Simon Le Bon is not fat. Yet Duran Duran's lead singer can't seem to shake that porker image. Mention his name and someone will invariably make a crack about his chubbiness. Old images die hard.
The 26-year-old Englishman certainly looked trim--topless and in a sweat suit--the other morning by the pool at the Hotel Bel-Air, accompanied by a small entourage that included his tall, tan girlfriend, who was also topless and creating a mild stir around the pool.
Packs of swooning, screaming teen-age girls usually follow Duran members. Yet there weren't any by the pool or even lurking in the parking lot. Obviously word hadn't gotten out that the hotel was a Duran hideaway.
"Nice and quiet, huh?" asked Le Bon, surveying the pool area and casually patting his flat stomach after polishing off a light breakfast.
Le Bon was cool and businesslike. Being interviewed is obviously not one of his favorite activities. But lately he's being doing it anyway. He realizes it's a good way to spread the word about his new band, Arcadia, which features two other Duran Duran members, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor.
Arcadia's first single, "Election Day," in release just a few weeks, is already No. 13 on the Billboard magazine pop chart. The band's debut album, "So Red the Rose"--recorded in Paris with producer Alex Sadkin--is due out at the end of the month. An all-star lineup worked on it, including tenor sax player Andy MacKay, bassist Mark Egan, percussionist Raphael de Jesus and guitarists Carlos Alomar, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and Masami Tsuchiya.
Le Bon stressed the vast difference between Arcadia's music and Duran's mainstream pop/rock: "What we do in Arcadia is looser, less structured and more moody and atmospheric than Duran's music. Some things on it are rather dark and esoteric and done in a slower tempo, with jazz touches and Spanish touches here and there. I'm singing a bit lower, too."
"Election Day," basically a danceable rock single, is atypical of the rest of the album. It really sounds like a Duran piece gussied up with intricate instrumentals.
Arcadia isn't the first Duran spinoff band. John (bass) and Andy (guitar) Taylor, two of the three unrelated Taylors in Duran, were first earlier this year with Power Station, whose focus is funk-fueled hard rock. The group's debut album, "The Power Station," sold more than a million copies and spawned two hit singles, "Some Like It Hot" and "Bang a Gong." Power Station, also featuring singer Robert Palmer, bassist/producer Bernard Edwards and drummer Tony Thompson, evolved after the two Duran members guest-starred in sessions for a Thompson solo album.
Without Power Station there might not be an Arcadia. When John and Andy Taylor were working on Power Station, that left the other three members with nothing to do. "We couldn't do any Duran projects with those two gone," Le Bon explained. "Me, Nick and Roger were left with a lot of time on our hands. So we formed this band. Arcadia wasn't an answer to Power Station, it was our answer to boredom."
Power Station may have been organized first, but Le Bon insists that he and Nick Rhodes had the spinoff-band idea first. About two or three years ago, he said, they talked about doing an album project of unusual cover versions of various songs.
"When we finally started the album we decided to write our own music and not do covers," he recalled. "At the end of January, after about a month-and-a-half of writing, we knew we had something decent."
According to Le Bon, there won't be an Arcadia tour. "I'd like to, but there's no time. If we did tour, it wouldn't be a normal tour. We'd do something very theatrical, maybe something with dialogue and a story, maybe even a musical, but definitely something very unconventional. But this is all fantasy. Arcadia won't go on the road."
Maybe it's best. If Power Station's touring experience is any indication, Arcadia should stay home. Power Station was just fine when it was only a recording group. Concerts, though, were its undoing. Power Station suffered a devastating lead singer crisis. Just before the tour, Robert Palmer, the band's often dazzling vocalist, dropped out. Michael des Barres--a woeful choice--was his hastily hired replacement. With him as front man, Power Station pooped out. Those ragged shows tarnished the band's image.
Will Power Station work again? "I don't think there'll be another Power Station project," Le Bon replied. "It was one shot. Because of the difficulties they faced, they won't do it again. They didn't quite get it right."
Le Bon is still angry at Palmer, who quit Power Station at that critical moment to work on a solo album. "He overestimated his own personal popularity at that moment," Le Bon said. "It was a nasty thing for him to do to leave them when he did. It's still a sore point with the whole band. I'd rather not talk about it any more."
Until early 1983, Duran Duran, which started recording in 1981, was just another popular British band that couldn't make it in America. But the MTV boom changed all that. Suddenly good looks were nearly as important as the music. When those five cute faces were beamed into the living rooms of millions of teen-age girls 24 hours a day, the result was instant Duran-mania. With highly commercial pop/rock songs such as "Hungry Like the Wolf," "The Reflex," "A View to a Kill" and "Wild Boys," the band has sold millions of records.
To most critics, Duran is musically worthless. Just a bunch of pretty boys, the critics scowl, making it on looks rather than talent. In music circles, it is often suggested that both Power Station and Arcadia are attempts by Duran members to win the credibility that eludes them in the parent group.
Le Bon's response to that suggestion was blunt and haughty: "Rubbish! You have credibility when critics like you. That isn't our goal. I'd rather have an audience full of screaming girls and no credibility at all."
He did, however, acknowledge the critics power to wound: "It would have been very hurtful to us to take them seriously. We had to ignore them. When we started out they were so cruel to us. If we hadn't ignored them, we might have quit. We didn't want to give them the satisfaction."
Duran Duran lives. Arcadia and Power Station, Le Bon insisted, haven't destroyed it: "We'd be crazy to give up Duran for these groups. They might do well, but they'll never be as successful as Duran."
Local fans will get to see Duran on Dec. 27 at Anaheim stadium, with Culture Club as the opening act. It's the band's lone date this year. The Duran members will meet early next month for rehearsal.
"We'll probably do a warm-up date somewhere in this area," he speculated. "But we won't announce it."
The next Duran album will be recorded next year. They'll start work on it after Le Bon spends the first four months yacht racing. He leaves for Auckland in January. His heavily publicized brush with death in a yachting accident off the English coast a few months ago obviously hasn't cooled his passion for boating.
According to Le Bon, they'll start writing songs for the album in May, so it may not be ready until early 1987, more than three years after the release of their latest studio album, "Seven and the Ragged Tiger."
When they finally start working on that album, what will be the effect of the members having worked in other bands?
"Well, when we did the Live Aid show," said Le Bon, "I noticed that John and Andy were behaving differently on stage from the way I had remembered. They had been on tour with Power Station. They looked shocked to see me up there singing, rather than Michael des Barres (the Power Station vocalist).
"It's hard to say how the two camps will blend together. It could work very well or it could be a real mess."