NME - 29th September 1979
Pages 10, 36, 37, 38, 39, 71
Skinny Ties Over America - Blondie's Battle For US Survival
By ROY CARR
WHILST, with few exceptions, the whole face of British rock has all but been wiped clean and redrawn in a new image, it has taken the ultra-Conservative American record industry the second half of the '70s to not only latch onto the fact that there's been a riot goin' on, but to recognise it as being perhaps the only way of bailing itself out of its current cash-flow catastrophe.
But wouldn't you just know it, even with the hot breath of the beast on its face, they've still managed to get things wrong!
What you have to understand is, that what's presently acceptable in America, is largely not acceptable right here in Britain - such as those
bubblegum bandits the Knack and Anglophile chamelions the Cars being hysterically feted, by almost everyone, as representing the vanguard of American New Wave Rock.
Having successfully managed to withstand the punk onslaught for three years, America's reactionary vinyl moguls have belatedly discovered, in what they assume to be New Wave, a satisfactory commercial-based compromise to their manifold problems.
A means of once and for all publicly discrediting the punk rock threat as a non-productive movement, embracing what they believe to be the non-controversial face of the New Music into the cultural mainstream and, confronted with the realisation that the megabuck dinosaurs now only come out of hibernation once every two or three years, frantically grooming the forthcoming decade's potential multi-platinum superstars.
In other words, it's business as usual.
LIKE the '60s British Beat Boom - with which America's New Wave axis is constantly being compared - it's more of a 'revolt into style', with the easy-to-assimilate fashion plate aspects of the genre being used to focus attention on the music.
"In 1976, I used to wear much the same clothes I'm wearing now," reveals Clem Burke, the group's gregarious drummer, as he casually brushes an imaginary fleck of dust from his rather splendid single-breasted green mohair suit. "People used to come up to me and ask why I dressed the way I did. I told them I was getting prepared for 1979. Well, here I am. And the fact that I was right has given me as much personal satisfaction as anything else Blondie has achieved.
"Maybe I'm crazy," he continues with unashamed honesty, "but, I don't believe that all our success here in America has been down to either Debbie's face or the disco beat of 'Heart Of Glass.'
"What happened in Britain a few years ago proves that music goes hand-in-hand with image and, if people weren't now into a certain way of dressing... if we hadn't all worn the particular clothes that we did for the cover of 'Parallel Lines,' then I'm sure we wouldn't have been as successful.
"The skinny ties," Burke loudly insists, "had a lot to do with it, and the fact that they're currently selling skinny ties and narrow-lapel jackets in large departmental stores like Bloomingdale's."
"Right," Debbie Harry adds in agreement, "there's a lot of much prettier faces than mine on an awful lot of record covers that don't sell shit!"
But then most of those faces aren't accompanied with either such a distinctive voice or such commercial material. But yes, I do know what you're driving at.
"A lotta people might not be aware," concludes Burke on the subject of sartorial suss, "but over here in America, Blondie has been an innovative force. Apart from the clothes, not only are we the biggest selling New Wave group in the world, but we've instigated a lot of trends which a lot of groups have been quick to pick up on... like suddenly, it has become so very hip to recycle all of this trash-pop stuff."
The camera slowly pans over dozens of precious metal record awards stacked in practically every corner, before freezing on the two inches of clean crisp cuff protruding from the left sleeve of Burke's freshly pressed jacket.
A phone rings.
THIS revolution of sorts is being televised, but not, it seems, without some degree of difficulty.
It's late afternoon. Clem Burke is now standing in the middle of Debbie Harry and Chris Stein's recently acquired Manhatten rooftop apartment, hanging on the telephone and patiently attempting to placate organist Jimmy Destri who is blowing his top on the other end of the receiver, somewhere way across town.
The gist of the conversation, which eventually involves everyone present, is that Destri is arguing that having had to fight against all odds to attain the position they now hold, Blondie should on principle pull out of hosting a forthcoming NBC-TV Midnight Special, unless The Student Teachers (a band Destri produces) are not immediately re-instated on Blondie's original list of personally-invited performing guest artists.
