Magazines + Newspapers

The Sun

Friday 12th May 2017

Pages 41 & 42

Something for the Weekend



IT seems a decidedly drab London hotel room for meeting my teenage crush on Valentine’s day.
Nevertheless, I’m sipping hot coffee and waiting, and waiting, for Debbie Harry.
Slouched on a sofa is Blondie guitarist Chris Stein, trawling through his smartphone for the latest news on President Trump, fake or otherwise.
Then, after what feels like an age, Debbie strides in… black tailored suit, white blouse, retro shades and that familiar cloud of bleach-blonde hair… and the room lights up.
I guess you could call her fashionably late.
At 71, she is still everything you’d expect of a style icon, sex symbol, pop queen and female role model.
“I’m so sorry,” she blurts out to no one in particular. “I don’t usually stay on New York time but my room is very dark and very warm. It put me right out. I never sleep that long.”
She surveys the scene and sees me through her impenetrably dark lenses. “Well, good morning,” she adds, waving in my direction.
“Happy Valentine’s Day.” I venture. “Why thank-you,” she replies.
In the mists of time, Harry and Stein were an item but for decades they’ve just been bandmates, bonded by shared history and a back catalogue worth keeping alive.
They are here to promote Pollinator, the 11th Blondie studio album, which comes with a healthy dose of younger collaborators to rekindle the old fire.
The long list of credits includes Sia, The Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr, Charli XCX, TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek and Dev Hynes (latest stage name Blood Orange).
The album, housed in a striking cream, red and black cover designed by America’s Banksy, Shepard Fairey, kicks off with a two-minute Stein/Harry blast called Doom or Destiny.
The track, says Harry, is loaded with “anti-establishment vibe” and features Joan Jett on backing vocals. It wouldn’t be out of place on Blondie’s raw 1976 debut album alongside Rip Her To Shreds or X Offender.
I ask Harry if she’s kept some of the old punk spirit. “I hope so, yeah,” she decides. “Many people probably think that’s a cliche but it’s at the roots of rock and roll and it’s been abandoned greatly.”
Stein interjects: “Did you see Lady Gaga singing with Metallica at the Grammys. That was f***ing great.”
And Harry retorts: “I told you I wanted to do that!”
She picks out new song Fun, sheer, infectious bubblegum pop that does exactly what it says on the lid.
“The liner notes for the first Blondie album are to do with fun,” she says. “To come back with this feels as if we’re in the right place at the right time again.”
Seeing the pair up close does beg the question: What motivates them to carry on in 2017?
“What else would we do?” asks Harry, not wanting an answer, before Stein elaborates: “I’m a firm believer in the police department adage, ‘As soon as you retire, you’re dead in five years’.”
Their approach to their craft differs dramatically. The front-woman explains: “I’m much more physical than Chris. I go to the gym and I train and I run around like an idiot, that’s my process.
“Chris is a very cerebral person and has a tremendous amount going on up here (points to her head). As for me, after all these years, I don’t think about it too much.
“We’re both perfectly suited to what we do, so it doesn’t seem like a stretch.”
With his Warhol-like mop of silver hair, Stein, 67, is one of those effortlessly cool, liberal New Yorkers.
He talks about hanging out with Lou Reed and David Bowie with no hint of reflected glory. He IS one of them.
The deaths of two celebrated NYC residents, both taken by savage illnesses, becomes one of our first topics of conversation.
“The last time I saw Bowie was right after we heard about Lou being ill,” reports Stein. “And we were talking about how much we were worried about Lou.
“Everything turned out very sad. I wound up living very close to Lou in Manhattan and I saw him a couple of times and then he was gone.”
I watch Harry listening intently as her co-conspirator talks, then she joins in: “If you look at their lives and all the things that happened to them and think about how things should have played out, the reality was very extreme.
“I think Bowie had more of an otherworldly overview. The way he ended his life with such a creative effort (the Blackstar album) was so spectacular.
“I think we all should do something like that. It was a real lesson.”
Fittingly, the new Blondie album has connections with both Reed and Bowie.
Hidden final track Tonight finds Harry sharing vocals with Reed’s partner, Laurie Anderson, the avant-garde musician behind the unlikely 1981 UK hit, O Superman.
While Pollinator was realised at New York’s The Magic Shop, the now defunct studio where Bowie recorded Blackstar. “We were in a wonderful room but everything was rotting,” says Harry. Stein chips in: “It was so old school and f***ed up. The furniture was deteriorating before our eyes.”
Despite challenging surroundings and deaths of their notable peers, Blondie are among pop’s great survivors and Harry thinks she knows why.
“We had our comeuppance in the Eighties and that actually saved our lives,” she says.
Like so many New Wave stars, Blondie, who enjoyed phenomenal success with Heart Of Glass, Call Me, Atomic, Sunday Girls, Denis etc, crashed, burned and broke-up.
Problems with drugs, bad management, financial woes and commercial decline arrived in one great, devastating wave of bad luck.
To cap it all, Stein was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease that seriously affects the skin.
Low profiles were kept, Stein recovered and Harry launched a moderately successful solo career.
But, for the last 20 years or so, Blondie have discovered how to exist in the modern world, both on stage and in the studio, performing the classics and still energised to make new music.
Pollinator is Blondie’s most vibrant album in years and I’m intrigued by the name. Stein describes Fairey’s cover image of a threatening bee perched on a flower as “the stamp a Columbian drug lord might put on his product.”
Harry says: “I just visualised a transformer, an insect robot. Then I thought terminator and then pollinator. How do I know how my brain works? I put something in there and it spins around… and something comes out.”
She genuinely believes Blondie are in a good place, adding: “We’ve managed to figure out a way. We’ve got a good business behind us and once that pressure is off, we have the support we need.
“Early on, we were flung out into this crazy mixed-up world but nowadays it’s very sophisticated.
“These days, if a microphone is unplugged it’s a major mishap. Years ago, if you walked out and anything was working, it was a miracle. If the lights were on, it was like, ‘yay, hallelujah!’.”
Harry recalls the jeopardy that went hand in hand with Blondie’s formative period.
“We saw some grizzly things,” she says with particular reference to the time “a lighting guy had a flash blow up in his face… right before we went on and in front of the audience.”
Stein adds: “His eyebrows were burned off – that was a hard act to follow.”
I sense both miss the old mayhem and the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House is fuelling that attitude.
“We spent eight years not being enmeshed in politics because of Obama,” says Stein. “We took things for granted.
“Maybe what’s happened now is good for kickstarting stuff. I’m looking forward to the re-emergence of the hippy ethic, everybody protesting all the time.”
This comment leads to some playful banter between the pair…
Harry: “Yeah Chris, you’ve been longing to wear flowers in your hair.”
Stein: “I still play Jefferson Airplane. I keep thinking I can smoke pot again now that it’s the norm.”
Harry: “I just want to take acid. I remember when I had my velvet bell bottoms, my paisley shifty thing and my long dark hair.”
Stein: “I always had super long hair until the band started. Gary (Valentine, original Blondie bass player) was the first of us to get a haircut. Everybody in the scene was getting them.”
With that, it’s time to say farewell to the chief protagonists in a band with a dazzling start, a troubled middle and, I believe, a still meaningful future.
Harry is already late for her next engagement but she’s worth waiting for.

Show More

Related Articles

Check Also
Back to top button