Record Mirror - April 28th 1979
Pages 19, 20, 21, 22, 23
B L O N D I E
5 P A G E
S P E C I A L
P L U S
I N T E R V I E W
Do Blondie have more fun breaking in America than they did here or is the heavy roster of TV spots turning their hearts to glass?
Angered by "inaccurate" articles about them in the British music press the band claim they will only talk to major newspapers that view Blondie's success in a kinder light.
MARK COOPER managed to break into the inner sanctum before the edict became law.
EVER HEARD the one about New Yorkers in Los Angeles? Well there's more than one, as Woody Allen knows, and Blondie have a few on tap.
"LA. Yuk... This place is one big parking lot... it's like walking through an endless supermarket... the pizza here tastes like wafers covered in garlic." (Pizza is essential to the life of any New Yorker.)
Not that NY city is paradise either. Blondie used to spend a lot of time out here on the West Coast at the beginning... "In the Sun/We're gonna have some fun/It's for everyone/In the sun." Cruising the freeways, digging the palm trees and smog sunsets as only New Yorkers can. Half of LA hails from New York anyway.
When the band take a break from filming in the afternoon they zoom out in search of eats - 20 yards up the street to Mooney's Coney Island Hot Dogs. Imported New York, a home away from home.
When Nigel Harrison, the Englishman of the band finished his stint with Silverhead in 1974, he came to Hollywood: "I'd sooner be out of work in Hollywood than in London because it is more glamorous and you can lead the life of a gigolo so much easier. This was my fantasy at the time."
But Blondie are basically village people - they belong to the East Coast rock and roll scene, hippie time in Greenwich Village (though Stein made it to San Francisco's Summer of LOVE), new wave days at CBGB's. Jewish and Italian boys, all those dark NY looks against which Debbie stands framed like a white angel.
The visuals are good and that's why we're filming here in the TV studios this afternoon, doing what most bands do most of the time, hang in a chair or on the telephone, waiting. As you may know, Blondie have been something of a well-kept secret in the US till very recently. Last time they played LA they did the Starwood a club date. Next time will be a summer tour and by then Blondie will be huge.
'Heart Of Glass' is at No 1 on the Billboard chart this week and not yet spent, 'Parallel Lines' No 6. Which should suit Clement Burke whose greatest ambition is a Blondie's Greatest Hits album. When America realises what its got under its noses, its clearly going to go overboard... unless the seductress scares them away.
In the land of cameras, Debbie is queen photogene. As she once told Cosmopolitan: "I happen to have a sensual nature and I suppose it comes out in pictures. My face seems to sell. I can't help that." No kidding.
The face that launched a thousand magazines. Circus, a leading American weekly had Debbie on the cover a couple of weeks back coyly asking, "Is she selling out to chauvinism?" in small letters and blazing out above in capitals: "BLONDIE: NEW ROCK SEX SYMBOL."
While the band and I sit around and wait for the cameras to roll, the publicist is setting up stories and photos with Life and People magazines. Blondie are about to have an American image.
And it's the promoting of that American image that today's shows are all about - three TV appearances, American Bandstand and the Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin chat packages. Lip synchings of 'Heart Of Glass' and the eventual follow up, 'One Way Or Another'.
The TV studio audience are pure middle America, the locusts of the star system. Mostly middle-aged, they don't know who's going to be on the show until they get in the studio. Except Mike Douglas, who they love. He and Griffin are toupee celebrities, famous because they're famous and have a gift for the glib.
Blondie appears between a woman named Lori Anderson who has a fascination for Disney memorabilia and the Down Home chef, a cookery lesson. A visual women's magazine, the ratings are huge. Not exactly a rock and roll environment and fear and loathing is in the air. Frank Infante staggers around looking decidedly ill at ease.
"I suppose I'm just going to have to get used to this," he says. "I really miss playing live, that's what it's all about for me. I can't remember when we last did a live show. And after this we do two weeks' TV promotion and then back to New York to start work on the new album. I'll just have to get used to it."
