Magazines + Newspapers



14th June 1980

Page 6

Ad for the Official Blondie Gift Book

Pages 32 & 33

5 Visions of Blondie (Out Of Synch)

By Sandy Robertson in New York

Walking along underneath the incandescent lights of night time Manhattan, which blaze multicoloured proclamations of porno and pizza, Chris Stein and Debbie Harry could be any other American-modern couple. She – dressed in inconspicuous dark jacket and pants – fusses with his salt ‘n’ pepper hair (“I cut it myself!”), and he smiles behind owlish glasses.
Their group, Blondie, have just had a number 1 hit single and their apartment, a few blocks back, is full of silver, gold and platinum records from all over the world. But it’s a holiday, so the streets are subdued and nobody bothers them except one polite youth who runs up and says, “Uh, Miss Harry, could I have your autograph? I can’t believe it…”
When you’ve got a face that launched a stack of glossy magazine covers they call you ‘Miss’, right? She laughs: “I’m the same. I remember I saw Jack Lemmon in the bar once…”
Was he drunk? “No. But I was.”
Approaching the Hotel Diplomat to see The Selecter, and you can bet there’s no problem at the door. Inside, before checking part of the set, Debbie and Chris defer to everyone’s wish to exchange pleasantries, chat, have pictures taken.
Later, as they wander off into the night after she has hailed me a cab, I think to myself: They’re smart. They don’t know that none of this is important, or more than (con)temporary. Love is a many splendid-soured thing… Tracy & Hepburn, Arthur & Marilyn.

