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‘Behind everything was this lingering drug situation’: Chris Stein on Blondie’s heyday

theguardian.com – 2nd June 2024

The Observer – Blondie

Chris Stein

Blondie in 1979 (l-r): Frank Infante, Chris Stein, Nigel Harrison, Debbie Harry, Jimmy Destri and Clem Burke. Photograph: Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images

In an extract from his new memoir, Under a Rock, the musician reflects on the practical problems of fame in the late 70s: crowds, cocaine and getting caught with it

We were really big stars now and it was very weird. I’m a very optimistic person and through this all, I always perhaps egomaniacally assumed that everything we did would be successful. At the same time the pressures were immense and for me getting stoned definitely buffered me from a lot of tensions and helped me tunnel- vision more of it.

Debbie met Jane Fonda, and one afternoon, Jane and Kris Kristofferson, who were filming Rollover, came to our apartment and we sat around smoking weed and watching The Tin Drum. I would just keep smoking indefinitely, and by then I always had really great pot. I generally leaned towards indica if I could get it.

Jane and Debbie dropped out after four joints or so but Kristofferson kept pace with me. Bowie came over a couple of times and signed our David Bowie records. We had a party he was at that I don’t remember much of. We didn’t throw a lot of parties but we would frequently have people at our place.

We got to the UK as the Soviets were getting ready to invade Afghanistan on Christmas Eve. Right at the onset we did an in-store appearance at Our Price Records on Kensington High Street. We’d been there previously and a lot of people, hundreds, had shown up to get autographs. This time there were a few thousand. The cops closed off the street. We went up to an office on the second floor and when Debbie stuck her head out the window and waved, the crowd cheered like they’d seen a goal at a football match.

Chris Stein at home in New York. Photograph: Mike McGregor/The Observer

It took hours to sign autographs in the store and when we left, we were crushed by crowds and almost left Nigel [Harrison, bassist] behind in the scramble to get on the bus. This kept happening. At many shows we had to push our way though a surging crowd as we were leaving. Beyond a few scrapes, no one was seriously injured. We picked up bodyguard Steve English. Steve was a total British OG hard-man type, a bright guy with a great sense of humor. He was (and still is) huge and powerful, like a human wall. Steve had been Johnny Rotten’s bodyguard and had kept him from being impaled on various occasions.

Everything had a Christmas vibe. Debbie and me went on Swap Shop, a popular young people’s TV show, and the audience called in live. It was all little kids. It was amazing; all these sweet-sounding children loved Debbie. I was watching an old Blondie show video without the sound on recently and I realized that Debbie comes off as part little kid doing a pretend show in front of a mirror and part erudite, glamorous, risky woman. Top of the Pops was Dreaming this time; it had gotten to No 2. I don’t remember if the BBC had given up on the fake-recording-to-placate-the-union- gods thing by then.

Debbie Harry and Chris Stein in New York, 1978. Photograph: Roberta Bayley/Redferns

Behind everything was this lingering drug situation. Cocaine was everywhere all the time. We would meet some big celebrity and he would pull a bag of blow out of his pocket. But a lot of people were doing heroin as well. People we knew were functioning addicts. We began seeing a guy named Al who turned us on to the art of chasing dragons. A simple form that still requires a little technique – it’s just inhaling the smoke of the dope while it is burned on tinfoil. We had screwed around with sniffing heroin already, but smoking it was pretty insidious. One night a neighbor of ours got mugged in Central Park. He fought off his attacker but got banged up and came over to our apartment. He was all bruised, so we chased some dragons with him without mentioning what it was. I think he thought it was some form of weed. He definitely left feeling better. That was the problem; it made you feel better.

At one point in one of the eternal Blondie tours, everyone was about to travel from Switzerland to Paris. Somebody in Zurich had given Debbie and me a bunch of heroin. As we were boarding the plane, after Debbie, Clem, and I went through the metal detector, one of the crew guys right behind us had a metal container of hashish in his shirt pocket that set off the alarm and he got nabbed. Everyone in the band and crew from the culprit back was taken away. Two security guys came on the plane and told us they’d be removing our luggage to investigate and asked if we wanted to leave the flight and accompany our bags as they were searched. Clem left; Debbie and me said no, thanks, and stayed on the flight. We did have this fairly large quantity of drugs with us and we became concerned lest we get busted arriving in Paris. We dumped most of the dope in the plane toilet but put a small amount in a cuff of Debbie’s pants. Of course nobody even looked at us when we landed, and we spent the afternoon stoned, wandering around the Champs-Élysées while everyone else sat around in an office at the Zurich airport in their underwear.

This is an edited extract from Under a Rock by Chris Stein, published by Corsair (£25).


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