So far, Blondie have managed to get Robert Fripp booked onto this prime-time programme (quite an achievement in itself), but the NBC top brass are resisting the inclusion of The Student Teachers.
Surprisingly enough, this decision has nothing to do with their music (which is not unsimilar to Blondie's), or the fact that they're relatively unknown, it's that their only record to date has been a one-off single for the small independent New York Ork label. For reasons best known to themselves, NBC-TV avoid featuring artists without a long-term major label tie-up.
"As they're currently looking for a new deal, to put them on the show right now would imply payola," Debbie hollers across the room to Burke who, like the rest of Blondie, fully sympathise with Destri's motives, but who continues to argue that, at this crucial juncture in their own career, they don't wield sufficient power to dictate terms to a national network as big as NBC.
Chris Stein takes over the phone from Burke and suggests that, if he still feels so adamant about The Student Teachers being dropped, Destri should contact their newly-acquired manager Shep Gordon, and see if he can apply more pressure on Blondie's behalf. However, Stein continues, as much as he himself would like The Student Teachers on the Midnight Special, for Blondie to pull out could prove detrimental to their own career. The aftermath, he suggests, could prove far-reaching.
Stein hangs up and peering over the top of his large spectacles informs everyone studiously, "Unless something is settled, it looks like we could be doing the show without our organist."
"Shit!" Debbie quietly moans to herself.
Apart from the still unresolved problems concerning the Student Teachers, the less-than-inspiring memory of the Bee Gees' rather gauche spectre at Madison Square Garden the night before, hangs heavy.
Guitarist Frank Infante tears the ring from off a can of cold beer, take a thirst-quenching slug and suggests that, for all their popularity, the Bee Gees are nothing more than a glorified bar-band.
"Did they invent what they've become?" he asks of nobody in particular, "or grow into it?"
As there is no definite reply, apart from a few inaudible grunts, Infante continues inbetween swigs.
"When you become that popular... that big... that successful, it becomes nothing more than an exhibition. It's no longer a question of how good or bad you are, because I'm sure that not too many people realise the sense of occasion, the big build-up, the fact that they're actually on stage performing far outweights the reasons why they're actually on stage in the first place.
"For a couple of hours," Infante continues, "the audience has an opportunity of living out their fantasies about the group and, because of their inaccessibility, the odds are that they might never see that group again."
"Frank's correct," Burke affirms, "the only way that these big bands can prevent themselves from appearing like a bar-band imitating themselves, is to go on tour at least once a year. In this business, if you let three years go by without doing anything, you've missed a whole movement and possibly a whole new generation of kids. And, there's a great danger that those people who are hip to see you might think you've become a rather sad parody of yourself."
Infante replies to his own question of whether or not the Bee Gees are relevant to what's currently happening.
"In millions of people's eyes, they are what's happening!"
I suddenly feel quite chilly and miserable. The phone rings. It's Destri again.
JUDGING from what's currently play-listed on the nation's radio, the American music scene gives an illusion of being in a far healthier state than I care to remember. However, what's actually happening doesn't carry with it anything near the same degree of social clout as the shake up that occurred in Britain towards the end of '76.
Sure, there's a plethora of both new British and American acts attracting media attention which, by this time next year, could have reached the point of overkill, but America's New Wave is still very much a case of the meet the new boss, the same as the old boss syndrome.
It's not so much a question of radically challenging the existing system, but as far as new wave contortionists like James Chance are concerned, replacing one rock hierarchy with an even more elitist hierarchy.
"The basic thing about the American new wave as opposed to what happened in Britain," explains Infante who has an intimate working knowledge of both, "is that the change-over only concerns the music - it's not anarchy, but absurdity. There's absolutely no real change over in business procedure. The New Wave bands still associate themselves with what one could call Old Wave forms of business. They're working strictly to an American level, not a socialistic one. It's still, what can I get for myself. But then, that's always been the state of America."