Nigel Harrison echoes the same lament for live action - after all, Clem still gets to play his drums (you can't fake that) Debbie and Chris are busy enough being the centres of attention. Right now however, promo is the name of the game, signing autographs rather than pulling the strings.
Upstairs in the dressing room everyone gets made up. Debbie in her own room, where she transforms herself from quiet but bubbly Deborah, the beautiful girl next door in jeans and blazer, into DEBBIE HARRY, star. She spends a fair amount of time in conversation with a number of career-type cosmopolitan women discussing make-ups. Shock horror, Debbie does her own ironing!
When I'm introduced into the room, Clement Burke is attempting to play bass and being insulted for his pains by the rest of the band. There's something of a silence when they discover I'm from the English rock press. Then Clem, reputed Anglophile, asks to see recent copies of the Record Mirror and falls to reading - unfortunately encountering the recent Grubby Harry cartoon which for those who recall is not in the best of taste. Chris Stein also gets to see it and it starts him off about the British rock press though he continues to be highly courteous to me.
"OK. Get this down," he says, "The degree of inaccuracy of the reportage of Blondie in the English music press has risen in direct proportion to our
success." Harsh words. Seems another well-known music paper has soured the game for Blondie.
"This guy comes along and seems to want to make us all, into socialists and starts attacking us for being American capitalists and not experimenting," Stein assures me.
"We're not talking to the English music press anymore - it's not worth it. They distort everything we say. From now on we might as well talk to the nationals, a bigger audience and less misrepresentation.
"It seems that one of the trials of success is that you're accused of selling out. In America they like successes. Of course new wave bands aren't supposed to be a success but we're a pop band."
Blondie are obviously in search of the kind of pop credibility that Nick Lowe has. As it is they're been trapped between pop and new wave.
As Burke explained to Circus: "We've suffered the backlash of punk in two ways. At the time it was going on, we suffered because we weren't punk enough. But we never said we were, and that worked against us during the CBGB's craze. We weren't intellectual enough because we liked the Bay City Rollers and that wasn't very chic. Now, because we did play CBGB's, people call us a punk band when all we're doing is making good pop records."
Burke is not ashamed of pop: "I'm an ultimate fan. I'm really into pop ideology - we're basically a pop band. My whole life is consumed by Blondie. If we put out a record, every week I'm looking at the charts."
Chris Stein seems a little worried about retaining his new wave credibility while getting into pop.
'Heart Of Glass' isn't that disco," he opines almost apologetically.
Personally I think 'Glass' and 'Sunday Girl' are Blondie at their best, ballads with a beat, the voice clear as a bell and a shimmering sound. The musical equivalent of Debbie's eyes, large and innocent-looking with a gleam of fun and always shimmering.
But the sellout/success syndrome does seem to pursue them. Blondie are a bizarre combination of cynical humour and lollipop innocence. Debbie and Chris as the experienced duo, the rest of the band young and innocent - in looks at least. Downright cheeky.
Debbie, the Sunday Girl with the Heart Of Glass. "Cold as icecream but still as sweet" on the one hand, the aggressive side on the other who'll get you one way or another or order you to "just go away" when she's bored and then again the 'Pretty Baby', hanging on the telephone for your call.
"Eyes that tell me/Incense and peppermints/Your looks are larger than life/Long live innocence."
People end up wanting them to plump for one side or the other, to satirise pop songs and stay close to their NY Dolls and Runaway roots or to make pure pop for now people. Pop has lost its innocence and anyway probably never had it. Blondie at their best are pop trying to regain their unattainable innocence. Debbie on stage sembles a ruined cocktail waitress trying to recall her days as a cheerleader in highschool.
Blondie seem to have stayed fairly close to their fans. Nigel Harrison's mum (his parents live in Bucks) have a lot of calls asking for autographs. Nigel himself spends a good deal of the afternoon autographing the photos and in particular trying to persuade the others to sign one for a friend of his younger brother without defacing it.
