Melody Maker - 3rd March 1979
Fear of frying
While 'Heart Of Glass' seems about to repeat its British success in America, via the disco connection, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein stay home in Bohemian penthouse perfection and watch TV. HARRY DOHERTY came to dinner.
NEW YORK. SUNDAY: Picture this (if you can): Deborah Harry, pin-up Empress of the Lipstick Vogue, stands alone in the kitchen of the modest penthouse apartment she shares with friend and business associate Chris Stein. She wears a bright red sweater and a bewildered look.
She seems to be studying intensely some form of literature. A closer examination reveals that she grips an empty pumpkin pie tin in her left hand while perusing a volume titled The Joys Of Cooking.
"Aw... shit!" Debbie sounds mildly irritated. "It doesn't say if it should be served hot or cold."
She moves towards the cooker, where a pumpkin lies in a pot. She adds a pint of milk. I examine the result, and fail to suppress a brief chuckle.
"I wouldn't laugh," she snaps. "You're gonna be eating this."
The blonde head with the black streak stoops. Debbie opens the oven door to reveal a roast duck. She stabs it in the breast. "D'you think it's ready?" But before an opinion is offered, the bird is cooling on the sideboard.
"Right," she mutters. "I gotta go out an' look at some clothes." She puts on her Supergirl outfit and slips out into the New York cold. Dinner will be served when she returns.
I mean, can you picture this?
SATURDAY: Realising Harry and Stein's preoccupation with psychic phenomena ("sometimes we don't have to speak to know what the other's thinking") I was sure that they'd appreciate that "Heart Of Glass" is playing, loud and proud, on the radio in the cab which ferries me from La Guardia Airport into New York.
"Phone us soon as you get in," Chris Stein had instructed me, and Debbie's voice welcomes me when I check in.
"Hold on a minute. I'm just scrubbing the bath." This introduction to the domestic Debbie Harry comes as a shock. It seems interestingly at variance from our usual vision of the lady photographed licking a record on the sleeve of "Picture This."
Subtitle this: breaking down the walls of fantasy.
Debbie summons her mate to the phone. He has, she tells me, risen from his bed this minute. Over the next couple of days, Stein's attachment to the mattress becomes very apparent. "C'mon over," he drowsily blurts. "Dunkley'll be here too." Dunkley? The way he says it implies my knowledge of the person. Andy Dunkley? The Living Jukebox? Nah, couldn't be.
I jot down the address and hit the streets of New York, aiming for the Harry/Stein residence on Seventh Avenue.
4:30 pm: I enter the apartment. I don't know what I expected (it being a penthouse "suite," and this being Seventh Avenue), but what I saw persuaded me that "penthouse" does not necessarily equal "de luxe." Luxurious this was not. Comfortable and homely it is.
On the left is a neat, compact kitchen - the tidiest room in the house, in fact. It would have looked perfectly normal, were it not for a five-foot statue of a nun ominously lurking in a corner.
"Uh? Oh, that. Chris bought it somewhere for ten dollars," Debbie explains. "See those marks on it? What happened was that we used to share a place with Tommy and Dee Dee Ramone, and they were so freaked by the presence of the nun that they kept attacking it with daggers, trying to kill it. Eventually Chris had to cover the thing with a blanket."
Next to the kitchen is the living room, which isn't really the living room because it doubles as Chris-and-Debbie's music room. Papers, books and tapes are thrown about the place. A battery of reel-to-reel and cassette machines is flanked by two guitars, a Fender bass and a six-string, on their marks and ready for action should Stein and Harry wish to record demos for the next Blondie album. With studio time booked for the next week, the music room has been used a lot recently.
No, if you want the living room you must advance to the bedroom, which, apart from serving as the sleeping quarters, is transformed in the daytime into Chris Stein's office.
Stein's business acumen has increased considerably in the past year, following management mistakes in the early part of Blondie's career, so as often as not he's holed up in the bedroom, telephone to ear, conducting conversations with record company, promoters, management, publicist and whoever. Occasionally he even conducts business meetings in the room.
In the evening, it reverts to the role of leisure-room, where friends from a very tight circle meet to talk and watch television.
Again, the sparesness of material effects is striking: the furniture is confined to a couple of chairs, a double-bed and, of course, the TV - the main source of entertainment in the household.
