Melody Maker - 5th June 1982 - Page 11
THE AUTO AMERICANS
Paul Simper makes tracks in Marble Arch with DEBBIE HARRY and CHRIS STEIN of BLONDIE. Pix: Janette Beckman.
IN ONE of the plush, leather furnished rooms of the Montcalm Hotel, behind Marble Arch, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein make an attractive and likeable couple. Between snuffles of flu, Stein carefully attempts to explain exactly what Blondie are up to these days, while Debbie grins, giggles and, like an overexcited schoolkid, puts her hand up when she wants to make a point.
For a few minutes you almost forget that the couple happily chattering away in front of you are the multi-million dollar making nucleus, the brain and the face, of the pop group Blondie... until you notice the photographer gamely trying to scale the fire escape in a bid to snap some lurid exclusives for his paper.
They shrug it off - experiences like this have become commonplace. From the moment they arrived at Heathrow (Debbie cleverly disguised in her real short, brown hair) the bulbs flashed and inane questions were fired at them.
The reason for their visit is ostensibly to promote their own biography of Blondie, "Making Tracks", an excellent, intelligently compiled history far superior to any others currently going the ground. Just by chance(!) they also have a new LP released.
The fact that it's business as usual will come as a surprise in many quarters, for the Blondie storybook seemed to reach a convenient and happy end with last year's "Greatest Hits" compilation. This, according to various fickle commentators, said all that would ever need to be said about Blondie.
Yet despite obvious failings in both "Auto American" and Debbie Harry's collaboration with Chic - "Koo Koo" - that supposedly "spent" creative force still managed to produce two excellent singles in "Backfired" and "Rapture".
And now with the band's sixth LP, "The Hunter", the music machine has proved to be a whole lot sturdier than might have been thought - though should never have been assumed.
The LP focusses loosely and bravely around a cover of Smokey Robinson's "The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game" - performed as a soothing, slinky ballad - and comes across as attractive, pure pop, which only occasionally slides into the pretentious field of avant garde rock.
For now Blondie have confounded their critics and fought beyond the myopic restrictions imposed by them. Not the most fashionable act in this country at the moment, Blondie have at least moved onwards and upwards.
"THE HUNTER" is a lot tighter, a lot more musically disciplined than the last Blondie LP, "AutoAmerican".
Chris: It's more rhythmical. There's this really great horn player, a guy named Eobert Aaron, and he's just fantastic. He arranged most of the horns and it's great. I'm definitely going to do some more work with him. The difference with this album is that before we used session players for the horns, while here it's guys off the street.
What does Smokey think of your cover?
Chris: I don't know. We've never met Smokey. I think that he's one of the greatest lyricists in America and he's never been given any credit for it as such. People say he's got a nice voice, but that's about as far as it goes.
Were you disappointed by the press reaction to "Koo Koo"?
Chris: Well, in some ways. More so in the States where we had this blatant racist reaction. Some of the stations were saying we can't play it because it's too R'n'B. But in the States you have a white chart and a black chart, so that's appalling.
Do you ever worry what the purists say about records like "Rapture" and "Backfired"?
Chris: No, because most of that criticism doesn't come from black people. It comes from white people. And if you look at the reverse of that it's saying "you black boys shouldn't play white people's music either". It's sad.
You know, I get pretty ashamed when I hear someone like Strummer saying: "Oh I'm ashamed of being white because I hear Blondie playing reggae." He doesn't realise he's making a racist statement probably but he is. The reverse of that is saying Chuck Berry shouldn't play rock and roll because he's black - he should be playing soul music.
That stuff doesn't come from black people in America. We have a lot of young black fans out there that we've cultivated through doing "Rapture". And that's something we're really happy about.
I'm happy to cross over like that. I think it's quite important if they can't get into the same sort of places. I don't think that's any reason for us not to do those things.
There's a lot of racism in America, it goes very deep. It goes really really deep. It's all round the country and there's not much tolerance at all. It's a slow process.
How popular are the black British bands in America since Junior broke through?
Chris: It's pretty limited. It's mostly in urban areas. You know, you have this vast Middle-American area where they are listening to Krokus doing the second version of "American Woman". That's really popular right now!
America's a really hard nut to crack as far as the black/white stuff goes. I think if nothing else we've helped to bring it all a little closer together.
Debbie: There's a big division in the States like marketing and the regular audience, the people that don't go to college, only get this really straight radio stuff. They don't get anything really new or any real combination stuff. College stations do that and small independent stations do that, but they are really weak - you know, they struggle to stay broadcasting and they obviously have a smaller range.
In the cities the kids know the new music that's going down, like the kids at colleges, but the straight AM radio kids just don't hear it. It doesn't exist for them.
Chris: The radio is much worse now than when we started off in the Seventies. It's ruled by all these crazy systems and operators. There's a thing called the Arbitron rating system which rules a large part of radio in America. The system is just a piece of paper that goes out once or twice, or three times a year to a very very highly selective group of white 25-35-year-old male people. And that's it.
It's not a government idea; it's a business operation. That's partially how stuff like Led Zeppelin dominates but what also happens is that all these prejudices are instilled in young people at a very early age by the media and by the radio.
You get deejays coming out and saying, "We're not gonna play any of this new crap - you wanna hear REAL music.' And that really affects people, you know.
I think the rock media is to blame just as much for creating a lot of prejudices. Certainly it's to blame for creating a lot of divisions and splits rather than building, and encouraging, a whole scene. I'd really like the music scene to have a little power again.
What about films?
Chris: Debbie's just finished a film called 'Video Drum'.
Debbie: It's about a nerve disease you get from watching TV. It's a sci-fi horror film with special effects by Rick ("American Werewolf In London") Baker and it's written and directed by David Kronenburg, who did "Scanners".
Your head doesn't blow up?
Chris: No, her head doesn't blow up and she's not naked, chained to the wall and being whipped by a guy with a hood as I read in one of the papers!
But it should be really gruesome and controversial.
"Call Me" was used in the film "American Gigolo", would you like to write more film soundtracks?
Chris: Yeah, I'm definitely going to do more. I've just finished the one for "Polyester", which should be available as a record over here soon, and I also did one for Debbie's "Union City". The "Polyester" record will be available on my label, Animal Records, which is the other thing I've been working on.
I've just finished an album for it with Iggy and I'm doing one with the Gun Club (a Californian new wave/punk/blues amalgam). Iggy's album is really great. It's real unrestrained and wild and crazy - more of a throwback to some of his older stuff.