High Times - June 1977
Written by: Neal Barlowe
New York 1977 feels like London 1966. Kids are rocking out like the sky's the limit - making music that's never been heard before. Maybe it's sunsports, or maybe decades start in the middle, but whatever the reason, a new wave of rock is rolling out of Gotham, turning on the world to the sound of the Seventies.
Some call it punk rock. And many of these rockers are punks - no doubt about it. But the music is too diverse to be so simply labeled. What most of the New York bands share is a scene, rather than a sound, having come out of the local club circuit - especially Max's Kansas City and CBGB's, a converted Bowery bum bar. Aside from venue, any similarities are purely coincidental.
Among the most exciting and original of the new New York bands is Blondie, a hard-rocking outfit fronted by the scene's leading lady, Deborah Harry. Her name is Debbie, but you can call her Blondie. Not only is she beautiful, but she can sing too. And not only can she sing, but she's a real smart cookie. And so are the boys in the band, led by Blondie's old man, guitarist Chris Stein.
The Blondie sound is eclectic, to say the least - ranging from the Shangri-Las to surf music, to sci-fi acid rock fusing with the mambo. It's hard to explain, but it's easy to listen to and understand. Blondie has taken a great upbeat pop sound, added hilarious although subtle lyrics and pumped it all up with good, clean sex to achieve an act you can't refuse.
Blondie's first album, Blondie (Private Stock), shows it all off. It's so pop and tight and good that it sounds like a one-band invasion. And this could be the disc that takes "punk rock" into the nooks and crannies of the nation. With songs like "X Offender," "Kung Fu Girls" and the amazing "Attack of the Giant Ants," how can they lose? High Times sent writer Neal Barlowe to interview Debbie Harry and Chris Stein in bed to find out. Here's what he came up with.
Neal: How did you break into show biz?
Debbie: A large battering ram.
Chris: We struggled and struggled for years, living with hardship and broken bottles and bums on the Bowery. And we struggled and struggled and struggled and struggled until there was no end in sight. And then suddenly we saw the light at the end of the tunnel and we said, "This must be it. It's show business up ahead." And it was right there in front of us. We were living in a big dive and playing at CBGB's all the time and nobody used to come.
Neal: Were you in bands before?
Chris: Debbie recorded an album for Capitol with a baroque folkie rock band in '68. It was called the Wind in the Willows.
Neal: Easy listening?
Debbie: Depressing listening.
Chris: I was in a lot of bands. One called Fananganang. I was in a band called the Morticians, which became the Left Banque. I was in the Millard Fillmore Memorial Lamp Band: we used to play in Washington Square all the time.
Neal: Are you from New York?
Chris: Everybody in the band is from Brooklyn or New Jersey.
Neal: How old are you?
Neal: How long have you been in the business?
Debbie: All my life, in business of one sort or another. I always wanted to be a movie star.
Neal: Did you ever act?
Debbie: No. I was always too shy.
Chris: I was once a leaf in the fourth grade. It was pathetic. I had brown crepe paper all over me.
Neal: What were your favorite groups in high school?
Chris: I always liked Dylan, the Stones, the Beatles, the usual shit. I still like the Stones. They're getting a little boring now. I liked them up until "It's Only Rock and Roll."
Debbie: I used to like Dave Brubeck a lot.
Chris: I liked Henry Mancini a lot too. And sound tracks. Dr. No was one of my favorites. And Peter Gunn.
Neal: What was your first work of art?
Chris: I used to draw spacemen constantly.
Debbie: My first major work was finger-painting the walls of my bedroom. My mother didn't like it.
Neal: What do you think about spacemen now?
Chris: I'm still waiting. Spacepeople are like the Messiah. It's like a branch of Jesus freaks who forgot about Jesus and are waiting for the spaceships. I don't know if anybody knows when. Maybe Patti Smith.
Neal: What are your big influences?
Debbie: The sun, the moon.
Chris: Don't be ridiculous. I like ethnic music, Buddhist monks. I like the Runaways. They're a big influence on me.
Neal: What are your favorite artists?
Chris: I always liked Andy Warhol a lot.
Debbie: I like the guy who did those big lily-pad paintings. Cezanne?
Neal: No, you mean the one that sounds like Manet.
Chris: There's this Russian Symbolist called Nikolai Kalmykov.
Debbie: All my cats are named after artists. There's Vermeer and Dan. Remember Dan Christianson?
Neal: Who are your favorite movie stars?
Chris: John Garfield, Humphrey Bogart, Rondo Hatton, Bela Lugosi.