So this is the home of Blondie's celebrated sweethearts, an unassuming pad which employs a double lock to hold the madness of the music business at bay, and to ensure that they stay out of the incrowd. It was once occupied by Hollywood actress Lillian Roth, during a particularly heavy drinking spell in the Thirties. Its present occupants are very different. In a rare unguarded moment, Debbie will express a wish for more of this life. "I'd like to spend more time fixing up the place. There's so much to do. But we just don't have that kind of time yet."
The relationship between Stein and Harry is an intimate kinship that touches whatever they become involved in. Stein has unselfishly accepted that his partner will always hog the limelight, and understands the reasons why, to the degree that he is constantly seeking new avenues to explore her strengths and potential. Rock music was an obvious choice to exploit both the voice and the looks. Now he's encouraging a parallel career for Debbie in movies. For her part, Harry is forever hinting that it's a joint venture; beyond question, she realises that her fortunes turned when she struck up a relationship with Chris.
"That's cos there's nowhere to hang out anymore," Stein will reply when I suggest that his life with Debbie in New York seems somewhat reclusive. "We used to hang out in places like Max's and CBGB's, but now all we see there is strangers. Also, we got all these people pestering us all the time. But we don't just sit around. Most of our free time is spent working on side projects. Boredom is what causes a lot of hanging out."
WHEN I arrive, Debbie is soaking in the bath, preparing for a photo session later in the evening with Mick Rock. Chris, as is his wont, is prostrate on the bed. Sure enough, perched next to him like an attentive psychiatrist is Andy Dunkley.
Dunkley has dropped into New York en route to South America for a month-long holiday. Somebody must be pumping more than 5p into this livin' jukebox.
Stein, meantime, insists on demonstrating the versatility of his TV set by flipping through a string of channels via a remote-control unit on a bedside cabinet. America is famous for its multi-channelled television system, but Stein gets double the normal numbers of stations because he subscribes to Manhattan Cable Television.
This afternoon, though it's pretty boring fare, so, in an unprecedented burst of energy, he struggles off the bed and opens a cupboard to show Dunkley and me a couple of pieces of art. The first exhibit is rolled up like a poster, but Chris calls it "the only real piece of art we have in the place."
He unfurls the roll to reveal an Andy Warhol copy. Not an original, mind you. A copy. What I see there is a cow, just like any cow. Except that this cow was photographed by Andy Warhol, who has signed it with a dedication to Chris and Debbie. Dunkley - and I don't care what he says - looks as dumb and apathetic as me. "Great, ain't it?" Stein enthuses. "Yeah," Dunkley tentatively agrees. "Great." I maintain a dignified silence.
The second exhibit is a rough of the album sleeve Stein has photographed and designed for the new Robert Fripp release - "a supernatural album".
Stein and Harry have built a solid friendship with Fripp since the ex-King Crimson figure made his home in New York two years ago, and were probably instrumental in reactivating the guitarist at a time when all sorts of stories about his withdrawal from public life were sailing across the Atlantic. He's jammed with Blondie a couple of times, and made a guest appearance on "Parallel Lines", with an off-the-wall solo on the album's strangest track, "Fade Away And Radiate".
Stein is justifiably satisfied with his stab at graphic design on the Fripp cover, especially as it looks certain that it'll see the light of day. He had a couple of dummies (i.e. rough versions) drawn up for the last Blondie album, but they never got past the planning stage. The graphics and photography are part of the "side projects" he referred to earlier.
"Photography is easy to pursue because I'm already set up to do that," he says. "And I went to art school and studied graphics, too, so I'm just utilising what's at my disposal. My mother was a beatnik painter; I've been around artists all my life."
As Chris collects his scraps and puts them away, Debbie makes her first appearance of the day, resplendent in kimono and dripping hair. She is frantically waving a note allegedly carrying a personal message from Gene Simmons of Kiss.
"Meet me for a drink and talk," Gene pines in the note. The girl of his dreams does a crude parody of his vile tongue-wagging role in Kiss. "A phone number for the black book," she mumbles through a rolling laugh. Chris takes it a little more seriously. "You'd better not call him... or else." The number goes into the book all the same.
By early evening, the Harry-Steins are preparing for the photo-session. Decisions, decisions. Debbie is having a furious argument with herself over what to wear, but eventually settles on a beige mini-dress/maxi-jumper, with matching wool tights and black heels. Chris has his suit ready, and pulls on a pair of boots that might be described as hob-nails without the nails. Debbie is wide-eyed with disgust.
"Jesus, Chris, you're not wearing them, are you?" she screams, staring at his feet in horror.