The rooftop apartment is in an anonymous but safe area. Needless to say, they don’t have names on the buzzer or Blondie posters in the lobby. The bathroom is as messy as yours or mine and the other spaces seem to house more tape recorders and musical equipment tham furniture.
There’s a drum kit, which Debbie will hammer as she prepares to go out for the evening. She offers me fizzy wine and fruit and lounges around reading magazines and looking generally languid during the interview. The phone rings occasionally, as friends like Rodney Bingenheimer keep in touch. Debbie has a wide, pleasant face just created for a camera lens to deify into something else. Chris speaks quietly and slowly, like an attorney.
CHRIS: “I don’t listen to my contemporaries much… it all comes down in blocks, I know what it’s gonna sound like before I hear it.”
SANDY: But didn’t I see in CREEM that Debbie was onstage with James White & The Blacks?
CHRIS: “Yeah, that came out real good, I have the tapes… I listen to WBLS, the big rock radio station. And I listen to funk music a lot.”
SANDY: I hear you’ve done a jeans commercial. Gloria Vanderbilt or something? Is this conceptual art, or what?
DEBBIE: “She endorses the same company, is what it is… I do the junior line, y’know, for short fat people.”
CHRIS: “Smaller sizes. It’s sorta like New Wave-is type stuff, y’know? It’s not New Wave but it’s, uh, whatever the fuck that means. They gave us a lot of money and they let us do whatever we want… Debbie walks down the street and ducks into the Mudd Club, but it’s sorta jazzy… I think it’ll impress all the kids in the Midwest and everything.”
DEBBIE: “And the slogan is: ‘When you know where you’re going, you know what to wear’. It’s sort of obvious… the guys have been endorsing things all along, but it was always in connection with music. Chris is doing Burns guitars, that’s an English product, Jimmy has a thing from Polymoog, and Clem has Premiere drums… I’ve been getting offers for over a year, and I’ve been turning them down, but finally this one was more money, number one, and the people involved gave us a lot of creative control.”
SANDY: When I first heard Blondie I thought I heard experimental stuff in there was well as pop, but since you had Mike Chapman produce it’s been very bang, bang, bang… Not much room for expansion beyond a certain formula…
CHRIS: “The commercial is much more experimental than our albums… Chapman has a lot to do with it, but so do the other guys in the band. Clem is a rock-pop guy and that’s it, y’know? Chapman definitely, I dunno if we’re gonna do the next album with him. Giorgio looks more likely. What we didn’t do with Chapman and what we would do with Giorgio is go in and experiment in the studio. With Chapman everything was worked out beforehand and then it was just a question of going in ad executing it.”
SANDY: Was Mike Chapman a Chrysalis idea?
CHRIS: “Yeah, Terry Ellis. But we didn’t mind using him. One of our main goals was to have hit records, it’s not like we never tried to do that. But some people are into music for different reasons, I guess.”
SANDY: Aren’t there a lot of pressures now that you’re huge? People bothering you?
CHRIS: “It’s a little more difficult to go out now, but it’s not that bad. The worst part about New York now is there’s so many clubs, so many people out on the scene you can’t really go any place exclusive where only your friends are… The whole New Wave thing has become what everybody was afraid of. It replaced disco as a social phenomenon… All the bands start cloning each other instead of trying to produce something innovative, which is what it was all about in the first place…
“There’s so many bands now with a tough looking chick in front of a bunch of guys. One thing is The Blondie Show where they just do all our songs, they play around. That’s pretty funny, I’d like to go see them. There’s a lot of Blondie clones in the audience, that’s fun.”
SANDY: Do you like being emulated?
DEBBIE: “I don’t know if it’s emulative. It’s imitative, that’s for sure… Why don’t they come up with something original of their own?”
CHRIS: “But that’s the whole thing with the music too, that’s what’s sad about it. Everybody should be thinking for themselves.”
SANDY: I was reading in some horrible magazine that you were supporting Teddy Kennedy’s campaign. Is this you doing your Linda Ronstadt/Jerry Brown bit?
CHRIS: “Well, I think Teddy Kennedy’s a lot better than Jerry Brown! He made a lot of mistakes in the Senate and stuff, but I think he’s the best one. It’s not any active support, we just went to a fundraising for him… Really, the choice of Carter or Reagan. That’s sort of horrible to me…
“Carter’s totally ineffectual. He might be OK personally, but actually you really shouldn’t like him because he stopped the New Wave from getting played in America for at least two years… He got a lot of campaign funds from Capricorn Records, Phil Walden y’know, so when he was elected he had to do them favours, so that’s why the Southern rock bloc was so powerful… A lot of people conjecture that anyway.
“But I also just heard that Carter helped get the Sex Pistols their visas to come over, because Warner Brothers had planned this multi-million dollar promotional campaign for the Sex Pistols and then they couldn’t get visas ’cause of all their busts. So Phil Walden was affiliated with Warners, so he put in the word at the White House and the Sex Pistols got their visas. I can’t verify any of this, though. It’s just a rumour.”
We’ve been on the roof. It’s getting cool so we move inside, where I notice a gold tape reel on the floor… It looks like a discarded Millionaire Frisbee…
SANDY: How come…
CHRIS: “Oh, it was an award, but it broke… here’s the thing…” (he hands me the label).
SANDY: (reading) ‘a reel of tape is unfulfilled until an artist makes it priceless by performing’… Think of all those unfulfilled little reels lying around.
DEBBIE: “Oh, wow…”
I see the commercial. 28 seconds of strangeness featuring James Black/Chance, his manager Anya and other chums. Snapping back from video to TV we see a close-up of a gory operation, blood gushing from someone’s throat.
CHRIS: “Oh my God!… You know what they did have on TV the other day? A girl getting her breasts enlarged on the news. It was so gross…”
SANDY: I just saw ‘American Gigolo’ last week. It’s not Schrader’s best work.
CHRIS: “No, no… ‘Taxi Driver’ (which Paul Schrader scripted) is like a thousand times better. ‘American Gigolo’, it was a brilliant media event with the song… It was very successful, the movie and the song (‘Call Me’) helped each other out. But the end was anticlimactic.”
SANDY: I didn’t think ‘Call Me’ was your best record, but it went wham!, up there.
CHRIS: “It was listenable… I liked the guitar solo… The combinations of things that are in that song, just the fact it’s a girl-group sound, plus the fact it’s electric disco, plus the old standard boogie riff, plus the melody… All things combined is what made it unique.”
He hands me the new Blondie book by Lester Bangs… a bitchy tome.
SANDY: Is it worth buying? Or is it just something he knocked out to pay the rent?
CHRIS: “No. It’s only worth buying for ultra-Blondie fanatics who need something to read till our book comes out.”
DEBBIE: “It’s really a ripoff…”
CHRIS: “This is the unauthorised version… Lester would’ve been a lot happier writing The Ramones story than the Blondie story… We’re gonna do our own, it’ll be all my photographs which I have, it’ll be like 200 pages, twice the size of this one.”
DEBBIE: “We’re just gonna try to write it about what it really felt like to do this and what the times were like… At the same time we’re gonna try to have a gallery showing of Chris’s photography, so it’ll be more of an event…”
SANDY: Are you under pressure to come up with more hits?
CHRIS: “No, I think we can relax a little more. ‘Eat To The Beat’ probably didn’t sell as many as ‘Parallel Lines’…”
SANDY: I didn’t think it was as good a record… was it done in a hurry?
CHRIS: “Yeah, well… it was a little more hurried, I was producing another album at the same time.”
DEBBIE: “He didn’t really come to the majority of the sessions.”
SANDY: Chrysalis have a reputation for keeping their artists under their thumb, in every respect. Is that justified?
CHRIS: “We forced their hand on certain things… Now we’re at a level where they really need us to do records for them, so they co-operate a little more. We have to figure out what to do for the next record. It’s gonna be different, I have a general idea of the direction. We have yet to all sit down and sort that out.”
SANDY: How did you decide to work with Giorgio?
CHRIS: “Everybody in the band really liked him… I’ve always been a big Donna Summer fan… Giorgio is really into rock’n’roll as much as disco, he only went into disco because it was there. We did it to see what would happen.”
SANDY: Will the new LP be more experimental stuff?
CHRIS: “I think it’ll be more like funk. I like the static beat… It might be more experimental too. It’ll definitely be looser if we do it without Chapman.”
SANDY: And movies?
CHRIS: “Right, ‘Roadie’ is gonna come out, and ‘Union City’ went to Cannes, even though we promised everybody it was gonna open up in England in February…”
DEBBIE: “Did you water your plant? It seems to be drooping…”
CHRIS: “It always droops at night. It’s photosynthesis…”
SANDY: I remember hearing your first LP on Private Stock and thinking: I love this, but it’s too good to sell.
CHRIS: “People like Richard Gottehrer always said we’d come through, and Marty Thau… We’ve been working at it for 7 years, that’s a long time… I think a lot of people in the music business tend to give up if they don’t make it after 3 years.”
SANDY: Do you see Blondie as an entity many albums hence?
CHRIS: “I can’t imagine we’d keep it going that much longer. It’s almost record by record at this point. It seems like everybody really wants us to do another record, the band want to do it and the fans want to see it… All the stuff we’ve been doing individually will probably filter down in the next year and everybody will become aware of it.”
SANDY: You’re not gonna retire though?
CHRIS: “No!… But the Blondie thing is so limited. Everybody knows that.”
Then Chris got up and played me his production of one Walter Stedding. It sounded like John Cale doing ‘Heart Of Glass’ on viola. “Is this Top 10?”, he laughed. “Well, it’ll be a hit at the Mudd Club…” Stedding is being managed by Andy Warhol.