It's only the music, he protests, which can be regarded as iconoclastic.
"A lot of the things that are presently happening in America," claims Infante, "might seem very difficult for people reading this in Britain to understand. But over here a system exists whereby a small independent label, very similar to those which sprung up in your country and helped spearhead the new wave, just couldn't survive and become successful in such a large country, simply because of big business."
Stein, who over the last couple of years gives the impression of having become increasingly worldly wise, argues that things might change in the foreseeable future.
"It's already becoming quite evident that the whole big system is structured to self-destruct. It no longer works efficiently. Like to sell 10,000 records was once regarded as terrible; nowadays, you've automatically got to go gold to even be considered remotely successful and not get your contract dropped. And, it's that kind of mentality that has been responsible for fucking up a number of once very good record labels.
"When Ork Records originally put out 'Little Johnny Jewel' by Television, the concept was regarded as innovative. But it was pretty much an isolated event. Now, at the time, we probably didn't have sufficient suss - I definitely know we didn't have the finance to do the same thing, but the fact that 'Little Johnny Jewel' didn't sell too many copies really didn't give too many band the incentive to try and make and distribute their own singles."
"In Britain," begins Burke taking over this line of conversation, "people may have recognised what was soon to become the new face of rock, but as far as America was concerned, they just didn't want to know and, to get any kind of a record deal was utopia. Nobody heavy over here encouraged bands like us, just the people on the scene and, I'm certain that had it not been for Britain, in all probability bands like the Ramones, Talking Heads and possibly Blondie would not have survived.
"To be honest, I expected the first Blondie album to be our last and end up in Woollies' cut-out bins a year later along with groups like T. Rex, Roxy Music, The Stooges, The MC5 and all those other groups that never sold many records in America!"
DESPITE phenomenal worldwide record sales, financially Blondie are only now beginning to pull themselves out of the red, having all but extracted themselves from various unsatisfactory label and management contracts.
Kiss-offs to the tune of one million dollars have been rumoured, though not confirmed, and it's quite conceivable that the final figure could easily be double that amount.
They could have argued the toss in a court of law, but perhaps - at this most crucial juncture in their career, fearing they might be legally subjected to a similar non-recording injunction that held up Bruce Springsteen's output for what seemed like an eternity - preferred to pay-out instead of dissipating their collective energies on costly and protracted litigation.
"Really," admits Stein philosophically, "even though financially we all sacrificed a lot... and I do mean a lot, it really wasn't worth all the hassles. You've just gotta put it down to experience!"
Today, Blondie's career is being managed by Shep Gordon, an experienced entrepreneur, who also boasts Alice Cooper, Raquel Welch and Anna Murray among his clients.
However, in the light of their escalating worldwide popularity and the almost inevitable fact that success goes sour on the recipients, aren't Blondie slightly concerned that because of the corrupting influence of big business, they just might metamorphose into something too big to handle?
Stein claims the group are in control of their destiny.
"Speaking for myself," Stain begins, "I'm still naive in my musical motives. I don't sit around thinking how much I can make from writing this song or how can I con people. Though we've only recently become what you could call successful, we've all been around this business for quite a long time. Like the rest of Blondie, I'm just thinking about making music that people will enjoy and that will last. I haven't got any time for anything else.
"Shep Gordon," Stein continues, "has a knowledge of show business which, no matter what anybody says, is really what the record business is. And, we hope to use his vast knowledge and I think he hope to use ours to reach a mutually happy medium. Not," he adds, "a compromise."
Over the years, bands - especially like Jefferson Airplane - have claimed such honest intent, only to end up becoming precisely everything they originally stood against. More recently, the same accusation was levelled at the Sex Pistols. Isn't there this acute danger that for all their principles, either Blondie or any number of new wave groups could end up becoming The Eagles of the '80s and just as out to lunch?
