Hurricane - Spring 1987
BLONDS HAVE MORE FUN
Written by: Albrecht Piltz
Debbie Harry is back, and don't we know it? THE face of the Seventies has let everyone in the late Eighties know that her absence in both audio and visual departments was little more than a sabbatical, enforced by unfortunate circumstances (the illness of boyfriend, Chris Stein) and general lack of interest in the music scene.
But she has now rediscovered her touch, as demonstrated on the album, "Rockbird", and the single "French Kissin' In The USA". Stung by the failure of previous solo material, but spurred on by the favourable reaction to the new generation Harry, Debbie and the recovered Chris Stein have visited Europe to promote the album.
Blonds have more fun? Nah... maybe peroxides. The flight of Debbie Harry. See page 44.
The Return Of The New Wave Queen
Debbie Harry's got the hang of it: when she has to make her mind whether to give you a straightforward answer to a question or whether to make general statements or ask you evasive questions instead, she will definitely decide for the latter - she will, however, do that in a tone of voice as if she had just told you her most intimate secret.
Only a real star can treat people from the media like that, I mean: a STAR, only he/she can afford to carry on like this; but who would have any doubts that Debbie Harry is one of the last few real stars around? Her glamour and glory didn't in the least suffer from the fact that she took a break from the stage for several years; quite the opposite! Despite the break, she enjoys as much popularity nowadays as at the end of the Seventies, at the height of her Blondie career.
Although her record company and some forgetful writers who are hopelessly euphoric about the return of the new wave queen would like to make us believe the opposite, Debbie's popularity wasn't exactly great at the end of 1982 when Blondie was officially dissolved. The interest in Blondie's records and concerts was so low at the time that even a European tour had to be cancelled. Debbie and her fellow musicians (is there anybody who ever went to a Blondie concert because of Jimmy Destri, Chris Stein or Clem Burke?) were simply not in demand anymore.
What followed then was the heart-rending sweet chapter of the star as a human being - Debbie-Blondie as the good samaritan at the sickbed of her lover Chris Stein: From the airy heights of fame down to matters of life and death. What reading material for the soft hearted! Even the most unsympathetic critic of Blondie's last phase had to go down on his knees. Maybe that's the reason why nobody really wants to remember what he thought about Blondie's last record, the disappointing swansong, "The Hunter".
Well, reason enough for a little review: HOw everything started... New York City, summer 1967: there was this Hippie group in the city called Wind In The Willows with acoustic guitars, percussion instruments, little bells and the happy message of love. Their songs were about peace and freedom (mainly the freedom of love). The vocalist was Deborah Harry, 23 years old (are you counting already?), brown hair, baggy Indian shirt, a refugee from New Jersey, escaped just in time from the boring college atmosphere and her parents' home to the bohemian Big Apple city (there hadn't been enough money to make it to San Francisco, the Hippie's paradise.) Even the most modest bohemian has to live off something: so Debbie was serving drinks in Max's Kansas City, the famous meeting point of musicians who saw themselves on the verge of fame and of artists who regarded themselves as "avant garde". Unfortunately, Debbie wasn't that modest after all as she needed her daily dose of heroin more than anything, a need that could hardly be satisfied on a waitress's salary: so Debbie didn't only serve drinks to the customers but herself as well. Let's forget about the details and the stories that appear years later, when she has long turned from a brown head to a blond and from the groupie (New York Dolls etc.) to the new wave figure - no career seems as appealing as the tabloid press story "From the bottom to the top"... Anyway, Debbie makes a move to San Francisco, but after a short period at the side of an elderly millionaire, she returned to her junkie life on New York's streets. At this point, the story turns into something of a miracle: while a lot of junkies die of their heroin addiction sooner or later, Debbie survived by receiving successful treatment. Two years later, she joined the Stilettos, a club band with a certain Chris Stein on the guitar. During that time, she also made the important decision that a complete change of her image might be beneficial for her plan to become a pop celebrity: her brown hair was transformed into peroxide blond. She immediately became the attraction of the groups that followed the Stilettos, and then Blondie was founded in 1975. Blondie were: Drummer Clem
Burke, Keyboard player James Destri, bass player Gary Valentine, Debbie Harry and her boyfriend/guitarist Chris Stein. Right? Wrong! Even then, Blondie was first and foremost Debbie Harry, not only from an optic point of view. Without her erotic appearance, the band would not have been more than a nice-sounding pop quartet with a few above-average songs - but Debbie Harry provided the band with an unmistakable distinguishing mark.
The album "Blondie" came out in early 1977 and with all of its songs being worthy of a number one hit, it was a brilliant record altogether.
