LAM Magazine - June 2004
BLONDIE HAS MORE FUN
Written By: Gareth Gorman
Photos by: Mick Rock
GARETH GORMAN gets into a rapture with Blondie.
Before The Go-Go's, pre-Madonna, prior to Courtney Love's tantrums and Atomic Kitten's need for a cover tune to save their pedestrian career, there was the one woman you could turn to for your rock-chick fix.
But all good things must come to an end... for a while.
After 16 years of Blondie inactivity, save for the constant compilations and dance-mix re-workings, the four founding members thought it was time to show everyone how it was done. The first album of the regrouping was No Exit, now joined by The Curse of Blondie, which features a Harry rap nestled in the song Good Boys, just like Rapture, and in Hello Joe, a touching tribute to fellow punk Joey Ramone.
Most bands call it a day when they're old, if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty, when they've just had enough of each other and present the divorce papers for Christmas. With Blondie, though, contrary as ever, it seems that the band actually got back together due to aging.
"I think it was premature senility," jokes Deborah Harry about Blondie's second coming which started with Maria, a tune that soon and sure enough reminded everybody of the old magic.
"We all forgot what it was really like and over some Martinis or something then went, 'Oh great, let's make another record.' Not quite like that, but it might as well have been.
"It was heartwarming and wonderful to have fans coming out of the woodwork and to see new fans. And playing is always great. The other stuff is the downside."
LIVING IN THE REAL WORLD
The other stuff is being a real band composed of formidable personalities, but Deborah concedes that it's ultimately down to her guitarist Chris Stein, that that happened anyway.
"When Chris and I first discussed putting a band together, we said we didn't want sidemen. We didn't want people just to be a blank wall that could be painted on. We wanted personalities, we wanted features and felt that that was an intrinsic thing about a band. We felt that all the bands that we really liked had characters that stood out on their own.
"But, it wasn't exactly a smart thing to do, because it caused a lot of friction. It certainly created something. That is a very hard thing to manage and has a certain energy that people don't necessarily want to take the chance of finding."
One of those strong personalities was immaculate time-keeper and human metronome Clem Burke who has not only whacked the skins for Blondie, but has also been sought out by Abba, toured with the Eurythmics and been a one-time member of underground heroes, Dramarama. He believes "Blondie's always been a concept piece. We go do other things and always come back to it."
DIE YOUNG, STAY PRETTY
It's rather easy, down the line, to think that Blondie had a bit of a dream run with their pop career (with it all going pear-shaped when it came to Island Of Lost Souls, which, let's just take it as read, no one thinks was a good idea now - not even good enough for an Atomic Kitten cover), but it seems that there were problems with many of Blondie's most cherished platters.
"Parallel Lines was rejected by our record company in 1978," confesses Harry. "We had established ourselves as doing punk-pop with touches of salsa, merengue, mustard, whatever you could spread around liberally, and they got along with that. Then when we got to the third record. they rejected it. Turned it down - flat. They had a listening session with their executives and they said, 'No. You've got to do it over. Fix it.' I think the next one was rejected as well. I think most of the records that we handed in were at that time considered too controversial and unmarketable."
NEW YORK GROOVE
Of course, Blondie at this time were also becoming part of a scene and, as it happened, this was the scene to be seen in - no less than running with Andy Warhol at Studio 54 - four words that just bring to mind a certain time, a certain glamour, a certain decadence and a certain feeling of being elegantly wasted.
"It had this sense of danger. It was private and exclusive in a weird way because nobody really knew or cared about it. And yet all these people were being as reckless as they could. People were exotic in their dress. People don't really even dress that way anymore - having a sense of costume and personal style. I don't mean just going out and buying stuff off the rack that's glittery."
But all this decadence didn't help the sessions for Eat To The Beat, the album that gave us such classic Blondie tracks as Atomic, Union City Blue and Dreaming.
According to Mike Chapman, the band's producer at the time, the band had now gotten used to his recording methods and had turned up with snatches of great tunes. He worked them hard and Studio 54 was their release. He claims in the liner notes of the re-mastered album that, "we were all living hard and fast and loving every minute of it. Without that escape we might not have been able to complete sessions. Blondie made that place what it was and, accordingly, were ushered right in. The music was conspicuously influenced by the intense New York artistic social crowd cool of the era.
"Unfortunately it all came at a price. Drugs. They found their way into the studio and presented us with yet another obstacle. The more drugs, the more fights. It was becoming a real mess."
Things got a little out of hand, with some ideas being too avant-garde for what was essentially a pop band which lived in chart land. Others were just plain dumb.
"Vocally I wanted to do something different, so I tried inhaling helium which no one liked," reveals Harry.
The whole Studio 54 thing was only one part of a couple of years of Blondie's existence though. The constant has really been the city of New York which has continued to be Harry and Stein and Burke's muse through three decades and a heck of a lot of change... for everyone.
"The inspiration, the sound of the band is from the city. It was the way we dealt with things. I don't know if we could have done it anywhere else," admits Burke.
For Harry herself, it stems from getting inspiration from her very own beautiful laundromat to now ruing the onset of globalisation and, therefore, a loss of the ultimate village.
"I used to write songs in a laundromat in New York's Lower East Side. All those rhythms going on, it's a great place," she says. "But it was the city, too. Being there in the city," she reminisces, before admitting those times have gone.
"My thinking is there's a loss of regional soul. Everything is communicated either over the Internet or through TV. When I go to Europe, I find everything so American. It's impersonal and contrived. I'm concerned about those artists who are wondering about production deals instead of trying to find or express themselves. I think there's always going to be desperation to being a teenager, but no one seems to be turning that into an art form."
As far as Chris Stein is concerned, bands and record company folks have got to go back further, dig around and excavate further than simply outputting bland covers or popular songs from his band and others.
"We were referencing a lot of stuff when we first came out like Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. But young kids aren't going back far enough, they aren't getting the real meat of things by only using us or someone else from that time as a reference."
RIP HER TO SHREDS
Deborah Harry was, of course, one of the first females to front a rock band and in the words of Carly Simon, Nobody Does It Better. If you look at Blondie's album covers and videos, you soon realise that she really knew her star moves. She somehow brought a Garbo-esque movie star glamour to rock and pop. All the photos of her poses at the time are extremely iconic. Without Deborah Harry, Madonna wouldn't have had any template to get going. And while the former Playboy Bunny was considered an extreme sexual presence back in the day, helped no end by the forthright sexuality of Call Me and rampant urgency of Hanging On The Telephone (actually, a cover tune, they totally made their own), it's as nothing when compared to what's going on now with your Britneys and your Aguileras. Pop divas that this particular band sniff at.
"Don't get me wrong, I approve of sex. It's a great thing. And a lot of great women use their sexuality. It is not a big deal."
And we leave on the idea that what was considered outre then, is the mainstream now.
"It's just the way culture works," Harry shrugs. "What was alternative then is now a fabric of popular culture."
BLONDIE TOUR DATES
June 14: London, Hammersmith Apollo
June 22: Glasgow, Clyde Auditorium
June 23: Edinburgh, Edinburgh Playhouse