Record Mirror - August 22nd 1981
News Editor: SIMON HILLS
BLONDIE GREATEST HITS
BLONDIE ARE also set to have a greatest hits album released this autumn.
The group - who have tried to resist a best of album coming out - have finally relented, and tracks to be included are now being finalised.
No title or release date has been announced, but it should include such hits as 'Heart Of Glass', 'Rapture', 'Sunday Girl', 'Denis' and possibly the vintage 'Rip Her To Shreds'.
Debbie Harry could also be appearing in front of British audiences this year if she follows Chic stars Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards invitation to join them as a special guest on their forthcoming tour.
The tour is scheduled to take place this winter, and Nile Rodgers told Record Mirror that she might do a few surprise appearances.
Blondie should also be back with a new album in the future.
SO WHAT is Debbie Harry really like? Wonder no more, for we've got an exclusive three-page interview with the lady of the moment starting on page 4. SUNIE talks to the queen of 'Koo Koo' about stupidity, love, religion and... turn the page and start reading!
Pages 4, 6, 7.
DEBBIE & CHRIS
Religion, riots and 'Rapture'. Hair dye, huskiness and Horlicks. Pop, punk and perfect togetherness. And you want more? Debbie, the world's ultimate pop person, and Chris, Debbie's ultimate mate, let SUNIE into the secrets of romance and super stardom... and the true story of Blondie's future.
WHAT'S she like?
The final proof, if any were needed, that Debbie Harry is a grade one pop star is that even the most hard-bitten of my acquaintances tend to ask that sort of question about her. This is what sorts out the stars from the mere celebrities, you see: no-one asks what Steve Strange or Richard Jobson or Hazel O'Connor is really like, because what they're like is spelt out quite plainly in their words and deeds for whoever's interested. But a real star, a Jagger or a Bowie or a Debbie Harry, must not be so easily read; must retain a little mystery.
Mind you, she's had plenty to hide behind. That image! So strong a hold had it gained upon the imagination of press and public that when Debbie Harry changed her hair colour, it made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. Can you imagine anyone else, barring members of the royal family, causing that kind of a stir by changing the colour of their hair?
The de-blondeing of Deborah Harry coincided, of course, with the release of 'Koo Koo', her first solo LP. She's in town to promote it, looking relaxed and extremely healthy - and yes, she still looks fabulous, even without the peroxide tresses. Partner Chris Stein is looking equally relaxed and good-humoured, albeit somewhat less smartly turned-out, as we settle down for a chat over club sandwiches and soup ("I won't slurp too loud while the tape recorder's on, Sunie, I promise").
Here we go, then. What would you have most liked to see 'Koo Koo' do: be well-received critically, sell millions... or is your personal satisfaction with it the most important thing?
"All of the above!"
"Do you really care if it's a critical success or not?" prods Chris.
"Well, I guess not. Critical success doesn't mean that much to me any more. After a while I just gave up reading all the reviews. Good criticism is really valuable, but...
"We're constantly reviewed," declares Chris, "on the basis of some weird conception of what we are as people rather than the work."
But then I suppose that's inevitable, when you have such a strong image. People react to it; that's what it's for.
"But my image over here was created a lot by the press," asserts Debbie, with stunning naivety. The press may have happily flogged the Blondie image for all it was worth, but the creation of it may be more realistically credited to the ceaseless efforts of an untiring publicist and the machinery of a large record company. Back to Chris, who attitude towards the British music press might, with little fear of overstatement, be described as paranoid.
"My image as money-grubbing comes from a vague anti-Semitism, you know. There was that piece about me rubbing Debbie down with dollar bills; it reminds me of some of the ugly poster images of pre-war Germany. We're often subjected to comments like 'You guys are only in it for the bread' which is an insult, not just to us but to the people who like us and buy our records.'
"I'm not stupid. I'm not really smart, but I'm smart enough to have done what I've done, and if I were just in it for the money, I could have taken this whole thing a lot further." This from Debbie. "I mean, Blondie I could have developed into a television show or something! Where do these people come off, pointing their fingers when they hustle their butts to make a dollar?"
Whew! Point taken. How pleased was Debbie with 'Koo Koo', the result of an untried musical pairing between herself and Chris and Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards?
"Very satisfied. Well, we didn't have time to develop all the things we worked on, and I think there's a future for us working together. We had talked to them about music without ever playing together; we knew them socially, but we had never done anything together until the first day in the studio."
"Those guys have never done other people's material before, and never taken direction," Chris points out. "I'd make up bass lines and give them to Bernards and stuff - it was something new for all of us."