When Blondie appear on stage, finally, they seem a million miles from the audience they are now out to reach. All the boy out in black leather smell of rock and roll and the TV audience know what that means. Lock up your daughters! And Debbie in the middle in short T-shirt, doubling as dress plus see-through silk scarf and black tights is what happens to your daughter when she breaks out.
When she slips on a pair of sinister pair of tourist yellow frame shades the audience are really thrown. They stare aghast while she synchs to 'One Way Or Another'. As she intones "I'm gonna get you, get you" the men back away in their seats, attracted but terrified. When the record finishes Mike Douglas asks Debbie whether the band have calmed down in the last year. She shakes her head.
But probably they have. The smoother they get the better as far as I'm concerned. Time will tell. At the end of this month they reconnoiter with Mike Chapman, producer of 'Parallel Lines' to begin conceiving the next record. No hurry, mind you. 'Lines' in England is getting to be the equivalent of Mac's 'Rumours' a treasure house of singles.
And in America, they'll be taking singles off it for awhile to come. Only hurry being the band's love of playing.
So why has it taken them so long to hit America, with so much class at their disposal? Chris Stein explains.
"Well, we've simply been too busy elsewhere to really start working the States. And then our previous promotion company didn't help. First there was that 'Wouldn't you like to rip her to shreds?' ad campaign which was sexually exploitative to say the least and exploitation is our subject matter, not our trip. Then the 'Blondie is a Group' number which was a defensive campaign. Anybody who knows our music knows we're a group and who ever cares about the rest will just pick up whatever they want anyway?"
And then it's the limo over to the Merv Griffin show to repeat the performance. Legendary rock and roll personality Dick Clark is on the show and is quizzed on his rock and roll lore.
In a room next to the studio Blondie watch the show and get most of the quiz questions right.
Just like you would expect they would.
BLONDIE FROM THE ROOTS
WHEN BLONDIE played their first ever public gig (at CBGB's) they went under the less than compelling name of Angel And The Snake.
As well as Debbie and Chris the band featured two other blonde girl vocalists, Jamaica and Elda, formerly with a band called Pure Garbage, the line-up of which also boasted Warhol acolyte Holly Woodlawn (a drag queen).
The girls eventually left to be soon replaced by two others, not blondes this time, Julie and Jackie, who left to run a punk clothing store. Also, at about the same time their regular bass-player was Fred Smith, later of Tom Verlaine's Television.
The band survived for about a year playing occasional gigs around the seamier Manhattan hang-outs until sixties-clone Clem Burke was brought in to play drums.
At about the same time the group recorded some demo tapes with writer Alan Betrock (New York Rocker and Bomp magazine) which featured something called 'The Disco-Song', reportedly an early version of 'Heart Of Glass' - the tapes are soon to be released as an EP called 'Prototypes' on Car Records).
Next to join were bassist Gary Valentine and keyboard-player James Destri and as several of the floating members left the band became streamlined into a more manageable five-piece. At this time they were still looking after their own business affairs.
They kept playing infrequently around the small New York club circuit when their luck changed at last. Producer Richard Gottherer saw them and secured a deal with Private Stock. In late '76 the band entered Plaza Sound studios in New York and with Gottherer recorded their first single 'Sex Offender' (changed to 'X Offender' in the UK) and the album 'Blondie'.
The album was generally very well received especially in Britain where the band's debut with CBGB's stablemates Television was being eagerly awaited (Televiehensive guide to intellectual rock).
'Blondie' was an album which consisted mainly of the band's stage set during the past year. Debbie's obsession with all girl sixties trios like the Shangri-Las and the Supremes is apparent but on tracks such as 'In The Sun,' 'Kung Fu Girl' and 'Rip Her To Shreds' it mixes with the more romantic elements of a Bernstein musical Manhattan to succeed as one of the most different sounding and most appealing debut albums by any American band of the seventies.