"What you don't realise," replies Stein, "is that to millions of Americans, The Eagles aren't associated with MOR. They're reckoned to be totally down to earth and sincere in what they do."
Not only could you have fooled me, that really didn't answer the question.
"I want to be a platinum blonde,
Ooo, just like all the sexy stars.
Marilyn and Jean, Jayne, Mae and Marlene,
Yeah, they really have fun."
- 'Platinum Blonde', a 1975 Blondie demo.
IN much the same way that Bruce Springsteen will forever be lumbered with that very unfortunate "the future of rock and roll" albatross, likewise, Blondie will never completely shake off that inane "Blondie is a group" catchline.
The campaign may have been instigated, much against their will, by their previous management to educate the public into understanding that Blondie was not Debbie Harry and vise-versa, but in reality Blondie is very much a group. And, in keeping with American principles, very much a democracy.
Debbie Harry might jest "democracy is hell!" but all members of the group are expected to participate in Blondie interviews, while on their behalf concerted efforts are made by their public relations consultants to take the heat off Debbie, as the most photographed female in rock, and distribute only group shots (with every member individually identified) amongst the press. There is most definitely a policy to reprogramme the media to help promote a collective group image.
Naturally it'll never work for, as before, it's Debbie Harry who remains Blondie's main visual focal point and its biggest asset. And, therefore, the one member everyone wants to interview.
Charlie Watts might be good for a couple of quotes, but it's Mick Jagger's opinions that the general public are more interested in.
Similarly, John Lydon's comments as opposed to Jah Wobble's, Brian Wilson rather than Steve Naive.
This is not to denegrate their contributions to their respective bands; just that the public have, and always will, choose their own stars.
Nevertheless, with very few exceptions, Debbie Harry-only interviews are no longer conducted and whether or not this is purely coincidental, there have been a number of recent interviews when Blondie haven't come off too well in print.
Indeed, there's as unconfirmed rumour - apparently printed in an American daily - that alleges that one rather disgruntled member of the group dumped his drink over a journalist who made no bones about the fact that Debbie was the only person considered hot copy and that it was only out of appeasement that the rest of the group were being given an opportunity to say their two cents worth!
In Britain, Debbie Harry may have been accepted pretty much at face value as personifying the girl-next-door, but Stateside, where seemingly there's no mid-ground between being either Marie Osmond or Linde Laraka, Debbie Harry is the girl-next-door only if you live in a bad neighbourhood.
Just the simple fact - that's she's a girl singer in a new wave band is, in itself, considered highly controversial. Whereas, for some inexplicable double-standards of reason, hard-drinking sexist Southern boogie bands or Mrs Trudeau snorting 'n' cavorting with the Stones is perfectly acceptable to middle-America!
"In Britain," says Debbie, "we're considered as being just a very successful pop group who don't come on as a threat to anybody..."
"The new T. Rex," Burke chips in.
"... but God knows," Debbie deliberates, "I really don't know what image they have of me, of us, over here... it's ludicrous, but I guess it's a pretty subversive one!"
She giggles heartedly at the implications of her own words.
"I once said jokingly in an interview," she reveals, "that I wish I had invented sex, so by straight press standards, I suddenly became highly controversial."
She attempts to stifle another body-shaking giggle before continuing. "By American standards, I'm considered pretty wild."
She momentarily fakes her familiar drop-dead stance.
"But then, it seems to me that they really desire wanton women over here - so here I am, the new bad girl!"
Nevertheless, Blondie have been openly accused of blatantly exploiting Debbie's most obvious visual appeal and, though she admits she's never received flak from feminists for posing in gym-slips, black stockings and suspender belts, she can appreciate that some girls might get turned off with magazines using any excuse to persistently run her photographs.
"I got quite turned off myself by all that slush on Farrah Fawcett-Majors," she admits, "and I suppose that's precisely the very same thing that was happening to me."