What's your favourite song on the LP?
"Oh, I like the whole first side," he replies. "The whole side's really strong, dance-wise, I think."
"I never have a favourite," says Debbie. "In fact, for the last two or maybe three albums, I've liked all the music that's been on them."
Don't you have a fave Blondie song, then? Chris opts for 'Rapture', and Debbie concurs.
"Yeah, 'Rapture'. But with Blondie songs, with performing them a lot, each night a different one would come out better and I'd have a different feeling toward it. One of Jimmy's songs I really like is 'No Imagination'... that, and 'Rapture'."
To go back to the other half of the 'Koo Koo' team for a mo, it's rumoured that Debbie will guest on Chic's UK dates later this year. True?
"Well, they are going to be over here in December. It would be great, but all we've said is 'it would be nice if' and people have built it up, as they always do."
A fine example of this "building up" is Chris and Debbie's supposed backing for Senator Edward Kennedy's campaign for the Democrat presidential nomination. This was looked upon somewhat askance by certain areas of the press over here.
"I went to one party," sighs Debbie. Chris, however, took a keener interest, and says he would support Kennedy again.
"I think he's been the victim of tremendous character assassination by the American press. That's one thing I can identify with," he adds wryly. They both agree, however, that they'd steer clear of playing benefit concerts or anything of that sort.
The eventual winner of the nomination and, of course, loser of the presidency, was Jimmy Carter, the man whose links with the Allman Brothers' label, Capricorn Records, was said to have been behind the grounding of the fledgeling new wave in the USA.
"Oh, those stories," chuckles Chris. "I think Fripp started most of 'em. I thought that Reagan would be more sympathetic to the arts, seeing that he started out feeding monkeys in movies, but at this point it certainly doesn't seem that way; he's making a lot of cuts, and the arts will be the first to go."
Hmm, sounds like a familiar story. Mind you, whatever moves there may have been to block the new wave in America, it didn't stop Blondie from doing very nicely. It's hard not to talk about Blondie in the past tense now, and although another group LP with Mike Chapman producing is on the cards, the days of Blondie as a regular touring group are clearly over. They're all busy; Clem and Nigel were over here recently with singer Michael des Barres, while keyboard player Jimmy Destri is making a solo LP. Frank 'the Freak' Infante has disappeared, maybe to Hawaii or maybe not, and half-joking plans are being laid on how to track him down if he doesn't surface in time for the LP.
What was the most fun you had with Blondie?
"Oh, the last tour over here, the whole Blondie mania thing," they both agree. "The gigs at Deeside" where a standing audience of 6,000 at each of two shows sang along with every song, sat on each other's shoulders and generally acted like the supporters of the winning team at a cup final - they were fantastic. And the in-store appearance on an earlier visit, where they expected maybe a few hundred people and two thousand people showed up at Kensington High Street; they had to block off the road and everything. Fantastic."
The whole story is shortly to be told in the group's own book, an official document of their career up to date, which is nearing completion. They tell me about it, laughing over the tale of Lester Bangs, famous US rock writer and author of an earlier Blondie book, who came over to their place and argued strenuously with Debbie that he knew for a fact that she had not thought up the group's name. The lady in question has now despatched her soup (slurping very little) and is drinking Ovaltine, a treat not to be found in New York. Another favourite is Horlicks ("Old ladies drink it, right? I'm an old lady"), so if you're wondering what to send her for Christmas...
A fondness for chocolate digestives apart, Debbie is leading a very healthy life these days. She doesn't booze much anyway, and even the most socially acceptable of drugs is not on her menu. It shows; her eyes sparkle and she's in good spirits, even gleefully daring, later that day, to venture down to the Venue to see James Chance. This may come as some surprise to those who saw a tensed-up and apparently wired Debbie being interviewed on TV recently.
"Oh, but you don't know what was going on that day, what they did to me! It was while we were making videos for 'Backfired' and 'Now I know You Know' with Giger" (H. R. Giger, the Swiss artist who designed the stunning 'Koo Koo' sleeve)" - he works with four full-time assistants. There was his manager, his manager's wife, Robin Denselow of the BBC comes in with a TV crew of five, plus there's a lady from Newsweek, plus Alan Edwards (publicist) plus Chris Poole (of Chrysalis) - and Giger's house is about the size of this hotel room. We were shooting the BBC thing while we were shooting the video - it was madness! I was totally keyed up."
"I like chaos," murmurs Chris, "being a Capricorn an' all."
"I'm very sensitive to all that; that's why I'm good in front of a band," says Debbie. "I really reflect all the insanity, really out - open - it all comes right through me, whooom."