Chris, lethargic as ever, remains unruffled. "Sure. He's not shooting our feet."
"I hope not," sighs an ex-asperated Ms. Harry, and we set off downtown to Mick Rock's studio.
It's a strange sensation, standing with Debbie Harry in a main thoroughfare in Manhattan. Stars should not be ignored in the street, but that's what's happening here. In the freezing cold, Debbie shuffles towards the shelter of a shop front, seeking warmth.
Meanwhile Chris is stranded out in the iced road, fruitlessly waving for a cab. They motor past. There are a few close things but Chris loses out every time. Debbie is fed up, and barks: "C'mon, Chris, for Chrissakes." Stein explains his predicament, but Debbie remains unsympathetic. "Ya gotta be aggressive. That's the only way you'll get a cab. Be fuckin' aggressive."
A few minutes later a cab is driving us towards the photo-session.
The rest of the group, plus girlfriends are already at Mick Rock's studio by the time we make it. Rock, who used to work for David Bowie, speeds about the place organising the set, having earlier despatched his juniors to collect as many old radios as they could find.
The changing room looks like Take Six in Oxford Street, the boys in the band having brought along their Sunday-best. Nigel Harrison has resurrected clothes from his glitter days with Silverhead. "Mark my words," he warns in a suave English accent, "glitter is returning." After primping and preening, the members of Blondie look so smart that they could pass for models in Freeman's Catalogue.
"Heart Of Glass" can be heard on the radio. Clem Burke loses no time in pointing out to me: "Hear this? This is New York's number one disco station."
The significance of that, of course, is that "Heart Of Glass" has attained credibility with the disco buffs. Who, a year ago, would have dreamed that a new wave band would have a number one disco single?
The song was written by Stein and Harry, and was born out of their fondness for R&B and soul material - plus the influence of the disco phenomenon itself.
"To us, it sounds like Kraftwerk," Debbie maintains. "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 you don't make a big political deal outta it."
"With me, it's a psychic thing," Stein continues. "It has to do with the beat. The 4/4 rhythm has a calming effect on the listener. It's that heartbeat beat. That's why it's so popular, whereas rock, which has an erratic off beat, creates excitement. It's a physical thing. It's biological.
"I like some disco songs, and I don't like other disco songs. It's sorta like an alternative to punk rock. It's a gut emotion. I can't really see disco as being the death knell of live music. Not at all. I think what people object to about disco is the dumb straight people in suits makin' out that they're John Travolta, goin' to discos, listenin' to disco muzak and thinkin' they're hip. I find that very distasteful, but that side of it is just bullshit and has nuthin' to do with it. I mean people were doin' that to Jefferson Airplane too..."
Listen out for another couple of disco-orientated tracks on the next Blondie album.
THE session completed, Debbie and Chris, not usually noted for painting the town red, decide to leave for home; Frank Infanti heads for Max's Kansas City, where the Heartbreakers are staging yet another comeback (or is it farewell?) gig; Burke and Jimmy Destri are Broadway bound to see their former buddy, Gary Valentine, play at a relatively new NY club, Hurrah's.
Hurrah's has been acquiring a healthy reputation with kids and bands alike. It merges rock with disco so subtly that neither audience loses credibility by hanging out there. Its trendy mirrored architecture makes it a safe place for the more fashion-affected kids to visit, while the wide range of bands - the Only Ones made their New York debut there - attracts the earlier audiences.
It wasn't a particularly inspiring night for Gary Valentine, though. One wonders why he ever left Blondie in the first place. This gig proved that he is neither a guitarist nor a singer, but there were a couple of good songs that could have been done justice to by a singer of Debbie Harry's style. You may remember that Valentine wrote "Touched By Your (Presence Dear)". You wouldn't if you heard him sing it. If Gary would realise that his vocation is writing songs, and not performing them, he might find a more fulfilling path.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Harry later agreed. "There were a lot of ego clashes with Gary, within the band, and that's what led him to leaving. He was always wanting to change things. The difference between us is that I know how to sell a song."
SUNDAY, 4.30 pm: Debbie is sweating over the cooker while Chris conducts a business meeting - in the bedroom, of course - with a representative from Shep Gordon's office. Gordon is interested in taking over Blondie's vacant management. He has a lot of clout in the States, but Stein is being very cool. Twice bitten, he's third time shy.