However, the band wasn't ready to undertake a major tour and at Hammersmith, though their performance was energetic (wasn't everyone's) the band played nervously and were ill-at-ease. The reception was less than enthusiastic. A second single 'Rip Her To Shreds' was released to tie in with a short promo visit but both singles and album flopped miserably and the band embarked on a world tour including America (with Iggy Pop), Japan and Australia, and lasting the best part of a year.
Before their next trip here bass player Gary Valentine had left to form his own band The Know and Blondie had been bought out of a very unhappy recording situation by Chrysalis.
In the studios for the second time with producer Gottherer they recorded a second album 'Plastic Letters' and still without a bass-player they recruited an old friend of Clem's, Frank "The Freak" Infante, to stand in on bass. The line-up was expanded again when British born Nigel Harrison was brought in to become their permanent bassist. Frankie stayed on to contribute second guitar.
The second album displayed a marked shift towards a more keyboard orientated sound as Destri began to experiment with polyphonic synthesizers and toned down the use of his instantly recognisable Farfisa organ sound. The songs were just as strong as on the first album but the set, though less well received critically did far better commercially (it still hovers at around number 40 in the album charts).
A third single 'Denis' (a former hit by Randy And The Rainbows) was released to coincide with the band's first headlining British visit and soon shot to number two in our top 10.
After a few false starts Blondie had at last arrived.
Debbie doll images were everywhere. Merchandising men plastered her Cleo-like features onto badges, T-shirts, posters or carrier-bags. You could even buy a bar of soap or a coffee-mug with her impression on it.
Gary Valentine left them a gem of a song called 'I'm Always Touched By Your Presence Dear' which gave the band their second top 10 hit and they returned home flushed with their new found success to record the follow-up album with prolific pop star-maker Mike Chapman, of Chinnichap fame.
With 'Parallel Lines', recorded at the Record Plant, New York, Chapman succeeded in condensing the group's ideas into a much more accessible album which almost consisted of 12 (hit) singles. Apart from the band compositions it featured two songs by Jack Lee, formerly with LA band the Nerves, one of which 'Hanging On The Telephone' was to become yet another top 10 hit. Also former King Crimson leader Bob Fripp was found to be nonchalantly soloing on Chris Stein's 'Fade Away And Radiate', another Blondie death-song.
'Picture This', 'Hanging On The Telephone', and the superbly timed release 'Heart Of Glass' (originally built around a rhumba rhythm machine) were all released as singles and all became British hits, 'Heart Of Glass' staying in number one spot for three weeks.
Amazingly, considering their phenomenal success over here Blondie took a while to catch on in their home country although at last they have a disco-hit there with 'Heart Of Glass' which is still in the top 10 singles chart.
The band have a new single released on May 4, taken again from 'Parallel Lines', 'Sunday Girl' b/w 'One Way Or Another' and are currently in New York working on their next album again with producer Mike Chapman.
Blondie have never really taken a stance on anything other than writing good commercial pop songs which contain some of the most memorable and simplistic melodies of the seventies. If they have ever employed a motto it would be that emblazoned upon the chests of their roadies on the Blondie T shirts, simply, "Blondie Is A Group."
Born in Miami, Florida, Debbie Harry's singing career began with a band rejoicing under the name The First National Unaphrenic Church And Bank. An art-school modern-jazz group who became enmeshed in neo-hippie idealism and quickly folded after cutting an album called 'Psychedelic Saxophone' in 1967.
After that she spent a year with Wind In The Willows who made two albums for Capitol, one of which was never released.
When they split up Debbie spent the next five years kicking around America taking various jobs including that of beautician, health spa instructress, bunny girl and waitress at Max's Kansas City (in New York).
She didn't start singing again until late '73 when spurred on by the new glam/punk music coming out of the artier side of New York she became part of the very Spectoresque Stilettoes who she eventually tired of and took half of the band to form the basis of Blondie mark 1.
