Creem - May 1977
Page 3 - features a 1 page ad for the group 'Nite City', a band that Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison was in at the time. He is pictured first on the left with long curly hair!
CHRISTGAU CONSUMER GUIDE
"Blondie" (Private Stock) Ahh, New York. I remember Debbie Blondie when she was singing with nursery-rhyme breathiness for a group called the Wind in the Willows. Now she sounds flatly cynical against a very funny aural montage of girl-group and original-punk usages from the pre-psychedelic era - less blithe, certainly, but more, you know, together. Which is what new-punk posturing is all about. Special award: best use of organ since "Light My Fire."
Pages 34, 35, 37, 73, 74.
HIGH SCHOOL NEVER ENDS
A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but t-shirts are a girl's best friend...
by Toby Goldstein
About a year ago my husband returned from CBGB's, where he'd had one of those "nights out with the boys" of song and legend. The music was OK, he said, being no great lover of punk rockers. I noticed he had a piece of cloth, gray and polka-dotted, in his pocket. He put it on the table by the bed. It smelled of perfume. Not mine. "Eh, what's all this?" "Oh, that's part of Blondie's shirt. She ripped it off, threw it on the stage, and we picked up the pieces." "Oh, terrific. You can really smell that perfume. Right. Blondie. Uh-huh."
Thus went my first encounter with Debbie Harry, a/k/a the blond-ie from the group of the same name. Who was this individual that promised to break all the rules about being a rock'n'roll woman and making it only on music? A sexy, pouting thing, judging from her pix, a quasi-throwback to the rat-teased, black stockinged bad girls of the early 60's, meeting behind back fences at the girls' gym. The kind whose boyfriends were definitely not named Sam or Ernie. Why be reminded of this unsavory bit of growing up?
But as the years away from high school passed like minutes, high school survived as an ever-present memory. Despite all the jive people throw around and call maturity, someone's always waiting behind the back fence to get in that one-two punch. When Blondie's single, "X (cleaned up from Sex)-Offender" and album were released, they shouted pure, unadulterated high school.
"After all," says Debbie, "it's the first step. It never seems to end, especially the way people act on the scene, they're all so crazy." A stroll through the Blondie LP reveals such gentle, sophisticated themes as "Kung Fu Girls," "Attack of the Giant Ants," "Rip Her to Shreds," and that tribute to teen showbiz past, "A Shark in Jet's Clothing." Great titles! Catchy lyrics! No fancy leads! And Blondie's Debbie, a one-woman reincarnation of the Shangri-Las! All brought to you by Richard Gottehrer, the man behind "My Boyfriend's Back" (hey-la, hey-la) and little Ricky Derringer's first hits as a McCoy. It is instantly obvious that this harkening back to cheezy New Jersey roots is no mere coincidence - my suspicions are confirmed the day a deejay on the hot shot radio station in New York plays Blondie and seques into "Born to Run," rhapsodizing enthusiastically about that old N.J. energy. Nostalgia, indeed.
"The more stuff that's in the past, the more stuff you can synthesize to make the present thing," Chris Stein, lead guitarist and Debbie's "steady" is saying, propped up on a bedlike sofa in the four-flights-up Manhattan loft they share. Stein, and puppy-eager bass player Gary Valentine are present, making sure on behalf of the group that penpushers such as yours truly realize the four males are more than just a backing group for Debbie's glamourous assets. There might have been some dissension in the ranks of recent months, since on this afternoon Debbie is anything but playing a leading role. Gary, in his favorite toggery of narrow ties, narrow lapels, and narrow legs, jumps in head first to comment on various topics, as if it's all new to him. Chris takes a bit more time, and emerges with reflections about the band as a whole - it appears that his ego and the welfare of the group work well together.
And Debbie - dressed in a junior high insignia T-shirt and well-tailored khaki-colored trousers - is constantly moving, offering wine or coffee, answering the doorbell, playing with the cat, chatting on the phone. If she's caught on the run, she'll answer, but has decided to let the others have a speak-up. So away from Debbie for awhile, but before departing, one must point out it's not by calculation that the pout, the ever-present fantasyland sensuality are marked on her face. More than a few echoes of Marilyn come to mind, though Debbie's far from dressed that part. Immediately, the fascination of men in droves becomes understandable, and non-threatening. Posters to the contrary, Debbie does not flaunt. Says Gary, "We can't go to the press and say, hey you have to give us a printed picture of the whole band, not just Debbie. They'd say, oh, we won't use your picture at all. Debbie used to do it herself, she signed her name Debbie Blondie. She signs her name Debbie Harry now. I think with the LP more people will see it's a band thing. I think what we should have done a long time ago was send out a manifesto saying it's five of us and all of us..."
Radio favoritism notwithstanding, Blondie's history as a band follows closely the standard CBGB's-Max's-circuit-with-discovery-in-the-future of other New York young bands. Only Gary is totally new to the professional scene. Chris Stein played in a group called the Morticians with Mike Brown, George Cameron and Steve Martin, who went on, without Chris, to become somewhat better known as the Left Banke. They pulled Clem Burke, Blondie's drummer, from auditions following an ad in the Village Voice. Keyboard player Jimmy Destri, with his marvelous roller-rink organ, was a friend of the Fast, one of the few original CB's groups that hasn't yet been signed, but appears on the Max's Kansas City LP. Debbie was a stylist straight from high school, and went through the expected hassles of finding a band that wouldn't be threatened by her out-front personality and, shall we say, interesting costumes. She began to gain
notoriety with a group called The Stilettoes, and as front woman for Blondie, was able at last to transfer her love of "hanging out" into a wanted commodity.
