June 1981 – Pages 5, 10, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 39, 66
Page 10 – MAIL
What’s happening to Blondie? Or should I say Debbie Harry and Chris Stein? Taken from the March People magazine: “Currently she has two hits off her third straight million-selling album, Autoamerican. Did she forget that they do have older material they could perform? What happened to the pop side of Blondie? We real Blondie fans like the pop side of Blondie better than the new disco side. I feel sorry for the other guys in the band! Back in ’79 they were pushing that “Blondie is a group” and now it’s “Debbie Harry is a group.” Debbie’s right. Dreaming is free – but Debbie, I think you’re dreaming too much. I want back the old Blondie, not the new Debbie Harry.
St. Louis, MO
(You can’t have either, sweetie. – Ed.)
CAN’T BE TRUE!
The walrus is Debbie!
Go to your garbage can, retrieve your Blondie/Autoamerican album and give it one last listen. But skip over all the filler and get right to the essence of this work. Place the needle in the very last groove of “Follow Me.” As the last wave fades, turn the volume ALL THE WAY UP! You’ll hear a voice say “You’re not really going to put this on the album, are you?” (Honest!) Was Rick Johnson at that session!?
(No, Johnson was at the pressing plant – Ed.)
Pages 25, 26, 27, 28, 29
BLONDIE IN L.A.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT
Or, The Making Of The President’s Chauffeur
by Chris Stein
Los Angeles, the city of lost angels and angles. Dreamland. And of course HOLLYWOOD. L.A.’s not really a tough town. It has a strange feeling of fragility. Earthquakes on the brain may be part of the reason why the surface always seems about to crack with delicate tension.
In the boiling hot, dry summer season the low-rider gangs leave the barrios and prowl around. The weekend car crunch on Whittier Blvd. has been squelched by the cops and the gangs range further out, leaving their fantastic alien graffiti on stucco walls all over town. V.G.V. V.G.F., etc. – it looks like Martian writing. The fires burn the hills. The Strip still throbs dull reds and pinks and the lights of the Valley still look beautiful in the hot dusty nights.
This then is where the Blondies grudgingly choose to record their fifth album. The main reason is so Mike Chapman will retain his sanity thus enabling is to work for a longer period (little did they know). While musicians and singers get to wander freely in and out of the studio Mike must sit through it all, often for 12-hour stretches. It’s exhausting work for him and we all figure it’s better for the whole project if Mike is allowed to burn out at home in his own element instead of granite canyon national cemetery.
So planes, limos, air freight, are booked. Instant displacement. We arrive at our new home. This is “Peaceful Valley rent-a-condo” we gasp?! (On the way out we’ve just passed what appears to be an upper class nut farm, the gates wide open and Dawn Of The Dead types spilling out onto the highway. A few of the guests have wandered quite a ways down the road.) Our new home has an air of wheeling and dealing about it and the first impression is of a minimum security prison. Jokes about Timothy Leary and Steve Rubell playing tennis. Drab orange bunkers divided into little square cubicles. Mazes of wooded stairs and hallways. Parking lots, cars everywhere. “This sucks man, we’re not near anything.”
It’s about three miles to United Western studios on Sunset Strip. Everyday we get up, stagger into the blinding sun, get into our car, drive past the living dead, past a huge moon-mobile from some ancient sci-fi movie that lays rotting by the side of the road and into L.A. proper, the Strip. The sessions get underway.
Mike Chapman arrives in his brown and white Jeep Wagoneer. The license plate says MC HITS. He heads right for the Asteroids machine! Yes friends, Asteroids, perhaps the greatest diversion conceived of by reasoning beings since the Chipmunks. Asteroids – when the tension mounts just blow up a whole field of huge boulders with your laser cannon, blast a few of those miserable little UFO’s as they charge at you, sit in the dark with your head swimming in the video vapor trails, hypnotized. Hyper-Space…
Taped to the asteroids machine is a cardboard plaque which attests to the fact that little Ferdie J. scored one million two hundred fifty-five thousand in one hour forty-seven minutes on one quarter. It’s dated and signed by three witnesses. It’s hard enough to get to ten thousand. Chapman’s goal is one hundred thousand. He easily hits fifty, sixty thousand; not much compared to little Ferdie, though. The average Blondie during the first weeks of competition can barely break ten thousand.
Basic tracks are a long haul and we attempt to adjust to slow studio routine. All that stands between the lounge of Studio A and one of the sleaziest pockets of Sunset Strip are two huge glass doors. As we sit watching TV the Strips by, day turns to hot glowing night and the smog creeps in. Winos, hookers and assorted flotsam drift by. They all seem to stare in at us and it starts to feel like goldfish time or babies behind glass. Asteroids scores go higher and the beep and booms of the machine mingle with the pulse of whichever track is being formed in the studio.
New Yorkers start to snap after about two weeks in L.A. and soon the symptoms of California crazy begin to appear. We drive around a lot. Weekends are off and we drive through the hills, up and down the Strip. The sheik’s house, now burnt inside, looks worse than ever. The statues with the painted pubes and the puke green walls are off-set by the big brown boards and black soot stains covering the windows.
