OUT NOW - February 1979 - No. 11
Pages 17, 18, 19, 20, 21
twenty twenty vision
It's funny really, being involved in the rock'n'roll biz on a non-musical, almost parasitical level. I mean, it's all very well reading in the NME about Tony Parsons ligging around L.A. with Mick and Joe, or how Charlie Murray and Dave Bowie used to be like that. Probably to some extent because London Rools OK and you aren't likely to see your fave stars down at the Cooperage or out of their brains at the Guildhall, I can't count any of the dozens of musicians I've interviewed as anything more than passing acquaintances.
'Course, this isn't the way that the journalist-star relationship is generally painted, especially in the weeklies. Intimate tete a tetes long into the night. Confessions of the heart from pal to pal. Meself, after I've gone about my Bedrock duties, backstage or at the hotel, I usually pack up the BBC's tape recorder and go home. Not wishing to outstay welcomes y'understand. The bigger the band, the more valuable their time would be the assumption. So, when I do stop around a while, it's often with the outfits who haven't hit the big time yet, like Blue or The Dodgers.
There's always the thought that you'll really hit it off with whoever you're interviewing. So. Darling Debbie. Interview 4:15 City Hall. You know. I'll look at her, she'll look at me and there'll be stars in the eyes just like Davy Jones used to get. She'll be fascinated by my debonaire charm and wit. Swept off her feet by my air of sophistication and heady smile. "Er... sorry Chris, I won't be coming back to the hotel tonight, Ian and I have things to talk about."
A candle lit supper. Intimate glances and then back to my place. Put on the 1978 equivalent of James Taylor (whoever that might be), turn the dimmer switch way down low, toast and marmalade, breakfast in bed. Motor up to rejoin the tour at the next date. Inseperable for a fortnight while ex-boyfriend Stein sulks and drops bum notes like confetti. Tearful goodbyes at the airport, promises of swift returns. POP (sound of bubble bursting) "OK Ian five minutes OK?"
People all over the place, Tuesday afternoon backstage at the City Hall. Malcolm Gerrie and a Tyne-Tees crew are lugging their gear into a side dressing room in readyence for an exchange of intellectual and philosophical thought and secrets of the universe for Lynn's Look In. Similar types who I've never seen before scurry around with tape machines in search of this weeks Holy Grail.
Conveyor belt stuff. Wheeled in by the tour manager and Rob Murphy, our local Chrysalis man. "Not more than five minutes Ian. OK, Debbie, this is Ian."
And that's it for the next couple of minutes. For the Divine Ms H. is doing what looks suspiciously like writing out lines (I must remember to pout... I must remember to pout... I must remember...)
"Writing out the song lyrics eh?"
"Yeah, I don't know some of the new ones yet."
So, I plug in my tape, notice that we're completely alone and assume position 37, The Interviewer (leaning forward, chin in left hand, mike in right, inquiring yet sensitive stare), Debs keeps on scribbling, so I get the opportunity to give her the once, twice and thrice over. For a start she's smaller than I imagined, around the 5'1" mark probably, and as she stand with her back to me, using the make-up ledge that hangs precariously from the wall as a desk, I notice that she has two-tone hair. The back is almost completely mouse-brown, (it's natural colour presumably) with only the front and side bits being the requesite blonde. Rather
disappointingly the Harry legs are covered by trousers. Infactomundo, the whole Harry frame is covered by a motely collection of jumble sale rejects. Loose fitting man's suit jacket, (narrow lapels o'course guvnor) zip-up black cardigan with yellow shirt. Black drainpipes bottomed off by boots. Nah, I didn't go for it.
Lines finished. Sit down, just a little closer, that's it. Face to face. Just a little closer. I get a trifle annoyed by the age obsession that a lot of people appear to have, but it must be said that for 34 or whatever she is, Debbie Harry is
remarkably well preserved. No worry lines, wrinkles or feet of crows at all. The image that immediately sprang to mind was a delicate lemon. The yellow hair, slightly pallid complexion, high cheek bones and wide-apart eyes giving an almost ball-like effect. And the purest skin I've ever seen. Not a blemish. Forget all that "polyfilled with makeup" rubbish as well. The only sign of anything beyond the minimum of cosmetic trickery is the eyebrows, which are carefully plucked and shaped. Otherwise she's real.
