DF has never been one of my favoritest albums or something I regularly listen to, I’ve always liked it and found it very solid. I understand why some people might be off-put by songs about a relationship they’re not in (regardless of who the couple is), but this is after all a concept album telling a story. It just happens to be a real story, not a fictional one.

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!—Celebrating my fave songs, Part II

To mark DDAD 2020, I decided to do a Part II of last year’s celebration of my personal Top 10 faves. The songs in the second half of my Top 20 are in no particular order. I can hardly believe Valentine’s Day 2021 will mark ten years since I became a Duranie! Where did all that time go already?

11. “The Edge of America,” eleventh track on Big Thing (1988). So many lovely, deep, thought-provoking lyrics. I particularly love the refrain, “Learn to love your anger now, anger here is all you possess.” This is the kind of political song I like, intelligently and respectfully making a point without angrily, one-sidedly ranting and condemning anyone who doesn’t think that way.

My 34-year-old little brother just disowned me, in a fit of rage, because I support J.K. Rowling and don’t share his toxic woke ideology, so this is a very relevant subject now. So many people, particularly the younger ones, have forgotten, or never learnt, how to have dialogue and state their case without a torrent of insults and ignoring anything that contradicts their ideology.

12. “Do You Believe in Shame?,” sixth track on Big Thing. This tribute to Andy Warhol, record producer Alex Sadkin, and Simon’s childhood friend David Miles has such beautiful, poetic lyrics. The music video is also great.

13. “Last Chance on the Stairway,” seventh track on Rio (1982). Once again, such lovely lyrics, pure poetry in motion. So many people criminally underestimate this wonderful band because of the stigma of throngs of screaming teenyboppers in the Eighties. Some bands who get really popular really quickly and are heavily marketed to teenyboppers have substance below the prettyboy image.

14. “New Religion,” sixth track on Rio. This is a quintessential example of a song with a very long intro done right. There’s over a minute of instrumentation before the first note is sung, but it’s more than worth the wait. It builds anticipation beautifully.

I love the haunting lyrics and vocal tracking. They work so well with the music. The title of my future sixth book with my Russian characters (to be set 1957–64) will be Seagulls Gathered on the Wind, after a line from this song.

15. “Khanada,” B-side of “Careless Memories.” I named my eleventh journal after this song (pronounced Ka-NAY-da, not like the country). The lyrics are like surrealistic poetry, and very evocative of a dream or fairytale.

16. “Serious,” fourth track on Liberty (1990). One of the two standout gems from an awful album that bombed for a reason. Even if the record company had promoted it a lot better, most of the songs are terrible. How did beautiful songs like “Serious” and “My Antarctica” end up among so many bottom of the barrel scrapings!

Warning: Video NSFW or under 18!

17. “The Chauffeur,” final track on Rio. Like “Khanada,” the lyrics are rather trippy and surrealistic, and like poetry in motion. At least twenty other artists have covered it, and it’s been sampled in several other songs. The music video is a prime example of how to be sexy without being smutty.

18. “Breath After Breath,” seventh track on The Wedding Album (1993). I love how part of it is in Portuguese (sung by Milton Nascimento). Romance languages have a natural poetry built into them. Though I’ve never studied Portuguese, either formally or independently, I usually understand a fair amount because it’s so close to Spanish, which I studied for seven years.

19. “Too Much Information,” first track on The Wedding Album. The message about a constant barrage of capitalist advertising and over-commercialized music industry is still relevant over 25 years later.

20. “Tel Aviv” with lyrics, bonus track on their eponymous début (1981). The instrumental version is the final track on the album, but this powerful song somehow went unreleased for 30 years. Though I want to live in the Lower Galilee (preferably Tiberias, right on the lake) when I make aliyah, Tel Aviv is also awesome. Hearing this song makes me wish I could visit Israel again soon!

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