Back in the kitchen, waiting for the duck to roast, Debbie pulls out a few polaroids from the previous nights session with Rock. They look impressive, the boys bunched around the singer in their highstreet suits, holding the radios that the photographer had liberated from market shelves, all set against a striking red background.
"At least we've already got a cover for the next album from that session," Debbie says, noting her own sensuous pose in the shot. "Get out the cheeseboard! The record company wants me to sell my body again."
While she batters the living daylights out of the pumpkin pie, Debbie reveals that she, too, is working on a "secret project," and then is slightly taken aback when I tell her that I know it's a film - and it's not Alphaville.
The project is, indeed, shrouded in secrecy, and both Stein and Harry are unwilling to divulge too much information about it. As the day wears on, I learn that it's a psychological thriller, that it's a low-budget production, that it will only take a week to make (which was instrumental in Debbie's decision to accept the part), that shooting starts the next day... and that she will play a "tortured housewife."
She has, it appears, been offered a host of movie roles. She turned down ("Thank God!") a part in Stigwood's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and is frequently plied with scripts. This one was accepted because of the brief schedule, and because it had an exceptional script that appealed to both Stein and Harry. They also see the venture as a comfortable introduction to acting, which will serve her well when it comes to filming Alphaville, probably some time later this year.
The Alphaville project has come to a temporary standstill, after the introductory blaze of publicity sparked off by an MM front page picturing Harry and co-star Robert Fripp. Stein and Fripp had used the publicity to attract financial backers, and now they're considering the offers. It hadn't, however, originated as a movie project. Stein, having secured the rights to the book, wanted to record an album based around it, until a close friend, former Interview editor Glenn O'Brien, pursuaded him to go a step further and put it on celluloid.
While Stein views the move into films as an exciting new frontier, his other half remains sceptical about her future under the lights until she feels the temperature.
"It's a whole different sense of timing and pace of working," she muses. "I guess it's much drier, and it's certainly more personal. You don't need to have an audience response. You just do it, and if you do it good, you get turned on. It's that personal. The director is there, and the crew, but everybody is, like busy, busy, busy.
"I haven't really done any acting before... just a couple of underground videos. Not like this, not like... ah... official. An' it's really complex. You have to choreograph. You have to time. It's the same thing with music - but with music, you have the music to carry you. It's a challenge, and I'm looking forward to it.
"It's so different from rock'n'roll. There's a lotta things about rock'n'roll that I don't like. I love being on stage, and I love the excitement, but I don't like the business that much. For some reason, the rock business hasn't dignified itself. After the movie industry was around for 20 years, it was dignified. They forced themselves to become dignified. They were protected. They could work in certain ways. In rock'n'roll, a lotta people get misused physically - and a lotta times mentally. The movie industry has all these unions, like the Screen Actors' Guild. Those things are very strong. Your working conditions have to be of a certain calibre. But in rock'n'roll you get constantly faced with very fuckin' wild conditions, y'know. Like, for me a lotta times they seem really rugged - freezin' cold theatres, stuff like that. I dunno if that happens to actors or not.
"Anyway, this is my first experience of doing a movie. If I like it, I like it. If I don't, I'll knock it on the head."
WITH dinner almost ready, Debbie excuses herself to pop out and check out her wardrobe for the impending seven days on the film set. Which leaves me in the company of Mr Stein, who has now completed his informal talks with the aspiring manager.
Stein is content to spend a lazy afternoon waiting for dinner - a full-scale meal of this sort doesn't happen too often in this household - watching TV, this time switching between sport and films on the cable channel.
On the bed lies a copy of UFO, the magazine, which brings up a discourse on one of Chris's many eccentric theories. For instance, he believes that the CIA (who else?) have extra-terrestrial beings captive in the White House, an opinion encouraged by an article in this month's copy of UFO.
"The CIA have been involved in so many weird cover-ups," Chris will argue earnestly. "I wouldn't put it past them."
While on the subject of radical theories, it's also worth adding that Stein believes that Crosby, Stills and Nash were planted on an unsuspecting population by the government in the early Seventies to calm the increasing political consciousness and activities of the Sixties. And who'd argue with that?
It turns into an amusing afternoon of TV and Stein philosophies. The peace is shattered, though, soon after Debbie returns, when she receives a call from a friend who's just finished reading Tony Parsons' and Julie Burchill's The Boy Looked At Johnny and wishes to point out the observations made by this other odd couple concerning Stein and Harry. Debbie calmly puts the phone on the receiver and explodes. Chris wanders out to discover what all the fuss is about. He lethargically returns and flops on the bed, casually reporting: "She wants to sue Tony Parsons."
