Star Tribune - Friday 13th August 1999
Revived Blondie still trying to push envelope in music
By Jon Bream
Star Tribune Staff Writer
Debbie Harry, the voice and face of Blondie, wasn't feeling well. So Chris Stein, the band's musical brain, phoned instead.
Hardly a day passes when the two don't talk. Former lovers and still close friends, they'd been talking for years about a reunion of Blondie, the influential chart-topping new-wave band ("Call Me," "Heart of Glass") that disbanded in 1982. But they didn't want to do a greatest-hits album with two new tunes. They wanted to do an album of new material.
"For four years, we've been putting this together," said Stein, whose band will perform Monday at the sold-out Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
Blondie toured Europe last year, launched its U.S. comeback on the televised "American Music Awards" in January and released a CD, "No Exit," in February.
Even though Stein is enjoying the return to prominence, it has not gone as expected. "The disappointing fact is that the rock'n'roll world has become so formulaized that one is constrained by a lot of aspects of it," said the 49-year-old guitarist. "We all see what's happening with popular music being made part of the background of our culture; as a result, it has lost a lot of danger and mystery, which was there earlier on for us. I don't know if there's any room to bring that stuff back."
In its heyday, Blondie was innovative, introducing glamorous sexuality to new-wave and infusing elements of reggae ("The Tide Is High") and rap ("Rapture") into the mainstream. The New York group still wants to push the envelope.
For the title song of its comeback CD, Blondie enlisted hit rapper Coolio. And he and other rappers joined the group for the big comeback on "The American Music Awards," which drew both raves and pans.
"I was pleased with the mixed reaction," Stein said last week. "I'd much rather have us do something controversial than safe."
Fans have warmed to Blondie's comeback, with the vintage-sounding single "Maria" making a splash on modern-rock radio.
Women in the music business also have recognized Harry's contributions. When VH1 conducted its survey of the greatest women in rock this month, Harry, 54, ranked No. 12. (Aretha Franklin was No. 1.) Said Stein: "[Harry] was perturbed that she was above Nina Simone."
Many observers have cited Harry as pop's proto bottle-blonde who paved the way for Madonna and Courtney Love, among others. In 1982, she started a solo recording career, moved on to acting ("Hairspray," "Videodrome," TV's "Wiseguy") and eventually ended up as a chanteuse with the Jazz Passengers.
Blondie split up partly because Harry was commanding too much attention (a T-shirt proclaimed "Blondie Is A Group") and partly because Stein had a genetic disorder, pemphigus, that affected his immune system. (Harry took care of him for four years before he recovered; he's fine now, he says.)
For the reunited group, Harry and Stein have been joined by original drummer Clem Burke and keyboardist Jimmy Destri plus two sidemen. Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison and lead guitarist Frank Infante were not invited to participate, and they are suing.
Said Stein: "There was too much baggage; it wouldn't have worked. This is definitely the best incarnation of Blondie that's ever been, as far as the live show goes."
Opening: Reel Big Fish.
Where: Guthrie Theater, Vineland Place, Minneapolis.
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Tickets: Sold out; 612-377-2224.
Soundbite: To hear new Blondie music, call 612-673-9050 and press 5450 for "Maria" and 5451 for "No Exit."