Driving is a religion here and the air space around one’s car (psychic territory) extends further than anywhere else in the world. In other words “Don’t get too close to my car or your ass is grass.” Cars in L.A. are extensions of one’s body like nowhere else, so to get into the swing of things the Blondies start eating cars and I mean cars. Long-suffering tour manager Bruce Patron spends his afternoons at Budget Rent-a-bomb trading Chryslers for Trans Ams and back again. An ant-infested white Lincoln Mark V convertible is the winner. Someone dumped a gallon of coke in the back seat then parked in the weeds for three days as you tool out to Alta Dena on Saturday afternoon.
One Sunday evening it’s Rodney Bingenheimer’s fifth anniversary as DJ at radio station KROQ in Pasadena. One of the good things about L.A. is Rodney. On one wall of his studio is one wall that says it all – pictures of Rodney with almost every major rock star… Hendrix, Elvis, the Stones, you name it!!!
Over the years many of the greats have gone on, forgetting Rod of Mod, but Rodney still remains in the eye of the hurricane. Rodney’s radio show started five years ago playing hard punk music when nobody else was, then power pop, followed by a brief foray into Shaun Cassidy, Bay City Rollers, glitter rock. Now full circle back to hard punk. Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, the Surf Punks represent the forefront of the new wave of teenage bands. Some of these groups are pretty intense. Cars are driven into clubs and one place was burnt to the ground on opening night. But to me it’s not gratuitous violence, these kids are genuinely bored with plastic California lifestyles and are finally reacting. It seems to be a little less drug-oriented than just a few years back and almost a return to the more purist gang mentality of the 50’s. It should be interesting this summer when the British Flower Power pirate scene explodes in America and gets absorbed by these guys.
So to Pasadena for the show. The parking lot of KROQ is covered with a smattering of punks and fans. The show goes by fast, we’re joined by Siouxsie Banshee and Michael Des Barres. At midnight Rod waxes sentimental and thanks numerous people, Spacin’ Mason arrives for the late night shift and we leave. More dark roads and twinkling lights.
Monday and the sessions grind on. By this time L.A. is into the worst smog alert in 12 years and the populace begins to enter the twilight zone. The smog creeps under the window sills and around the corners; only the capsule-like air conditioned vacuum of the studio is safe. But still it’s easy to space out. People walking the hot streets start to resemble our living dead friends back at the Sunnydale dry-out facilities. Smog is like eating angel dust burgers at the beach and getting sand in them which enters your brain and grits around. Very abrasive, but good for the complexion.
Smog brings out the worst and sleaziest elements and soon rent-a-condo erupts with violence and general weirdness. One morning there’s a note on the old ant-Mark V wanting to know if the car is for sale. Faithful roadie Scottie is burgled and divested of cash and stash. UH-OH. Then finally we are awakened one balmy smoggy night by – yes friends, the snap crackle pop of gunfire followed by the soundtrack of Apocalypse Now played full blast. Well gee, it’s real helicopters. Swooping in low over the hills, two big dark whirlybirds zapping the grounds with super-powerful search-lights lighting up everything. After a few passes overhead they depart – loudly. The next day we are informed of what transpired. It seems one of the condo residents spotted “…some Mexicans fooling around with my car, so I took a couple of shots at ’em, big deal. I wasn’t trying to hit ’em or they’d be smeared all over the parking lot.” Anyway the authorities frown on this sort of behavior, hence the copters and the SWAT team which smashed into one band member’s room looking for the sniper.
The decision to move is unanimous. That very afternoon caravans of Blondie luggage arrive at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Strip. This place is a great, grand old Chaplin-vibes lingering type hotel. Hollywood once threw wild parties in these very bungalows. We’re also directly under a full size “NOW THERE IS MORE” Close Encounters billboard which is quite inspiring and magnificent in its scope. As these things go, about a month has passed. Tension mounts.
I’ve seen the making of this album portrayed in various places as some sort of power struggle which produces music. An over-the-top battle royal with one or the other band member coming out the winner. Time to bite some more illusions in the neck, gang. Contrary to popular belief, no one makes records like that. But if people in rock bands really get along there’s not that much to write about – let’s face it, violence sells. Anyway, what if there were NO writers’ credits in the record? Ha. Then perhaps not even the most die-hard fans would be able to place who wrote what, who played which note, which lyrical style starts with which person. Or maybe every note, every phrase, word, every idea should be listed on the credits. You see, Autoamerican was put together like a big puzzle or maybe a layer cake. Words are exchanged, notes are built up, added, subtracted. Just a few keyboard bars, guitars, notes in the right place, change the texture, the speed, etc.
The basic tracks take over a month. “Rapture” is recorded twice, once slower than the current release. The feel of the songs is closely examined. There are plenty of differences of opinion. Lots of time is spent discussing, hacking it out, trying to satisfy everyone. “Do The Dark” is written late one night on a cassette machine. “T-Birds” is named after the L.A. girls’ roller derby team. The percussion on “Tide Is High” includes eight tracks of drum sticks tapping on a piano bench. Chapman hunches over the console into the wee hours. People are pressed flat against the back wall of the studio by his playback volume. Gallons of Jose Cuervo Gold are consumed.