Though Chris Stein admits he always liked the idea of a rock star becoming a genuine pin-up, Debbie refutes any suggestions that she intentionally allowed herself to be promoted as a barbie doll. And, whilst still on the subject, the "Wouldn't You Like To Rip Her To Shreds," tag was also something she corned.
"We constantly had to fight to maintain what we, as a group, honestly felt what we were, but with our old management there was absolutely no sympatico in the relationship whatsoever. And, that's the truth.
"Sure, I'm the first to realise that certain images of the group have been shaped but perhaps in the coming year we'll have the opportunity to put new and more valid ones across. O.K. so it might not be easy. But, I don't think it could have ever come across before under our previous managerial set-up and, again, I'll be the first to admit that it was a very serious and important failure.
"It was really destructive in terms of projecting a long-term career."
Though much less defensive than in the past, Debbie Harry's hitherto outgoing stance has been replaced by a much more subdued demeanour. She's not exactly withdrawn, just noticeably slightly more cautious about her comments.
Perhaps she's fed up with having many of her more tongue-in-cheek remarks taken out of context and blown-up out of all proportions into a full-scale controversy. On the other hand, it could be that she's intentionally playing down her role, fearing that suddenly she'll become the centre of conversation to the exclusion of everyone else in the room.
WHATEVER her motives, Debbie Harry often prefers to say very little and listen whilst others converse.
Suddenly, when Clem and Chris lock horns on a hypothetical choice of suitable Blondie producers - Clem nominates either Abba's Bjorn & Benny or McCartney, whilst Chris vehemently argues about the merits of self-production - Debbie attempts to knock that particular debate on the head.
"The weird thing for me is... like this whole thing is a muddle to me," she waves her arms about as if trying to illustrate her confusion.
"I don't even think about music the way other guys in the band do... at all," she emphasises the last two words strongly.
"And, these are the kind of conversations I could never have."
"Well," says Clem holding his hands above his head, "I'll shut up if you want?"
"No," retorts Debbie, "but I don't think about these things... I just put my mind to whatever it is I'm supposed to do. For instance, I don't believe that in the studio I've reached my potential as a singer. I'd much prefer to do more takes.
"Sure, I believe in the process of having influences - like when I was very young I used to listen to black church music on the radio and shake with excitement - even break out in a sweat, but you guys really seem to follow everything... you know precisely what this and that band have done.
"Nowadays, the only time I listen to music is when I go out and see live bands. I really don't listen to anything else. The only criteria I have is you either get off on it or you don't. It really doesn't matter who used to be in what band or who produced it. I might get back into that frame of mind where I'll turn on the radio and listen to all kinds of music, but the actual state of affairs with in the record industry has turned me right off. I've been through so many musical changes in my life that I'm old already. And now that I'm into so much performing, I no longer think of myself so much as a musician.
"It's the same thing with Vogue magazine... for months, I couldn't look at a fashion magazine, the idea of high-tone pictures drove me nuts... drove me nuts... it was all so superficial."
Despite being aware of the devious knife-in-the-back tactics commonplace not only in the record business but in any multi-national industry where people are bought and sold indiscriminately, first-hand observation had vividly revealed just how calculated people can be in the roles they enact.
"People playing stupid little games... yuck! It really disturbs me. It's really horrible when you actually see it happen. For me, nowadays, the only good thing about all of this is going into the recording studio because you're so isolated and surrounded by electricity and all you have to think about is what you're doing. The next best thing to that is the hour or so you're on stage in front of an audience. Take it from me, the rest of it sucks."
By the look on her face, she's not kidding.
Still unresolved litigation problems no doubt prevent Blondie from being far more explicit about certain aspects of their career that they allude to, and as can be ascertained, as far as Debbie Harry is concerned, it hasn't been a therapeutic experience.
What effect has it had on her?
"As yet, I really don't know what its done to me as a person... probably made me a little more mellow and maybe a little more tight!"
Had it not been the stoic presence of Stein, would she have been able to cope in the clinches?
"... Er.. probably," she says, a little unsure of herself. "I started out without Chris and even then I was always determined to do what I wanted to do..."