Ironically, despite their production contract with Gottehrer and LP contract with Private Stock, Blondie hasn't yet ventured far from the club route they've tramped through for what seems like ages, as have the Ramones, Television, Talking Heads, etc, etc. In a curious way, New York is spawning lots of interesting bands and not knowing what to do with them. Chris: "The big question on everybody's lips is, is it more fun now than it was three years ago. We used to play CBGB's on a Saturday night to 25 people with Television. You'd trickle onstage and trickle offstage. We were the house band for six months.
"We knew Tommy [Ramones] from the Mercer Arts Center, only his name used to be Scotty. All those guys have about 10 names, I can't follow it. One night, we saw him at the 82 Club, and he said, 'I have this band called The Ramones, we don't know where to play, where do you guys play?' So I figured he was playing with Puerto Ricans or something, with a Spanish name, so I said we play at CBGB's. And how we got into CBGB's, one of the girls in the Stilettoes was screwing one of the guys in Television at the time." This all becomes as incestuous as trading gigs in the Cavern must have been way back when.
Debbie became one of the star-quality women on the circuit, doing things like ripping her clothes off, which is one of the only routines left that can still get a jaded scenemaker's drugged eye opened. Chris: "Debbie wore a wedding gown once." Gary: "And ripped it off." Debbie: "A breakaway wedding gown, at CBGB's. What song did I sing?" Chris: "Rip Her to Shreds." Debbie: "Oh yeah, 'Rip Her to Shreds', and I ripped the dress off and I said, 'This is the only dress my mother ever wanted me to wear, cause we never agreed on clothes,' and nobody laughed." Gary: "One time, Debbie tore the clothes off somebody else." Chris: "It was this guy we know, Ronnie Toast. He wrote the lyrics to 'Rifle Range.' He can't function but he writes poetry. He had 'Toast is the Most' written on his T-shirt and a picture of a toaster with bread popping out of it."
OK gang. I believe Blondie knows all the strangies that there are to know, and in some way gets them to make the band seem even more normal. After all, how many other groups could get on record with lines about "Giant ants from space/Snuff the human race/then they eat your face/lalala," and on the air with the splendidly timed, "I could give you some head... and shoulders, to lie on." Blondie is impressive. No one is lazy. Just about everyone writes, and it's impossible to pick out what style belongs to whom. As Gary popped out, Blondie's influences span almost 10 years, from the oldest, grounded in Beatlelore, to the younger ones, feeding on Zeppelin and other second generation images.
Debbie: "We're very eclectic, we don't stick to one thing." Gary: "I think we dress more a matter of taste than nostalgia. I like to wear these things because I think they look better than the stupid wide lapels and ties. They made better clothes in the 60's than they do now." Chris: "We go to junk stores, out of the way men's stores in New Jersey. Secret sources of tab-collar shirts."
Dave, the accountant, has huffed and puffed his way up the stairs. He is large, 30-ish, and dressed in all the various Bloomingdale wide-styled paraphernalia young Gary has just railed against. No one makes any value judgment against this visitor from another world - he's treated as part of the family, and relaxes on the carpet, wine in hand, enjoying the host of tales the band knows well and talks even better.
Blondie play songs about violence, the kind of interaction that's part of being human, young, restless, envious, and the rest of it. The other sort of violence, not TV murders or Martian invasions, but especially the second half of the 60's brand of protesting leave them cold. They are a great escape, like comic books, science fiction movies, or for that matter, rock'n'roll. Record company blurbs describe the album as "my first date" or "my last date" but never, my last tango in Paris. Remember going to the movies and imagining the sex and violence? That's Blondie, a feast of memory.
Gary: "Comic books are gonna shape the next generation. They're gonna read comic books and be for law and order and wear masks." Chris: "I may see Debbie as a ruler of the Western Hemisphere, and I may see myself as an influence, but I don't think you have to work outside the system. The Beatles did more for revolutionary politics than the MC5, say." Gary: "Those bands in England. The violence... it's such an obvious thing for me, for them to take it to such an extreme and..." He is twitching from inspiration.
Chris: "Maybe they're not satisfied. The Ramones don't have to say blow up everything. The Ramones indicate blow up everything by the fact that they come out and sing some dumb, meaningless lyric but project it in a ferocious way." Gary: "It was like glitter. All the bands that started wearing makeup, they hinted at it. But then Kiss came out and said I wear glitter and makeup." Chris: "They could have better costumes and better makeup. I like the boots with the gargoyle things on the bottom but..." Gary: "They read the wrong comics." Chris: "Every color picture of them, you see how red their eyes look from wearing all that makeup all the time." Gary: "We're so conservative, we're radical." Chris: "I had a dream that I was telling the Ramones they should call their next LP The Ramones Go Gay and get brown leather jackets with fur collars and change their image."
The dream world will have to lose some of its soft edges as Blondie leave their somewhat sheltered home and play for audiences who haven't been part of the scene. So far it's working, and the band is more amazed at their acceptance than anyone else. Chris: "We'll continue unless it becomes physically impossible by virtue of the fact that thousands of people come to see us and knock over tables: we will continue to play at our cruddy little clubs even if they don't pay us, maybe. You can quote me about that." Gary: "You sound like Jimmy Carter."
And Debbie chats away to her girlfriends, twining the telephone cord, stretched out on the bed, preoccupied as an adolescent whose parents haven't yet seen this month's phone bill. Well, 1962 wasn't so bad a year, was it?