Superficially acting out the role of rock'n'roll's Monroe she is the perfect Blondie for Chris Stein's Dagwood. She is also adamant that Blondie is a group and not just a forced sexual image. As she said in an early interview: "I'm an American girl. I've been watching movies and TV since I was very young and I was brought up on image. The lead singer is always the focal point of any band. But we are They, not She."
In complete contrast to the stereotyped dumb doll she sometimes portrays, Debbie Harry is usually a very serious, intelligent woman who reads effusively (especially autobiographies) and takes an avid interest in all of the arts, films and painting in particular.
She does, however, conform to certain preconceptions of the rock'n'roll lifestyle, like lying about her age: "My published age is 33 but I think most people lie about their age when they pass 25. Being in this business makes things worse because the accent is on youth, so it's crucial that I should be marketed in the right way."
It is to her credit that she has always realised that the best way to get the band's music over is visually, and though she has been heavily criticised by the bitch machine, she has always been perfectly frank about her views: "People view Blondie in terms of music and more in terms of the way I look. All I know is that I've always tried to stimulate interest in this group through what ever channels possible. I've used whatever advantages I might have to sell records. I used the Marilyn image a lot in the early days because it was convenient and made for easy reference. But I'm not at all like Monroe. She got sort of lost inside, I have more creative outlets."
Although she admits that she doesn't really see herself as being particularly musical she has contributed to some Blondie pop classics such as 'Love At The Pier', 'I'm On E', 'Just Go Away' and their disco smash 'Heart Of Glass' and as well as writing both words and music to some of the killer tracks of their debut album: "The lyrics, which were always third person transexual anyway, are
improving all the time. I was always a Walter Mitty character and that whole romantic detachment is beginning to show in the songs."
Apart from breaking several musical barriers she has managed to become somewhat of a leader of fashion too, wearing hot pants on her first British visit and being instrumental in starting the craze for thigh-length leather boots but she has managed not to become type-cast where clothes are concerned and looks equally comfortable as a Chinese peroxide in a sequinned Zandra Rhodes creation or very "New York '77" in black dungarees with matted fading bleached hair and fifties shades.
She's also keen on sports and lists among her favourites swimming, volleyball, tennis, golf, skating and bicycling. She has great
respect for fellow east coasters the New York Dolls and Iggy Pop and also has an affection for the Runaways, the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Talking Heads and Devo. She recalls her favourite time as "playing the Palladium, New York City."
Debbie is presently planning to star as Natasha Von Braun in the remake of Jean Luc Godard's 'Alphaville' which will be directed by underground film-maker Amos Poe and Chris Stein.
Chris Stein has the unenviable task of having to live out the role of Mr Debbie Harry.
Chris spent his adolescence submerged in the basements of Brooklyn in such esoterically named combos as the Morticians, First Crow To The Moon and the Magic Tramps between 1965 and '73. He attended art school in the late sixties where he became interested in photography.
He joined the embryonic Stilletoes in October '73 while they were still being fronted by three girls trying to be the Shangri-Las, but the band had several musical shortcomings and Debbie left a year later, taking the band and Chris with her, and leaving the other two girls stranded.
For a time Chris Stein led a successful part-time career as a photographer before Blondie signed a recording contract and it was he and Debbie who masterminded the startling visuals which have contributed to their success. He co-wrote 'Heart Of Glass' and the new single 'Sunday Girl' by himself.
His Devo-like arm movements and Townshend thrashes are an integral part of any live concert and he is the group member most influenced by modern disco and machine music. Also being very interested in the New York Mercer Arts culture his favourite humans include artists Arturo Vega and Stephen Sprouse and he claims his favourite album is 'Girls', by The Girls.
James Destri is the sole crusader for the return to the distinctive but less sophisticated sound of the buzzing Farfisa organ. His individualistic twiddlings decorated such early Blondie classics as 'Kung Fu Girls' and 'In The Sun' and his over all command of everything from an upright piano to the most complex synthesizer isn't bad for a man who says that his first instrument is drums.