Mike is called home to Australia suddenly on family business and we are adrift for a week or something. I honestly don’t remember much of anything of this week but something must have happened. We drive around and around, and the Close Encounters billboard gets changed for Gloria. We see people – Kim Fowley – what’s up, Kim? “Well Brian Epstein and James Dead are having a two-way in hell which will have the best musicians ’cause heaven will only have the Osmonds and Pat Boone. Christopher Columbus was Jewish, and Bugs Bunny is a communist front. Rodney was seen with a certain famous movie actress’s daughter who wrecked her car last week and went to the Starwood to see a punk band instead of going to her father’s funeral. We still have them here, we’re behind. That’s the biggest gossip.” Oh. We run into ex-Cramp Bryan Gregory living in total seclusion on the Strip. When Walter Steding arrives from N.Y. to play he bears sad tidings. “I heard that one of the Cramps died.” Oh no. Who was it? “Bryan.” Oh funny, he looked pretty good.
Chapman returns finally. Little did he know his house was used while he was gone for the remake of Horror of Party Beach. Underwear adorns crystal chandeliers, sofas look nice on the tennis court. Heads roll at Dreamland…
Sessions resume slightly jet-lagged and hung over. Finally the basic tracks wind down and we move a block down the Strip to Studio B. The move marks the home stretch, the vocals, overdubs and finally the orchestra horns, etc. The Asteroid machine also moves down the block.
Here is Mike Chapman’s little magic room. In days gone by these brown burlap walls saw the likes of the Righteous Brothers, Jan and Dean, Johnny Rivers and the Beach Boys come and go. Now the control room is filled with a gigantic blue console that’s hooked up to computers, satellites, and submarines off the coast of Maine. Here the songs get the chrome put on. Tom Scott add the final funk punch to “Rapture.” Ray Brown carefully works out “Faces.” Flo and Eddie go berserk and spread mayhem (they’re off to Tuff Gong studios in Jamaica to record the Turtles’ greatest hits reggae). The vocals go very fast and a certain lead singer is wont to complain about “sitting around forever.” The orchestral session is tumultuous. Thirty pieces, some of the greatest old players in Hollywood are turned out for the session by maestro Jimmy Haskell. Some of these guys played with Tommy Dorsey, a couple even played on the soundtrack of Lawrence Of Arabia! Things get more and more cataclysmic every day as the smog build up. Lights in the sky.
One day Orson Welles is in another room recording his voice for something (wildfire wine). Perry Como is recording his Christmas In Israel special with what sounds like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir when some kid backs up about 200 feet into the parking lot across the way from the building and then floors it driving right smack into the wall of the studio making a big hole, a mess, and pretty much totalling what turns out to be his girlfriend’s Audi. So the kid’s name is Jeffrey, his girlfriend’s name is Suzy. They have a fight on the way to get blood tests for their marriage license so Jeffrey got pissed and the rest is history. That’s the official excuse anyway – we wonder ’cause it happens Suzy and Jeffrey are in a black leather rock band called Deprogrammer and Jeff happens to have copies of his new single “Slammed In The Door” in the back seat of the former Audi. Luckily no one is hurt at all and the police are merciful and don’t drag Jeffrey off to the slammer. That’s what the song is about.
That’s pretty much it. This report covers some of the major events and a tiny percent of the lesser more sporadic type of event which have occured sort of constantly. For example, Carl’s Flower Shop across the way from the studio wound up a pile of rubble by the time we left. One day we passed by what must have been a 10-year-old kid with his hat pulled down cruising along in a full size brand new station wagon. The police have strange priorities. All this junk is true. A few names have been changed to protect what you and the console in Studio B isn’t really hooked up to a submarine yet. I have to apologise to all you techies for not being too technical, but this is a real story. If you want to know who did what on the record, listen to it ’cause really, we all did it all or at least most of it, get it?
So in the end it came down to the showdown. High noon Mike against the Asteroids machine. Hundreds of dollars in quarters devoured by this insatiable electronic force. Still, Chapman (who can play Space Invaders indefinitely on one quarter) has yet to score one hundred thousand, his dream. So, late one night, the crowd is tense, the air is hot and smokey – yes, Mike has ninety-nine thousand and one ship left. The Asteroids are all gone, it’s between man and machine. Tension mounts. The little UFO makes its approach beeping wildly and firing its lasers like crazy. If Mike has it’s one hundred thousand and a new ship, if it hits him, it’s the end of a 20-minute game. They close. Shots fly around, the crowd gasps and suddenly it’s over. Mike explodes into little blue video dots trailing off into the darkness. Game over. But Mike is happy he’s number one on the video readout score with ninety-nine thousand, the highest score of the season. The next day technician Merwin (Hi Merwin) unplugs the machine, erasing the highest score of the season. Man has triumphed.
Debbie Harry and Chris Stein are reportedly looking for a place to call home on the west coast, due to Deb’s increasing interest in film…
Where the Stars Tank Up & Let Their Images Down
So this is the camera that’s got pictures of me wearin’ your clothes, Deb?