With Exclusive Giant Poster

No. 12 - 1979 - 40p

IF I'M BALD,' says Blondie's Chris Stein for no particular reason, 'I can't appear on an album cover, but I can still produce stuff. All the boys in the band are worried about their hair. I'll bet Joe Strummer would worry if he was bald. Some people can pull it off - like Eno can do it gracefully. Actually, Debbie should shave her hair off. That'd be great!'
Chris, who is Debbie Harry's boyfriend as well as the band's lead guitarist, speaks with such gentle earnestness in his voice that at first you can miss the implications of what he says. And then, while you are toying with the startling image of a bald Debbie Harry, you can very easily overlook the fact that Chris Stein (apparently like all the other boys in the band) is genuinely concerned about the prospect of his hair falling out. Well, I suppose everybody's got to worry about something, and Chris - when he's not thinking about creatures from outer space being held captive in the White House in Washington - has every right to focus his attention on his head.
You may find it slightly odd, as I do, that any pop or rock musician can be seriously worried about their hair in this day and age. On the other hand, Chris Stein has a serious point. After all, Blondie isn't a young band - either individually or collectively. For example it's no secret that Debbie Harry, the band's frontperson and Blondie's distinctive trademark, is well into her thirties. The other members of the band are all similarly beyond the first flush of youth - not that their music is any the less energetic and youthful. The band itself has been together since the summer of 1973 - evolving into the present line-up by 1975 and getting a recording contract in October, 1976. The six people who make-up Blondie are not dewey-eyed innocents thrust unwittingly into the limelight. Fame and fairly sudden wealth are not about to seduce our heroes and heroine. Having been in and around the music business for so long, they know the ropes, know what to expect and how to survive the heady moment of glory. They also know that it doesn't last forever - fashions will change, inspiration will disappear and success may vanish. Blondie can't last forever - the band will grow old and, as Chris Stein says, they will lose their hair...
Now is not really the time to think about Blondie's future decline - not while they're riding the crest of their wave. But then Stein's interest in producing 'and stuff' is not just a hedge against the band's inevitable demise. All of Blondie have their projects and individual plans. 'They act as a valve and give us a lot of satisfaction,' says Debbie. 'There are so many strong personalities within the band that you have to find a channel to release the rest of the energy, otherwise you get a lot of bickering.
Debbie herself is developing as interest in films. She has recently been working on an experimental film made in New York by a friend - she plays 'a tortured housewife'. And preparations are still under way for the remake of the classic French film 'Alphaville' starring Debbie and Robert Fripp. Ex-King Crimson guitarist Fripp is a friend of Debbie and Chris Stein and appears on one track on the Blondie album 'Parallel Lines' (the track is 'Fade Away and Radiate' - a curious little song written by Chris Stein and apparently all about his near-obsession with old movies and television). Fripp also features in a number of Stein's individual projects, which include record production, photographic work and graphic design. The day might not be far off when we see an album featuring Chris Stein playing compositions by himself, produced by himself and all packaged in the sleeve photographed and designed by himself. So far Stein has designed the cover of Robert Fripp's latest album and has produced a number of 'experimental' records by Fripp and other musicians.
Other members of Blondie are also busy with individual projects. Keyboard player Jimmy Destri is involved with a New York band called the Student Teachers. Drummer Clement Burke has been playing with British guitarist Chris Spedding. Guitarist Frank Infante and bass-player Nigel Harrison seem happy so far to observe the local scene, which is very active in New York at the moment. Whatever they're doing, however, the members of the band are deeply involved in what's going on around them. More than that, they're deeply committed to Blondie as an important and organic part of the New York scene.
It should be well-known by now that Blondie is not Debbie Harry. Debbie herself has been pretty vocal in pointing out that Blondie is a band with six equally important members. 'Not just a pretty face' is how some people have put it. Chris Stein goes even further. 'We always wanted Blondie to be a multi-media commune,' he says. 'It's not supposed to be just a band.' When all that's said and done, it's a band that Blondie have become best known and it's through the face and voice of the beguiling Debbie Harry that they have become best recognised. Debbie clearly enjoys the element of public display involved in being a pop star or in making movies, but she is also aware of the seamier side of her part in the making of Blondie. Talking about a possible cover photograph for Blondie's new album (titled 'Eat the Beat' at time of writing), Debbie is somewhat dismissive. 'Get out the cheeseboard,' she says with resignation in her voice, 'the record company want me to sell my body again.'
Far be it from me to deny the impact of Debbie's body - her impersonation of Marilyn Monroe at her most wistful and sensuous has rarely been equalled - but Blondie's continued success has a number of other causes - some of which may be more important than Debbie's looks. The band's remarkable recent hit, 'Heart of Glass', is a perfect example of what makes Blondie tick. The record manages to combine punk eccentricity and a sense of melody reminiscent of early sixties pop with a completely contemporary disco beat. It's a recipe they have stuck to with only minor variations. The resulting mix cuts across musical boundaries and has found fans in almost every area of pop. The nostalgia fans find in Blondie an echo of the sixties and their youth; the 'new wavers' love the sound of their relentless, robotic rhythms; disco dancers have just discovered you can shift your feet to Blondie; others like the band's undoubted tunefulness; some, no doubt, find Debbie's voice seductive. The pop press have begun to file Blondie under almost every available category - new wave, powerpop, disco. Blondie (in the shape of Debbie and Chris) are not fond of the pop press: 'The bigger you get, the more imaginative the lies they'll print.' The truth of the matter is that the 'Blondie sound' is Blondie's own, distinctive sound - a unique mixture of several different ingredients.
'To us it sounds like Kraftwerk,' says Debbie about 'Heart of Glass'. 'It's certainly influenced by them. It's just a syncopated sound. It's disco, yet at the same time it's not disco. It's neither. We really like Donna Summer and the Bee Gees. That stuff is good if you're open-minded about it and don't make a big political deal out of it.' It's this openess, the band's willingness to experiment, that marks Blondie off from most of their contemporaries. It's also reflected in the way everyone in Blondie thinks it's important and natural to have interests outside the band. Everyone is determined that the band will not grow stale. Their individual interests mean that band members always have something fresh to contribute to Blondie and somewhere to go when they need to get away from Blondie. It's a built-in mechanism for survival and growth.
Rumours that the band are about to split up are vehemently denied by Chris Stein. The rumours, he says, are no more than 'malicious gossip' spread by one of the band's enemies. 'A lot of stuff that's written about us has a high percentage of inaccuracy,' says Stein. I think it's accurate enough to say that Blondie have given their fans a great deal of pleasure in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Even if they lose all their hair they will still have their talent for making good music.
Francie Illingworth 2001-2008.  About | Contact | Search