Debbie: I liked Charles Bronson for a while. I go through stages. I like Lionel Atwill, Charles Laughton. I like a lot of character actors. As for matinee idols, I like Brando, James Dean, early Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Belmondo, and I sort of liked Charles Aznavour. I liked him because of his name mostly. For girls, I like Carole Lombard a lot. She was very hip and beautiful. I also liked Marilyn and Brigitte Bardot because of their great looks.
Neal: Is there anybody people always told you you look like?
Debbie: I used to get Zsa Zsa Gabor a lot, then I got Marilyn Monroe for a while. Then I got Jean Simmons.
Chris: Gene Simmons, the guy from Kiss?
Neal: No. Spartacus's girlfriend.
Chris: I used to be Alice Cooper a lot. I used to wear make-up all the time. You go through periods with archetypes. If you wear make-up people think you look like Alice Cooper.
Neal: What kind of make-up did you wear?
Chris: Heavy black shit. Like a maniac, not feminine. That was during the glitter period, and I used to like freak people out on the subways. But it's too much trouble to wear make-up. I feel sorry for Debbie. She has to take it off every day. It's a mindless trip, not worth the effort.
Neal: Are you interested in politics?
Chris: No, not really. I think Kennedy getting shot had something to do with the Beatles, but that's about as far as my interest goes.
Debbie: Yeah, I'm a humanist.
Neal: Like Bertrand Russell?
Chris: Like Johnny Rotten.
Neal: What were or are your favorite radio shows?
Chris: Oh. Rodney Bingenheimer's show, which is on KROQ every Sunday in Los Angeles. That's about it. Nineteen sixtynine was a good year for radio; everything was good. Now it's for the birds. Radio's become a mishmash. They play a great song, and then they play ten terrible songs. Each radio station plays everything.
Debbie: "Twenty-first Precinct."
Neal: What magazines do you like?
Chris: Punk. I like High Times. I like seeing all those pictures of dope.
Debbie: I'm sort of a sadistic person. I like magazines when they make me nervous and I want to rip them apart. Like whenever I look at Vogue I just wanna kill it. I wanna tear that fuckin' magazine up, shit on it, piss on it, whatever.
Neal: What's punk rock?
Debbie: Punk rock signifies a time and space. It has nothing to do with rock and roll. It's a time signature.
Neal: Last book read?
Debbie: The Bride of Fu Manchu.
Chris: The last 20 pages of Two-Minute Warning, the one about the sniper in the stadium. It was terrible. He only shot about seven people.
Neal: Did you ever smoke pot?
Neal: Did you ever take acid?
Chris: Yes. That's how come my hair is so white.
Debbie: I lost my memory. I think it had to do with taking acid every day. It's coming back.
Neal: Would you take it again?
Chris: Sure, if I got out in the woods and wasn't so preoccupied.
Neal: Do you like traveling?
Debbie: I really loved it.
Neal: What's your favorite airline?
Debbie: Pan Am.
Chris: I like TWA because of the building at the airport. It's really terrific. Speaking of acid, my friends and I used to take acid and go to Kennedy Airport and drive around in circles and run through the buildings. So every time I go to an airport I have a flashback. Also, whenever I hear Muzak now, I think of tripping because of the airport. Muzak to me is the most psychedelic music. More than acid rock. It puts you in such a tranquil state. I heard a Muzak version of "Satisfaction" recently. And in California I heard a Muzak version of
"The Ballad of John and Yoko."
Neal: What do you think is going to happen in the future?
Debbie: It depends on whether the saucers land or the poles shift; that'll have a lot to do with the future.
Chris: And all the planets are going to line up in 1980-something.
Debbie: I think that's really going to do a number and I'm not even a Seventh-Day Adventist or a Fifth-Day-of-Pentecost or anything.
Neal: Do you believe in God?
Debbie: I believe that there are cosmic forces that unite everybody scientifically, and spiritually, I guess. I don't know about formalized religion. It doesn't really make it for me.
Chris: No, there's nobody you can complain to. There's no Complaint Department or anything.
Neal: Do you play any sports?
Debbie: I used to play tennis. I'm really attracted to skateboarding. I like swimming. I like fucking.
Neal: What do you think about masturbation?
Chris: It serves its function.
Debbie: [sings] "Masturbation is fun... it makes a cloudy day sunny."
Chris: When you've gotta do it, you've gotta do it. Some of my best friends jerk off. If it wasn't for masturbation, where would Playboy be?
Neal: Do you think psychedelic is going to come back?
Chris: Definitely. There's going to be a resurgence of acid rock. I want to move further in that direction.
Neal: Do you have any message for the youth of America?
Chris: Yeah, drop outta school, everybody! And buy our record.