"... and, I started without you too, bitch," jokes Stein, from across the room.
"... but.. I dunno... I guess," Debbie continues hesitantly, "I'll be able to handle things on my own... but on the other hand, shit, it's still ridiculously hard for a girl in this business and if you're not real careful it can quickly dehumanize you, that's for sure."
The media in America is geared in such a way as to restructure one's image to the extent that, with rare exceptions, the process cannot be reversed. In particular, women have the most unfortunate tendency of re-emerging as highly superficial consumer product. Say "Hi" to Farrah!
So, in the wake of success, how is Debbie Harry managing to prevent herself from having her natural personality transformed and being glazed into something completely different and irrelevant?
"OK," says Stein, "we've been criticized for allegedly exploiting our roots, in other words becoming successful and shit like that, but if Debbie was Stevie Nicks, then the question wouldn't constantly be raised."
"I suppose," says Debbie without giving the subject more than an intuitive thought, "at one extreme it's my sense of fashion and, at the other, that I still don't know what I say that makes them think I'm so controversial and crazy.
"I know we keep on emphasising this point," she continues, "but what you have to appreciate is that we're discussing America and not Britain, so you have to understand that I'm not considered normal by the kind of straight standards of some of the TV shows we appear on and the many magazines with which I've done interviews. It makes me feel, why the hell should I open my mouth, why should I waste my wind? To be honest, it's a strain for me to talk to people I've never met before, especially if I know every word I'm gonna say is going to be printed and, maybe out of context... I especially feel like this if I've got to do a show the same day.
"The thing that happens to me, is that I might do an interview with someone who doesn't know as much as I do about the things we're discussing and inadvertently I might embarrass them, make them feel inadequate and the interview comes out real fucked up." It makes me look stupid and what annoys me is that over here, they try to put girls in one of two categories. Either you're a sweet clean cut girl or a real nasty bitch. And, I know which one they've figured me out to be.
"Really," she concludes, before going off to raid the ice box, "isn't it all too ridiculous!"
The success of Blondie first in the UK and then, three years later in the USA, was in some ways predictable. However, not so much that of The Cars, but the meteoric success of The Knack - from relative obscurity to the top of both the album and singles chart in approximately seven weeks flat - is quite indigestible.
Not only is it indicative of punk being sanitized for mass consumption, but in the wake of Jimmy Carter's rapidly declining popularity, supports the Carter/Capricorn Records conspiracy theory that alleges, in exchange for record industry support for his presidential campaign, Carter applied pressure (either directly or indirectly) on the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to keep hard-core punk rock off the nation's airwaves.
Apparently there was no resistance to this directive.
"The stigma of the word punk," Chris Stein explains as he begins his thesis on American morality, "is something that could not be absorbed into today's American culture as representing anything remotely positive. And, that's one of the things that held Blondie back for so long..."
"That's quite correct," Debbie adds, "people like The Knack, The Police, Joe Jackson and Rockpile never had to contend with the stigma of punk."
"Let me try and draw an appropriate analogue," Stein continues. "The term punk... it's like calling it Bollocks Rock in Britain. Forget New York and forget L.A. because they're not really representative of the rest of America. The straight American person doesn't want to get involved in something labelled Punk Rock and, therefore won't help make those groups rich and famous.
"As far as the American rock scene is concerned, the music is only supposed to reflect affluence, goodtimes and vicarious thrills."
With the cult of the celebrity having now reached alarming proportions in the States, isn't there a danger that, as with every previous trend, the new wave will quickly be absorbed into the mainstream culture?
"First of all," Stein explains, "the entire record business is just a microcosm of American capitalist society complete with the backstabbings and all that kind of devious shit. Therefore, rock and roll has become part of the culture, it is the establishment. Over here, it no longer possesses the outlaw overtones that still exist in Britain where it will never be absorbed by Parliament, whereas over here, Jimmy Carter thinks nothing of hanging out backstage at an Allman Brothers show.