An inevitable question: what prompted the dumping of the blonde look?
"I dumped the blonde because... I dunno, I just had to do something different. That's all. I got tired of it; I'd had blonde hair from - what - '73, all the way up to 1980. That's a long time to keep bleaching your hair one colour. And how can you stay one way for such a long time? It got so that people were telling me what I should look like. Gimme a break! I wanna become like the chameleon, you know, in 'Chrome'. I wanna do it all, I don't want to do one thing." She grins broadly. "Power!"
I wonder what Debbie's own image of herself has been, throughout the period when the world drooled over its image of her.
"I don't really think about it that much. I try to just do it day by day... When I'm working, I guess it's just an automatic thing; I try to look my best and feel my best, like anyone when they go to work. I never actually picture myself."
Chris declares that one of the nice things about having hit records is that he can dress as sloppily as he pleases; meanwhile, Debbie has been pondering the question. Her eventual reply amuses her mate.
"I guess the only thing I really relate to is my hair. Isn't that odd?"
"The only thing you can relate to is your hair?"
"Yes, I'm a hair fetishist."
"What about the shoes?"
"Shoes and hair. I don't think about my face that much."
A remarkable statement, and one made (lest you doubt it) with total candour, and not a glimmer of false modesty. The good-humoured badinage is fairly typical, too; Mr Stein and Ms Harry share an unusually successful alliance, given that not only are they subjected to the usual showbiz pressures, but that they also work together and are, one supposes, seldom out of each other's sight for long.
"Eight years," reflects Chris. "Well, a lot of people break up because they have separate interests, or because they're in competition; I think both of us doing the same thing makes it really easy. I would recommend husband and wife teams to go into the same things."
"It's never been a situation, thank God, like people like to make out, with Chris as some sort of Svengali, who created me, led me around, hypnotised me and so forth..."
"That's just sexist shit; that's people not wanting to admit that a woman can be powerful without a man telling her what to do. We've always shared things equally, complemented each other, when it comes to making decisions and so on."
Sounds agreeable. Here's another one for you, Debbie: can you imagine ever giving up, or wanting to give up, Being Debbie? Retiring into obscurity?
"I'm a performer; basically, that's what it comes down to. I might not be a pop star any more, that's a possibility; one cannot be a pop star for the whole of one's life. I mean, old pop stars aren't good to look at. For actors, it's different. Perhaps I'll be lucky again and move into acting, which is what I'd like to do. Not to give up music altogether, but to explore a part of me that isn't being used now. The discipline in acting is so different; you have to have total, focal point concentration, whereas in music... you still need a lot of concentration, but it's not so - so small, you know what I mean?"
Do you want to do stage acting?
"Sure; I want to do everything. I'm really an adventurous sort, I must say. I never thought I was, but looking back, I've tried to cram everything I could into my life, and it seems to have done me good, so I'm going to carry on doing it. Is there a challenge that frightens me? No. I feel really fit to tackle anything right now; better than I've felt for a long long time, perhaps in my whole life. The only thing that scares me these days is flying so much: the odds, you know."
A question I'd looked forward to asking, apropos of nothing but because I was simply curious to know, was whether either of them had ever "got religion" - they both lived through the swinging sixties and the craze for things spiritual and pseudo-spiritual; indeed. Chris escaped the draft as a cuckoo case after a particularly bad time with LSD.
"We have our personal religion," says Chris slowly, "and I feel very strongly about it, but I certainly don't subscribe to any sort of organised religion. They're just money-making organisations for the most part; but I do believe very heavily in the spiritual side of life. It's something that you can't really go into in depth in the press because you just get labelled as a kook or a nut or a bullshit artist or something."
"I believe that exercises of the mind, devotion and ritual, are very important. They make you better and they make you stronger, make you feel better inside," breaks in Debbie. "They've always been associated with belief in a Higher Form, but I think that we are it; the important part of religion is that the ritual, and mind-training of a devout nature, make you feel better."
From here we fall to talking about mass gatherings, with Chris recalling the huge meets of the sixties and all of us discussing the recent riots in Britain.
"It's been my ambition for quite a while now," announces Debbie, "to do something similar to what Robert Fripp did in the States, but even more basic; to get a station wagon or a flat truck, with a big battery and a tape recorder and a loudspeaker and just stand on the back of a truck and do my thing in a parking lot; not announce it or anything, just pull in and do it. People would flip out, you know; kids would really dig that."