After a few minutes thought, he returns to Debbie in the kitchen. She will not be placated.
"I didn't say those fuckin' things," she cries. "He's tellin' lies."
Stein's voice is so soft and controlled that I can't hear his reply. Debbie is outraged by his diplomacy, and attempts a more direct approach to stir his anger.
"Did you see what he said about your fuckin' photographs? He said you're a lousy photographer!"
Chris is stirred, but only because Debbie's outburst is irritating him.
"So what? I don't give a fuck what he says."
Stein again returns to the bedroom, giving no clue of the proceeding battle. "Some fuckin' friend that was on the phone," he murmurs.
THE incident emphasises Harry's mistrust and suspicion of the Press. She is loath, these days, to be roped into an interview, and though she was usually the picture of charm in New York, she became decidedly cagey and unsettled if a discussion moved towards any seriousness.
Blondie's relationship with the papers, and particularly the British papers, has deteriorated rapidly over the last year, the rot ironically coinciding with the band's outstanding success in Britain. Stein, for instance, puts the recent rumours of a split down to "one of our enemies spreading malicious gossip. A lot of stuff that's written about us has a high percentage of inaccuracy."
Nevertheless, Stein is the more tolerant of the two, showing an implicit appreciation of the power of the media, and an anxiety to exploit it whenever possible.
"Some of them have obviously turned on us 'cos we're too successful. We're outta the grasp of power-mad critics. It makes them very nervous when they know they can't make or break you any more. The bigger you get, the more imaginative the lies they'll print. It isn't that we get misquoted a lot. It's just that it's taken out of context. It's different here, though. The American press is less opinionated, on the whole, and more musically analytical."
Debbie cools down and, while carving the duck, doubtless thinks only of Tony Parsons.
DURING the evening, it should be reported, Debbie's hair changes colour - from blonde to light brown with the first rinse, to slightly darker brown with the second. For the movie, you understand. Stein is impressed.
"Hey, that's really good," he raves. "It makes you look younger."
Debbie doesn't know what to make of that one.
MONDAY 7.30 am: "Make-up call for Ms. Harry."
7.30 pm: At the home of Debbie Harry and Chris Stein.
Harry: "Nervous? This mornin' I was scared shitless. I was gonna call you up. I was almost in tears."
Stein: "Why? D'you think you couldn't do it?"
Harry: "Yeah, I thought 'Oh shit. Here I am. I can't do it.' Like, I was really freakin' out. That was it. I was really fucked up."
Stein: "An what happened? You did it, didn't you?"
Harry: "Well, y'know, I would feel how freaked out I was and then I would just say to myself 'You can't let this happen! You gotta do it. What're you gonna do? Quit? An' I just had to talk myself back into doin' it."
Stein: "So then what happened? Didn't you do it? Whadda you worryin' about?"
Harry: "So then in the afternoon I just beat the words into my head. I just studied the script."
Stein: "What couldn't you do? Remember the lines?"
Harry: "Yeah. Like, I was havin' terrible trouble. I couldn't choreograph the words an' the movin', put the endin's at the right time or the beginnings. I was so fucked up."
Stein: "You were a little nervous. What's the big deal?"
Harry: "Dennis could do it right away."
Stein: "Well, he's done movies before."
And it goes on.
IN the course of the evening, with Debbie completely exhausted after a hard day's work, we talk more about the "side projects." Debbie says that she was interested in producing a group, the B-Girls, but the plan was abandoned when the lead singer and guitarist had a fight. Movies now take care of Debbie's spare time.
Stein, however, is taking on as much as he can handle. Apart from photography and graphics, he's also been producing an album for a friend, violinist and electronic musician Walter Steding, and at the mention of his name heads for the tape deck to play a result of the collaboration. It's a rather far-fetched version of "Hound Dog," with a solo by Robert Fripp.
Steding, according to Stein, is the antithesis of Blondie's pure pop. They first met a couple of years ago, when he supported Blondie at places like CBGBs and Max's Kansas City.
"Producing him is great because there are no preconceptions whatsoever, and there are no references to music or anything else that I can think of except to jazz and that isn't deliberate. It's sorta like psychedelic jazz. It has a good sense of humour, too, which appeals to me. It satisfies my desire for abstraction. Blondie's music is much more regimented and mapped out carefully.