Blondie, however, sold much less than the record company or the group had hoped for and that although the brilliant sound, a mixture of Phil Spector's girl-group-mono-pop and Darlene Love and the naive Seventies stereo technique, should have enticed masses of people to buy the record. Debbie's fantastic vocals, plus the rhythms of Valentine and Burke, tricky but spot-on, let the production of Richard Gottehrer appear in its best light. But Blondies intelligent pure pop vanished somewhere between the pressings and the radio stations: only a few listened. It's comforting to know that history sometimes has the last judgement: "Blondie" is rated as a classic nowadays and has survived the last ten years much better than most of the other records produced during the same year.
What happened then...
The bassist of the group, Gary Valentine, left, Frank Infanti and Nigel Harrison came to join and Blondie got worse, in the humble opinion of this writer. At first, it was a very slow process with a few hopeful delays, but then the deterioration went on rapidly. Album number two, "Plastic Letters" and three "Parallel Lines" had the occasional great song such as "Denis" and the best of all the disco hits, "Heart Of Glass", but a single would have done nicely for these songs. The remainder was mediocre and didn't reach the standard of the material on the glorious first LP. Album number four "Eat To The Beat" (1979) was really weak - forget it, I thought at the time, let's wait for the next one, that can't have been it. And there was album number five "Auto American" (1980), another real pop album; even critics had to admit that there might be a future for Blondie. Debbie and her fellow musicians experimented with all sorts of modern music on this album, from caribbean swing to jazz ballads, from computer pop to colourful shrill musical pomp etc. etc. But the LP unfortunately was a flash in the pan - as was demonstrated when "The Hunter" came out in 1982 - let's not mention that one at all... LA. It's no coincidence but a logical consequence that Blondie became more successful the more boring, predictable and uninspired their music became: there has hardly been another group of this calibre that has more greedily aimed at the taste of the masses than this corporate enterprise - that's exactly what that loveable band of the Seventies had turned into: Instead of continuing to work on their refined naive pop concept, they picked up whatever seemed trendy, put it through the Blondie catalyst mill and spit it out again as their alleged original invention. Basically, this formula only worked well on one occasion, with "Heart Of Glass"; they made the disco sound and rhythm work in an inimitable sort of way.
Eventually, not even Debbie sounded like Blondie anymore. Mike Chapman, who had been the co-producer for groups like Sweet, Mud and similarly sticky teenage-bubblegum in the early Seventies, certainly helped turn Blondie into a characterless hit factory when he moved into a position to do so. That doesn't mean that Debbie had given up on her ambitions - she was too intelligent for that; she just put her energy into different areas. What counted was not the music anymore but the control over the front pages and society pages of magazines, where her face made a much more stylish impression than that of Lady Di or Miss Ellie. With the help of Blondie boss, Chris Stein, she was constantly working on her public image of a modern pin-up girl who is not strictly tied to the rules of male chauvinistic erotic phantasies but who stands up for herself once in a while when, for example, a loudmouth attacked his sex-symbol verbally or when a reporter asked her very intimate questions. She consequently kept any compromising photographs from the press who were very interested in Dirty Harry's former life, and she would at times get all her lawyers moving in order to prevent the publication of some unfavourable photographs. Did it work? Most of the time. apparently.
One was able to admire Miss Harry's abilities and physical advantages more and more often on celluloid. John Waters, the thrash-movie director, for example, commissioned the couple Harry/Stein to write the soundtrack for his stinking film "Polyester". Brian De Palma benefitted from Debbie's hit "Rush Rush" for his Hitchcock imitation film 'Scarface' and horror specialist David Cronenberg, who has recently brought out the film "The Fly", hired Debbie to act in "Videodrome" in 1982. The intention had been to make it a cult film, but it's an extremely boring product inspite of Debbie.
That was, however, in the post-Debbie era which started when Chris Stein collapsed on stage during a US tour - diagnosis: Pemphigus Vulgaris, a skin disease that often turns out to be fatal. That meant the end of the group's career for the time being, but they hadn't been in demand in Europe for quite some time anyway. After her unsuccessful solo album, which even a crack producer like Nile Rodgers couldn't turn into a success ("Koo Koo" - forgotten and in vain) Debbie concentrated on looking after her sick partner, interrupted by a few detours into the film business. Her last product in this sector was regarded as a flop by critics as well as cinemagoers, a thriller comedie 'Forever Lulu', by Amos Kulik, in which Debbie Harry plays a (unfortunately) mute part beside Hanna Schygulla.
Back to the beginning: At the beginning of 1987 Debbie-Darling's star is twinkeling almost as bright as in the best of the old Blondie days - the reason being that the single, "French Kissin", her first single off the album, "Rockbird", made it effortlessly into the charts. Besides, everybody is really nice to her in order to prevent her from vanishing again. Does she deserve our sympathy? But anyway, if Debbie's next album is even a bit better, say, a bit more personal, and if she finally gets the part in a real good film... then we could be really talking comeback.