"So as long as American politians are involved in rock, they'll resist something anti-establishment like punk."
"I'm a typical product of America," Clem Burke suddenly claims unprompted, "but I'm by no means pro-American. I think that a lotta things that go on over here really suck!"
He continues: "Now we might both speak the same language, but on a social level, there's an enormous gap between our two countries."
In terms of class structure, what Britain would refer to as the working class, America categorises as extremely poor black, ethnic and Third World communities. America sees its citizens as being tabulated as either lower, middle or upper class.
"Now to make things easier to understand, you could say that the lower class in America is equivalent to Britain's working class," Burke explains. "We're a product of working class America not working class Britain... which as I've already pointed out is the lower class... the system is different and as such, each has a different set of values.
"The lower class in America identify with the likes of Boston, Led Zeppelin and Van Halen - that's their music and, they live their lives vicariously through these particular kind of groups. It's an escapist mentality.
"In America, Money Is God. If you don't have money, if you're not successful, then you're nothing and there's no way that you can ever be anything without it. That's the American Way - to be what you wanna be and have more than enough money to achieve it. But you must have the two. Americans don't appreciate struggle, so you have to play the game. Now, you don't have to tell me that kind of mentality doesn't suck, because I'm quite aware of it.
"So America's equivalent of your working class go to see something very macho like Van Halen and figure that after the show the band are gonna pull all the best looking chicks, jump into their fleet of limos, shoot back to their hotel, snort tons of coke and get laid, and they enjoy that fantasy. See, the rock star syndrome is an escape from reality, it represents that fantasy world for all the factory workers. They idolize the fact that rock stars are extremely rich and can get everything they want without having to worry how much it costs.
"In Britain, Rotten, Strummer and Weller associate with the working class, but Americans want to rise above their street roots and, perhaps, the only American rock star still in contact with his roots is Bruce Springsteen."
"To find a single commin denominator in America," says Debbie slipping back into the conversation, "takes much longer than in Britain, simply because it's a much small encapsulation. There's really not so many kinds of people to reach. The common denominator is probably getting a spot in Top Of The Pops."
Burke agrees. "Maybe because this country is so big it takes Americans so long to catch onto anything new. I mean, there are still those people waiting for the Beatles to reform. You can't have a fully-fledged underground phenomenon that reaches a lot of people, the kind of underground swell that can push The Clash or The Jam to the masses. We had hits in Britain two years ago, but over here we had to be rammed down peoples' throats before they began to realise that we represented something new... like the new wave is only just starting to catch on in a big way over here... for young kids to realise that this is a whole new trend, to go out and buy a skinny tie and be real cool three years after the event.
"Those people who aren't into the new wave aren't into fashion, because over here, it goes hand-in-hand with the music.
"If American kids were into any kind of social message, 'Never Mind The Bollocks' would have been a number one album instead of the fuckin' Knack LP three years later!
"Though you might not think that a band like The Knack are new wave, in strictly American terms, not only is it a fuckin' miracle that they're number one on both the album and singles charts but, that bands like The Cars, Cheap Trick, the Police, Joe Jackson and Blondie all have records in the Top Ten, but that they actually get their records played on the radio.
"After nearly five solid years of nothing but disco and soft-rock, to have a band like The Knack as number one, is psychotic. And, as much as you might hate The Knack, if it wasn't for bands like them, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and disco would have just got bigger and bigger and the whole idea of rock would have been completely erased.
"What you have to do, is try and look at the more positive aspects of what's going on. What it means, is that there's now a chance for both The Clash and The Jam to break through - they could never have hoped to do it before. I know all this must sound like a pretty bad dream to most people in Britain, but it's true.