"I should say, too, that there's a definite trend now towards free-form rock and jazz in New York. Even the B52s, who play tight, have these weird abstractions on top of the driving rhythms. It's a backlash against the regimentation of punk rock. It's like you play faster and faster - and finally you can't play any faster, so you just play erratically."
Other members of Blondie, too, have been involving themselves in solo projects. Jimmy Destri has been producing an excellent local band called the Student Teachers, as well as working on his own material, while Clem Burke was recently playing with Chris Spedding. Within the framework of Blondie, Stein sees it as a very healthy practice.
"It's easier for me to create things now, because I feel like there is really an audience and people will look or listen to whatever I do. We always wanted Blondie to be a multimedia commune. It's not supposed to be just a band. Actually, we're gonna go into religion pretty soon...
"We view it as a long-term thing. You see, if I'm bald I can't appear on an album cover, but I can still produce records and 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."
Framing Harry and Stein within Blondie can be a delicate matter, especially when the issue of internal conflict is raised. They argue that most of the problems have been eradicated now that the various members have settled into their own apartments, and now that they are looking for a new manager. They claim to be in complete control of the situation.
But I'd guess that there's still a certain amount of friction within the band. In some ways, Harry and Stein have a different outlook on rock'n'roll than the rest of the band. For instance, some of the band are anxious to get out on the road gigging, while Stein and Harry are reluctant to drag their bodies across the United States.
They don't deny that there are problems. "All these projects act as a valve and give us a lotta satisfaction," Debbie says. "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 lotta bickerin'."
Stein once stated, in a Rolling Stone interview, that touring is "for morons."
"That was misconstrued. What I meant is that if a band has to tour incessantly, it's not really for morons but it's just for people who don't have the right kind of hook that can be grabbed by the media. Bands like Kiss and Rush have to tour constantly, because they can't get the right type of media coverage. That doesn't necessarily mean it's moronic, but it's a lifestyle that we don't adhere to. We want to use the media - which is there to be used, after all.
"Being on stage is great. What I don't like about touring is the rest of the day. You spend an hour having a good time, and you spend 22 hours sleeping or lazing about a bus. That's a real drag. I mean, you're never not tired on a tour. You're always tired because you always gotta get up early."
Maybe they didn't like the lengthy tours because their relationship is one which doesn't allow for participation in the on-the-road raving that many bands maintain keeps them sane.
"Well, it makes it a lot easier when you have somebody to bounce off. Now that we have a little more money, when we do tours of the States the boys take their girlfriends with them, too. It's more fun. It's a better atmosphere."
Many bands think that it's taboo to take girlfriends on tour.
"Yeah," Stein says. "But everybody has cool girlfriends in Blondie."
BEFORE I leave, Stein has one more treat in store, a visit to an underground television programme that's beamed on cable TV. He's genuinely excited by the prospect. TV Party, as it's called, goes out every Monday night at 11 pm, and is masterminded by Glenn O'Brien. It is, truly, Alternative TV.
Chris explains that it's a sort of community venture and that the studio, off East 53rd Street, can be hired for 40 dollars an hour. It's available to any crank who has some message for the nation; one night there was a woman so in love with her goldfish that she acquired the studio to tell Manhattan about them. She had a potential audience of half a million.
A couple of weeks back, Debbie - who decides tonight to rest at home - went on TV Party and gave lessons on pogo dancing. It's that sort of programme.
When we arrive at the studio, the audience and artists are mingling. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes - the lunatic fringe, Stein calls them. As the hour approaches, the studio is a scene of unrelenting chaos, with the calm O'Brien presiding, but when the clock strikes 11, a loose band of Stein, Walter Steding, a bassist, a percussionist, a sax player and a singer play and sing the first thing that comes into their head. So this is free-form jazz.
O'Brien launches into his introductory spiel. Michael Aspel he is not. "Cold enough for ya? Welcome to the station that doesn't say 'cold enough for ya?'"
And on it goes, with spontaneous anecdotes and a guest appearance by Peter Hammill, who looks as if he's just stepped into another planet (which, of course, he has).
Stein is called upon by O'Brien to give a few words. He imparts his theory of extra-terrestrial beings at the White House. Steding calls for more venues in New York, mentioning that CBGB's has gone downhill (an opinion with which the audience vociferously agrees).
The hour flies by, and Stein dismantles his equipment in a corner of the studio.
"You were asking about the people we hang out with," he says, casting an eye over his eccentric court.
"Well, these are our friends."