Previously with a band called Knickers, Destri was the last member to join the Blondie who recorded the first album and the single 'Sex Offender' and contributed to the success of the band songwriting-wise with 'Contact In Red Square', 'Fan Mail', '11.59', and the hit single 'Picture This'. Together with producer Richard Gottherer he helped to give Blondie that distinctive sixties sound which has inevitably led to comparisons with sixties producer Phil Spector.
BOrn in Brooklyn, Destri attended the local John Jay and New Utrecht high schools and during the early seventies was frequently seen amongst the audience at seminal New York club CBGB's (country, bluegrass and blues). It was here one night that he saw a band with three blonde girl vocalists and asked to join. The Stilletoes as they were then called hadn't previously contemplated having a keyboards player and a pianist was a rare thing on the incestuous New York club scene so Destri was willingly accepted.
Aged 24 he usually acts as musical arranger for the band and has recently been involved, with Clem Burke, in some production work on projects of old Hollywoodite Kim Fowley.
He lists among his favourite bands, King Crimson, the Beatles, the Young Rascals, Cream, Procol Harum and the Doors. He was also once linked romantically with ex-Runaway Joan Jett.
Nigel Harrison is the only British member of Blondie. Hailing from Stockport, he played with Aylesbury-based Farm, the glittery heavy-metal band Silverhead and ex-Door Ray Manzerak's band Nite City before joining Blondie in November '77 when he was flown to New York on impulse and asked to learn two album's worth of material in two days. In between jobs varied from being a bumper-car operator in an amusement park to working as a foreman for the BBC.
Harrison has so far only featured on 'Parallel Lines' but did contribute one song 'One Way Or Another' which he co-wrote with Debbie Harry.
He now lives next door to extinct legend Kim Fowley on Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, and lists among his heroes Michael Des Barres (ex-Silverhead vocalist), Iggy Pop, David Jones, the Pretty Things, the Move, and the Doors - "Paisley shirts are my whole trip."
FRANK 'THE FREAK'
Previously with New Jersey powerchord bands The End, Rocks, and World War III, Frank Infante was apparently a legendary character who just happened to be hanging around New York doing nothing when Blondie went into the studio to record their second album in October '77. After being introduced to the band by Clem, Frankie was commandeered to bass on the album as former bass-player Gary Valentine had left in the midst of some personal disagreements.
Proving to be the most happy-go-lucky member of the band Frankie was also somewhat of a guitar hero and when Nigel Harrison was imported to play bass Frankie stayed on to contribute second guitar, filling out the band's sound live whilst slipping in the odd Stones lick here and there.
Nicknamed "The Freak" because of his habitually death-white pailor Frankie's addition to the band has given them a much raunchier feel live and he also contributed the song 'I Know But I Don't Know' to 'Parallel Lines.'
He describes his favourite state of mind as "stoned" and lists his favourite all-time bands as the Stones, Jimi Hendrix and the Sex Pistols.
Clement Burke came to Blondie via a New Jersey rock band called Sweet Revenge replacing former drummer Billy O'Connor who had left to attend law school. Prior to this he was in a band called Total Environment whose only claim to fame is that they reached the finals of 'Cousin Brucie's Battle Of The Bands' show at New York's Carnegie Hall.
Clem says that his greatest influence was Who drummer Keith Moon and they both share a style of drumming which can best be described as playing as much as you can where and whenever you can.
Generally acknowledged as being the coolest member of the band, Clem is the one most likely to be seen "hanging out" and probably would be sporting an early sixties look although he is still only 23.
He came into Blondie at a difficult period in the band's life. The personnel seemed to be changing almost daily and in fact on Clem's first gig the bass player Fred Smith, left to replace Richard Hell in the now defunct Television.
With keyboard player Jimmy Destri he has contributed most instrumentally to the band's sound. His crisp and concise style of drumming is as immediately recognisable as Debbie Harry's own voice. Among Clem's ambitions are to make a movie and see a 'Blondie Greatest Hits Album'.
He will also admit to a liking for the Runaways, Cockney Rebel and The Bay City Rollers.