"Forget what you and I might think," Burke continues at full-throttle, "the fact remains that the kids in America regard The Knack as being new and totally innovative. They don't realise that The Cars are just a shallow, derivative version of two British acts that never really made it first time around in America - Bowie and Roxy Music, plus a bit of Talking Heads thrown in for good measure. They don't know that having assimilated what other bands had done two or three years ago, they made it easy to listen to for those radio programmers whose tastes were gradually changing. So, only a small percentage of young kids think The Knack and The Cars are bullshit, simply because there just isn't the same degree of suss over here that exists in Britain.
"Perhaps because I've spent time in Britain and Blondie's success happened because British audiences had a much better perspective of what bands like us were trying to achieve, but if I was 17 and real hip, I'd say the Sex Pistols were great, really where it's at and The Knack were just a bunch of fuckin' pooftahs!
"Yet, to millions of young kids, The Knack are the American band that totally represents New Wave rock in 1979 and that's the reason why they're at number one.
"They're white, they're a four piece group and they play straight forward rock and roll, as opposed to being black, posey and disco. And, that's the bottom line.
"It was the adults that made disco and soft-rock popular, they didn't make The Knack a hit and to get the masses you've got to hurdle that barrier at the top of the charts which, for years, has been the exclusive property of the multi-platinum soft-rock and disco stars.
"It was the teenagers and pre-pubescents that made The Knack an overnight success and what the sheep are gonna follow as representing New Wave."
IF the lack of success meted out to the New York Dolls heralded the death of Glitter in America, it was the spectre of Dr Feelgood that exerted the most profound influence on the Big Apple's burgeoning punk/new wave scene during the mid-'70s. It was much akin to The Ramones catalystic effect on London.
The clothes, the onstage demeanour, the stripped-to-the-bone primitivism of their high-energy rock was an inspiration. In fact, before his departure, Blondie's bassist Gary Valentine was obsessed with trying to perfect a rather awkward impression of Wilko's wildcat manoeuvres.
"If there's one group," Crows Burke, "that must take the credit for giving direction to the New York scene, it must be the Feelgoods. I'd originally seen them in London and brought their album back with me and, the fact that a band like the Feelgoods could pack Hammersmith Odeon, make it onto record and then into the charts gave many New York bands faith in what they were doing."
Unfortunately, Dr Feelgood failed to click in America and, despite their British popularity, neither have The Ramones.
"Could be," Stein hazards a guess, "both groups were ahead of their time, too avant garde for American tastes."
Stein goes on to relate that aside from punk associations, the same was once very true of Blondie. "Even though, America chose to pretty much ignore our first two albums, before picking up on 'Parallel Lines' and the 'Heart Of Glass' single, in a way we're already at the crossroads of our career.
"Eat To The Beat" is our fourth album, though it's the first one that the American public has been waiting for. Now, there really isn't another 'Heart Of Glass' amongst the tracks, but I honestly believe it to be our best effort and I guess it will enjoy mass appeal on the strength of us now having so many fans..."
"I think it's too accessible," says Debbie out of left-field.
Stein and Burke beg to differ.
"If it had been up to me," there's an impatient air in Debbie's voice, "I would have liked to have made it even less accessible than it already is."
Stein doesn't respond to the bait, preferring to conclude his train of thought.
"But if 'Parallel Lines' and 'Eat To The Beat' had come out in reverse, I honestly don't know how it would do... probably not as well as it's going to do!"
There's always the skinny ties!
Picture this: Debbie Harry will be seen desporting herself in the manner of a common or garden housewife in the forthcoming flic, Union City Blue, replete with rollers and hair-net. Debbie plays the wife of someone who is not entirely in their tree, while Chris Stein is providing the soundtrack. Says Stein: "The movie relies on artistic, surreal, heavy atmospherics to represent the psychological vacuum that existed in America in the '50s and deals with a number of people who don't know what they're doing." Sounds absolutely marvy, but what will it mean in Gillingham? Or to the million people who went out and bought 'Sunday Girl' after 'Parallel Lines' which features the track, had already sold well over half a million copies? The Blondies admit to being flummoxed by this phenomenon. A phenomenonologist writes: "this is what they call in the trade a vast untapped market..."