We've been in the same room for several seconds now and Deborah hasn't said another word. She's emanating piss-offness. She is not emanating warmth. A resigned "Let's-get-this-over-with-is-this-guy-gonna-ask-me-what-it's-like-to-
be-a-sex-symbol-or-is-it-gonna-be-another-'How The Band Got Together-job" is coming my way as she faces me unsmiling. Which didn't exactly surprise me. After all, what do you ask somebody who gets interviewed about being interviewed? How about the feet-first approach. Blondie are in a fairly strange position, being huge in Britain and not meaning a light in the USA aren't they Deb?
"Oh, I think we're doing a lot in America. It's just a much bigger country. Proportionately we're not as big, but if you consider the numbers then we're in exactly the same spot. But we've had a lot more publicity and plays on the radio in England. Elvis Costello got into the charts but not into the top ten in America. The only new wave act that got anywhere near was Patti Smith, with 'Because The Night' and that was because the song was co-written with Bruce Springsteen who is very well loved by all American radio. None of the new wave groups have made it at all."
Defensive stuff. And providing me with the opportunity to pick up on the magic term 'new wave'. Entertaining Blondie certainly are, but 'new' they aren't. Debbie has other ideas.
"We're definitely new wave. We started in 1974 or 1975 and we're definitely new wave."
But Van Halen and Lone Star started in '75, and you're far nearer your immediate pop - predecessors than all the other NY bands like Television and the Ramones.
"Well, that's your opinion."
Struck me with that one. She isn't going to argue. Let's try a different tack. The noo album has a very British sound, due, no doubt to the presence of Mike 'Funny Funny How Coco Wigwam Bam Can Be' Chapman behind the producers desk.
(Icily) "That, again, is your opinion. Mike Chapman has three hits in the charts in the States at the moment. Whatever he's doing he's a commercial producer. That's what the record company were going for. They wanted us to have a real commercial record this time. Chapman has always been a fan of ours, and we of him. He's a really good guy."
'Parallel Lines' is certainly a much enjoyable album than the previous two, which have a couple of high points each but on the whole miss out somewhere. The 'Blondie' album especially, had far too much of a heavy handed '60's approach. Deb agrees (shock horror).
"Again, I think it has a lot to do with the producer. We co-produced 'Plastic Letters' and that's where the main difference came in. Richard Gottehrer was great to work with, but he really missed the boat with that first album. He had far too strong a leaning towards the '60's girl groups, having been around then, producing people like the Angels in that period. He really wanted to produce us, so a lot of the interpretation on that first album was him not us. We'd never considered ourselves a nostalgia band and it came as quite a shock to have that thrown at us. Especially in England. It lead to a certain interpretation of us. When we perform live it's definately not the same. We're very raunchy, very vital, very exciting, wheras the record is.... compressed."
Telling the truth she was. The show later on that day was certainly one of the most enjoyable I've been to for some time. Gone was the lack-lustre little lady to be replaced by this sexy human dynamo. If there has to be seperate 'on' and 'off' stage personalities it's right that they should be this way round. The male Blondies can deliver the goods as well. No boring solos, just tight powerful punchy delivery that more than did justice to the songs. Andy Dunkley doing his 'living jukebox' compere bit described them as 'One of the best bands in the world at the moment' I wouldn't go that far but Blondie are certainly one of the most fun.
But back to the plot:
Hey Deb, having achieved a large amount of personal fame, are you aware of the effect you have on people?
"Now I am."
So what is it?
"You tell me! You brought it up."
That last answer was accompanied by the nervous laughter that usually means 'you're getting near, and I find this a little uncomfortable'.
Being a curious sort of chap, especially about peoples' self-image, I dig in'.
Does she do anything conciously to get people to react to her?
"I just do what I do."
Hmmm. Is it all totally subconcious? Has starting to be noticed all the time changed her in any way?
"..... I don't think so...... makes me get a little bit...... (softly) I don't like being under the microscope that much."
But it's something to accept for the time being?
"Well.... it's part of becoming... If you're lucky enough to become a success in this business you're like..... public property. I don't agree to all those things. A lot of the time I'm told that they are good for me or good for the group. But for the most part I think that all the publicity is good."
Yes! It's starting to happen. We're starting to get somewhere. The ice is melting. And then.....
The tour manager comes in and starts to make 'finish off' type signs. A parting shot then. Has Debbie ever been asked to do anything that will be 'good for the group' that she's refused to do?
Well then, panting expectantly, what?
"I'm not telling you."