"We were sleeping one day in our little apartment," recalls Chris, "when all of a sudden, this - god - I thought it was the end - these huge, awesome waves of rock'n'roll came out of nowhere, really loud - much louder than someone with their stereo turned up. It was the Yippies; they had a flatbed truck and they had this sort of Clash imitation band playing. It was 11 on a Sunday morning; the streets were deserted and they had about 300 people following the truck, and they were just driving down the street playing this furiously loud punk rock - it was sooo great!"
"I heard an interesting story the other night," Debbie relates, "about someone who was at the riots in Brixton. He said, 'Oh yeah, it was great - after we heaved a whole bunch of bricks at the police they did this charge and they sounded like Zulus! So after they stopped charging we threw things again, 'cos we wanted to hear them make the noise,' And we were thinking, well if all these kids want to do something together like that, they could pull something off that's really cool, and would give them a much better press. It could be something positive in a weird way, like the Angels in New York" (the Guardian Angels are a group of working class youths who have donned uniforms and taken to patrolling the city's notorious underground system in order to make it safe again for the public) " - they really beat the system, and they got a lot of public support. They took their turf, and that's what those kids are trying to do, but they're doing it backwards; they're doing it wrong. Violence just begets more repression."
And you may say to yourself - well, how did I get here? Beats me, bud - just a minute ago we were talking about Debbie singing off the back of a flatbed truck. Which reminds me; how come the Harry voice sounds different with virtually every new LP? There's a gorgeous throatiness on the first album, f'rinstance, that you won't find on others.
"It definitely has improved a lot since the first album; but producers make a lot of difference, more than I ever used to realise. The huskiness? I honestly don't know, except that I was gigging a lot at that time, and the equipment - it was like screaming through a radio, so my voice could have been really stretched out when we made that record. The best way to sing, technically, is not to sing at all before you go in to record; your throat should be smooth and relaxed. But Ellie Greenwich swears that she sounds best when she's got a cold - everybody's different."
Our rapping time is rapidly running out; the all-important schedule dictates that Chris and Debbie must be off to Capitol Radio soon to record an interview. Chris wants to buy a sweatshirt from the foyer ("Great esoteric value - no-one in New York knows what Capitol Radio is") and acquire some Royal Wedding stickers to take back for friends.
What about Blondie, then? Is the next album actually planned, as in booked up?
"Within nine months," states Chris flatly.
"I don't feel under pressure to do it," declares Debs. "I think it's much better to do something that's good and right and that everybody wants to do than to do it because the record company thinks it's time. I will definitely not do that; you can quote me. And I would love it if you did! I'd like to get back to the feel of the first LP; to get a little ragged, a little rugged with Blondie."
It's definitely on, then, say the pair, though Chris ruefully admits that when Chrysalis puts out a Greatest Hits collection, which they probably will later this year, the "Blondie to split" stories will doubtless start flying all over again.
A final question, then, rendered all the more appropriate by the fact that our interviewees have beaten the air strike by flying home to the big apple on Concorde, which for some reason is unaffected by it all. You both seem to be very down to earth people, not too hung up on the old Rock lifestyle. Does your awareness of "not living in the real world" increase or subside as you grow more successful?
"We've made a conscious effort not to fall into the whole sitting - in - the - back - of - a - limousine trap, and it's a shame that we always get portrayed as that; limousine-crazy or whatever," says Chris, whose usual mode of transport is a small Honda car driven by Debbie. "Debbie gets called out for having a bodyguard, but it really is necessary, at least over here. If she walks into a roomful of people, chances are she'll be grabbed."
"Yeah, I nearly had my chest ripped off once," madam declares with a naughty grin. "Twice, actually. Imagine losing a tit to a total stranger. Just awful!
"People do have a weird idea of how we live, you know," she confides in a more serious tone. "The Star in America ran a story on how our rider (the list of requirements for food in the dressing room and so forth) consisted of things like caviare, spray Evian water, roast duck, champagne - anything they could think of. We were on a macrobiotic diet at the time, and eating just brown rice, sardines and onions religiously every day."
Could anyone in your position, then, with a bit of common sense on their side, keep their feet on the ground?
"Depends on who their managers are, how they handle themselves, how smart they are, how old they are. I think the Beatles and the Stones and all those people got it all very young and were kind of spoilt," says Chris. "We came to it much later, and it means something different to us. It freaks me out a little going out and trying to spend a lot of money."
The last word goes to Debbie:
"We learned to live pretty well on no money; we figured out how to be happy. For two people to get together and to have a good relationship when there's no money is very difficult, because money ruins more marriages and relationships than anything else. Then after going through all the bad times and still being together, being happy, coming through it and being successful was - well, you couldn't ask for anything more. It's like a dream come true."