How Mike Tyson inspired The Killers

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The KillersImage copyright ANTON CORBIJN
Image caption The Killers (L-R): Ronnie Vannucci, Brandon Flowers, Mark Stoermer

It’s 9am on 11 February, 1990. Mike Tyson enters the ring at the Tokyo Dome as the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world.

His opponent, Buster Douglas, is a textbook underdog. Most bookmakers refused to take bets for the fight. The Mirage Casino in Las Vegas was one of the few that did – and they made Tyson the 42-1 favourite.

But then, in the 10th round, Tyson was taken down by a furious four-punch volley – right, left, right, left.

He was left scrabbling around on the floor, badly disorientated and searching for his gum shield, as referee Octavio Meyran counted him out.

Back in Tyson’s home town of Las Vegas, an eight-year-old Brandon Flowers watched the fight in disbelief.

Image copyright Rex / Shutterstock
Image caption Tyson’s knock-out has gone down as one of the biggest defeats in sporting history

“Mike Tyson was perfect to me,” he tells the BBC. “He created such excitement around the world – but he lived in Las Vegas, and he got my dad excited, he got my uncles excited, so that made me want to be excited about it.

“My friend Edwin Speight, his dad worked for the mayor in Henderson – so he got the fight at his house on pay-per-view. I remember it was 50 bucks.

“We went to his house to watch it – he lived across the street – and I can still see his living room and feel his Kush carpet. It was kind of dusky and twilight.

“Then Tyson got knocked out [and] my whole view on the world changed.

“It wasn’t supposed to happen.”

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Media captionThe Killers perform When You Were Young at Glastonbury 2017

Twenty-seven years later, Flowers is the front-man in one of the world’s biggest rock bands, The Killers. But that 1990 night is indelibly imprinted on his mind.

“This vision reoccurs,” he says. “I see it a lot and I don’t know why. So I started to explore it with a song.”

That song, an open-road anthem called Tyson vs Douglas, will appear on The Killers’ fifth album later this September.

When I saw him go down, it felt like somebody lied,” sings Flowers in the chorus. “I had to close my eyes just to stop the tears.

But in the third verse, the focus shifts to Flowers in the present day, “looking out the window” at “my boy and his mother”.

“I have a son now who is the same age I was when [the Tyson fight] happened,” he explains. “And to him and his two little brothers, I am as perfect as Mike Tyson – and I don’t want to go down.”


Back in 1990, Tyson put his failure down to a lack of preparation. “I was out of shape, more or less,” he said after the fight.

“I didn’t consider Buster Douglas much of a challenge. I didn’t even bother watching any of his fights on video. I had easily beaten everybody who had knocked him out.”

Flowers is determined not to make that mistake. Relaunching The Killers after a five-year break, he’s lean, fit and match-ready. He’s even written a song about it – a strutting slice of glam-rock called The Man.

Image copyright Island Records
Image caption The singer gets to dress up in his Las Vegas finest in the video for The Man

“I got gas in the tank / I got money in the bank,” he preens. “I got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man.

Flowers says the lyrics are about “re-inhabiting my 21-year-old self” – a much more confrontational character, prone to Liam Gallagher-style belligerence.

“Emo, pop-punk, whatever you want to call it, is dangerous,” he said of the artists coming up at the same time as The Killers in the early 2000s. “There’s a creature inside me that wants to beat all those bands to death.”

“It was a naïve, bold place I was coming from,” he says today. “I hadn’t faced rejection or any real trials in my life at that point, and so I had a different outlook on life. I just went at the world chest-first.”

These days, the band isn’t so cocksure. When they played a secret set at Glastonbury last month, they weren’t sure anyone would turn up.

“You never know what other band is nipping at your heels, or whether people still care about you,” says drummer Ronnie Vannucci.

“Our version of time is different than the fans’ version of time. We’re working on stuff, but everyone else’s lives are still going on.

“So Glastonbury was such a great feeling. We didn’t expect it to be so good.”

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Media captionThe Killers perform Mr Brightside at Glastonbury 2017

Despite their hiatus, the band have never been far from the public’s consciousness in the UK.

Their debut single, Mr Brightside, was streamed 26 million times last year – meaning that, 13 years after release, it features in the UK Top 100 almost every week.

That’s pretty good going for a song that only managed four weeks in the chart when it first came out.

“We get little glimpses of stuff like that and it’s just incredible,” says Flowers. “As fans, we know what that feels like.

“Whether it’s Enjoy the Silence from Depeche Mode or Where The Streets Have No Name from U2 – those songs belong to everyone.

“To be a part of it, on the other side of it, it’s nothing that we can really explain. But it’s really cool.”

Still, the phenomenal success of Mr Brightside, and the band’s debut album Hot Fuss, are big things to live up to.

They admit they felt that pressure as they reconvened to make their fifth album.

“One of the nagging things that I was carrying with me was asking myself, ‘Where do the Killers fit in? And what do they have to contribute?'” says Flowers.

Image copyright Anton Corbijn
Image caption Bassist Mark Stoermer played with the band at Glastonbury but no longer regularly tours

The creative process began in October 2015, with producers like Steve Lillywight (U2) and Ryan Tedder (Adele) on board. But a whole year passed with no results.

“It was a struggle at times, for sure,” acknowledges Flowers. “More so than other albums, and I can’t really say that I know why.”

Then Bono suggested the band call in Garret “Jacknife” Lee, who’d been working on U2’s Songs of Experience album, and suddenly things turned a corner.

“We tried lots of different avenues but, once we got in the room with Jacknife, it became apparent that maybe we’d gone a little bit too far out into the atmosphere,” says Flowers.

The album’s labour pains are charted in the closing track called, with a heavy dose of self-doubt, Have All The Songs Been Written?

“It’s daunting sometimes because there’s been so much good stuff before now,” says the singer, “So that was definitely a question I was asking myself.”

Luckily, he’s found a good answer – with The Killers’ most vital album since Sam’s Town in 2006.

Image copyright Anton Corbijn
Image caption “We impose pressure on ourselves,” say the band of living up to their former glories

The title track, Wonderful Wonderful, is built around a wonderfully menacing bassline with Flowers in full ranting preacher mode, while Rut is his most vulnerable ballad to date.

Best of the bunch, though, is Run For Cover – a tightly-strung indie anthem about a senator who’s cheated on his wife.

As the guitar ratchets up, the politician holds a press conference and shouts “Fake news!” before the song gives way to a classic Killers chorus.

So don’t expect the band to go the way of Mike Tyson just yet – and Flowers’ reputation with his children will remain intact, even if they’re not that bothered about his day job.

“When we played Hyde Park, it was the first Killers gig any of my kids had seen because it’s usually bedtime when we go on,” he recently told BBC Radio 2’s Jo Whiley.

“But even then, Gunnar, my middle boy, was asleep by the end.”

Wonderful Wonderful will be released in September.

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