Blondie – IMAGE plus OBJECTIVE MUSIC plus SEX.
Result: ‘Art’.

I’m in this taxi with Bebe Buell and Liz Derringer. We get off at the address Chris had scribbled for ‘Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party’, Glenn being a man who write for Warhol’s Interview magazine. The place turns out to be a shop selling wooden legs and surgical appliances. When we locate the correct dive, the show is over, lots of people mooning around like 50’s beatniks. Chris Stein and Walter Stedding pack away their instruments while Debbie talks animatedly, and looks to be in her element.

We all drive back to Rick Derringer’s house (Chris, Debbie, Liz, Bebe and your scribe) cramped in the Blondie couple’s modest auto. Debbie drives. We listen to 4 completed tracks from Bebe’s upcoming LP. They’re excellent. Chris declares a version of ‘My Little Red Book’ to be a potential hit and Debbie chats with Bebe about the possibility of a duet. The owl and the pussycat leave for California in the morning, so they say good nite…

The phone rings in my sweltering hotel bedroom. It’s Chris Stein. “I just got back from testifying to the Grand Jury in this bootlegging case, which was really funny. They played this bad quality version of ‘Fade Away And Radiate’ taken from a live radio broadcast in ’78 and said ‘Is this you?’ There was one girl and she was smiling, but the rest of the jury was old guys who didn’t know what was going on…”

Meanwhile, up on Broadway a record store boasts a whole rack of different Blondie bootlegs in full-colour sleeves, the Warholian ethic that business is art and art is business having been well and truly taken to heart by the whole of America.
Antonin Artaud did say that ALL WRITING IS GARBAGE, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead of myself and merely tentatively suggest that Chris ‘n’ Debbie understand that Warhol dictum better than most: They’ve got the power now; can’t wait to see how they use it… (exeunt).
A barrage of synthesisers go DIGGADIGGADIGGA, and a thousand amateur Norman Mailers weep into their pillows.

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