Record Mirror - February 2nd 1980
- Page 7
PIC BY ANDRE CSILLAG
Now we can get back to those sexist headlines. Debbie Harry knows you need that to front a band but don't forget the music and songs. ROSALIND RUSSELL tries not to.
TAKING A voluntary stroll into a smack in the mouth isn't an exercise I would normally undertake. In fact, under the circumstances, I think it would be reasonable to expect an attack of clammy hands.
On my way to Blondie's knightsbridge hotel, I had a heated argument with myself about the ethics of standing by what I'd already written. And if Chris Stein and Debbie Harry chose to lay me out for the courage of my convictions, well, at least I'd taken the honourable path. Right?
Since I heard they wanted to talk to me about the feature I'd written on sexism, I'd assumed the worst - that they hated the story, particularly the references to themselves, and that they wanted to point out the error of my ways. When I found I wouldn't be allowed to take a photographer, I thought maybe they didn't want any witnesses. Talk about the fevered imagination.
The worst that happened to me was that I wasn't allowed to smoke - neither Chris or Debbie indulge. Chris Stein loped into the room, he's a genial rounded sort of person, older looking than I'd expected, and wearing large rimmed spex that made him look a little owlish. I found later that Debbie had chosen them for him - she grinned wryly at the admission, and thought yes, perhaps they were too big for his face.
I eased carefully into the questions, hoping (shamefully) that he'd forgotten all about my sexism soapbox. I asked him if he thought that Blondie had been in the UK so long perhaps they might have been overexposed to the adoring public.
"To a certain extent yes," agreed Chris. "We've been here nine weeks. I hope that last series of three concerts at Hammersmith wasn't too tiring for the audiences. I felt that they weren't our best. But I thought it was better to do a series of concerts there rather than play Wembley, which is too big.
"And I suppose it was a little dangerous for Debbie, having two support bands with girls in them."
That was on the last night, when they played with Selecter and Holly And The Italians. But dangerous...? I tried to ask why, but Chris ignored the question and went on: "We wanted The Beat to play with us, but they said they only wanted to play stand up venues. In fact, we would prefer that too."
Everyone had gone out to celebrate the last night of the tour at some seedy drinking club. The band didn't stay long, but as some friends lingered there, Big John the bodyguard stayed on. Not for long though. While he was getting some fresh air outside, a cab driver friend stopped to tell him that some hoods with shooters were on their way round to settle a grievance with the club owners. Big John got his charges out... fast.
"We're doing our celebrating in New York," said Chris. "And we're going to watch all the videos we made of the shows. We can't watch them here because they were made on American equipment."
They also have to work out the songs for their next album.
"We have no new material written for Blondie. And we can't do another series of singles. The next album has to be different. I'd like to do longer songs."
I told him I was interested to see how they'd put Clem Burke to the side of the line-up onstage, instead of at the back, where drummers usually sit. Was that part of their "Blondie is a group" campaign?
"No, it was to offset Jimmy (Destri's) mass of stuff. I don't know how happy Clem was about that, I think he prefers to be at the back. All that stuff about 'Blondie is a group', that wasn't our idea. That was the previous management's. I considered that an overstatement and an embarrassment, and that's the truth of it."
Debbie, however, will be the sole star of the film 'Union City' which will be released around February/March. Chris wrote the music.
"I'm very proud of it," he told me. "But the song 'Union City Blues' is not in the film. The music is avant garde jazz, it's not going to be a 'Quadrophenia', so I wouldn't like the fans to expect that. It's a sad movie, a tragedy. Debbie is a great actress, she has a lot of stage persona, she knows how to use body English. When they showed the film to me, I was very nervous about seeing it, but she was great."
At that moment, the star of the movie walked in to the room. Her hair was so bright, I felt myself fading into the wallpaper. In the same way as her stage presence is kind of understated, I felt she was a bit shy of strangers. She has a disconcerting way of tilting her head back when she's listening to a question, and watching, unblinking, with intense pale eyes.
As I was blundering around, trying to get a question out, Stein piled in.
"I liked your story on sexism, I was hoping you'd want to talk about that," he said pleasantly.
Cough. Oh that. Yeah, well one thing that occurred to me when I was at the Blondie gig, was what was going through Debbie's mind while all the photographers were giving themselves hernias, trying to take pictures of her knickers.
"I didn't really notice," she answered. "I don't pay much attention to them. I have noticed in the past, their little gestures. That's really a deep problem of modern society. It worries me on a broad level. It's very frustrating that they see me as a sex symbol and not as a performer and a writer. Only one writer, in New York, has ever written about my lyrics..."
"Oh no, there have been more than that Debbie," put in Chris.
"Well, not a lot," she went on. "It doesn't bother me as much as it used to," she said. "I'm pleased when something nice comes out. I get an awful lot from what I do. I really feel good about it. I'm thrilled to be loved by so many people."
But who does the pin-up put on her wall? Well, when she was into pin-ups that is.
"My heroes were all the major rock stars," she laughed. "But I also liked Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin."
Coming into the music business, lots of illusions can be shattered. Quite a few of mine didn't survive the first year.
"Well, since coming into it, I realised that people are just people," said Debbie. "The hype is not the person, that's just crazy."
"Take David Bowie," said Chris. "He's a great guy. He's aloof, but once he opens up and you get to know him, he's really nice. He's not the alien, space creature he appears to be."
Both Chris and Debbie remembered their first meeting with Bowie, in Canada in '77. They drove up from New York overnight, to appear on a show with him.
"We'd been warned not to pester him in the dressing room," laughed Debbie. "But he came and talked to us."
But Debbie Harry isn't at all how you'd expect her to be either. For instance, I didn't know she could play drums. On the last Monday night gig they did at Hammersmith, Clem Burke didn't come directly back onstage for the encore, so Deb took his place.
"I just jumped on, but I wasn't very good," she laughed. "In Iran, they'd cut off your hands for playing like that..."
"But what about your sexism idea?" persisted Chris. "I'd like to ask you something. Look at Chrissie Hynde with the Pretenders - I think they're great - if she stops wearing trousers all the time, or if she shows a shoulder, will everyone say that's sexism? I think that a lot of the backlash Debbie is getting is because men don't want to see her in a man's role..."
"You cannot be commanding as a woman, even though you may be right," agreed Debbie. "Women have traditionally been the front for a band, the gloss. When I was learning the technique, when I first started singing, I was going with a drummer. We'd sit and watch women singers on TV, analysing their performance. Some women would be gorgeously dressed, look great, and then they's open their mouths and make a noise like a truck. That's not a woman's creation of music. The arts should be at least one area where men and women should be equal."
Whatever you think of Debbie, you'll agree that her singing does not resemble a truck. And I say good luck to her in her struggle to get people to appreciate her performance as well as her legs. I left her signing a huge pile of copies of 'Parallel Lines', rather relieved that her hand would suffer only writer's cramp, and not a pain from connecting with my nose.