Record Mirror - June 30th 1979
Pages 6 & 27
Have you seen your lover, baby?
RONNIE GURR, standing in the shadows with Chris Stein
NEWPORT, BRADFORD, Scunthorpe, Hawick, everybody's talking 'bout Blondie and pop music.
Wanna laugh? Get this, a slogan from the past that hangs perilously like old Damocles' sword - 'Blondie Is A Group'. Silly of course and once you've picked yourself up from the floor you'll realise that in the minds of the masses Blondie and all things related revolve around the pert little peroxide pup who is the pouting dream in every heartache of a home. Deborah Harry, this is your life.
Perhaps a few of the hipper cats amongst all you worshippers will able to rattle off the rootsy one's back-up band and for that you are to be congratulated for your stand in the vast minority, the whole weighty media campaign having shot right over your head.
Time was slack last week. The cleaners were heavily Hoovering the otherwise empty office when the call came through. Chris Stein is hanging on the other end of the transatlantic telephone, his polite tones highlighting the fact that he is the veteran of numerous trials by the phone. Chris Stein? Sorry kids, Chris is one of those darksuited slickers that play behind Ms Harry, he lives with the Doris and as such is the man most likely to... Chris plays... eh bass... no, guitar, is, as stated a vet of the interview situation and is a comparative nonentity. Perhaps though I am being too unfair on the man.
It's two in the afternoon local time, rehearsals hadn't wound down until the same time that morning and perhaps Debs had given the boy a hard night so let's just settle back and listen in to what the boy from New York City has to say about living in the shadows of the public eye. I put it to the lad that the whole image schtick that has elevated his old lady to near
goddess status must have had some detrimental effects on the other five.
"On an image level," drawls Stein, "that's only superficially true. The fans, record buyers and people who like the group all know the band. We're always being asked by newspapers 'How come everything focuses on Debbie?', then they put a picture of her on the cover."
The tone here is one of slight distaste.
Justifiably astute to a certain extent (see the cover of this issue). The whole argument, however, revolves around the fact that, despite Chris and crew being almost singlehandedly responsible for the recent pop rebirth, their sales point, who now refuses to have parlance with the press, is undeniably the face that launched a thousand fantasies.
Due to publicist's record company's and generally the organisation's push we are forced to use her curves on the cover. Besides, could you really imagine one of the Italiano wideboys gracing and selling anything bar Dermatologist's Monthly?
I ask if the press are to blame and Stein, almost too courteously retracts saying that, "no-one is to blame really." He continues: "I wouldn't say that it's a bad thing. These people that say being a pin-up is capitalist decadence are talking bullshit. Every performer uses his or her sexuality to some extent. Rock 'n' roll is a sensuous art level, its synonymous with sex."
Not a bad thing? Why, then, the near hysterical 'Blondie Is A Group' campaign of a year or so ago?
"That wasn't our idea," reveals CS, "it was the record company's. I felt it was a defensive statement which would have been better unsaid."
The explanation of this obvious angle shows that Stein is happy exploiting his old lady to the hilt, smug in the knowledge that a goodly share of the tunes are his. Perhaps the future will change things. I doubt it however. It's only too easy to stay in the background when the greenies are rolling in. The price small, the rewards large until you land back on your bottie.
At the moment though the future looks more than rosy. Debs has just finished her first feature film. Entitled 'Union City', Stein describes it as "a '50's psychological thriller" starring "nobody else famous."
Then there's the new album which "will almost certainly be called 'Eat To The Beat'... no relation to food, the title's just an abstraction."
Wow! Rumours are abounding that the album, taking no chances and coining in on the worldwide success of 'Heart Of Glass' will be a disco orientated work.
"That is not true," asserts Chris, "there is one disco orientated thing but it's more on a comedy, parody level. There's more heavy hard rock songs and in a way it's more like the first album. There's a song a bit like 'X Offender', and there's a song a bit like 'Detroit 442'. I'd say that it's better than the last album (of course, Chris) basically because we've had more time and more energy. That time has been bought with the success we've enjoyed around the world."
The Americas, strangely had resisted the insidious Blondie beat until the left-field 'Heart Of Glass' came along. Why, Chris, Why?
"We always knew it would happen here and the success we had overseas made it impossible for us to be ignored here. The success in Europe came because we spent so much time over there, simply because in '77 there was no market for new wave music in the United States, whereas in England people were more willing to listen to our music. The resistance over here though is lessening all the time. The last six months has seen radio programmers loosening their attitudes a bit and as a result the radio here has become a little less bland."
Stein attributes the comparative late developement of Stateside Blondiemania to the size of the country and to the fact that there are regional tastes, and whereas in the US the country and black music markets are both billion dollar industries in this country all music is taken on one level.
"Whereas in New York there might be 30 or 40 radio stations in London you might have three or four with a greater diversity of music. It's a lot easier to get locked into one kind of music over here."
Didn't the switch from the now bankrupt Private Stock label to the lucre of Chrysalis hold back things in America? Tastefully and after careful consideration he replies that the whole affair is "a long story. Private Stock was not primarily a singles label..." ... But Blondie are a singles band... well they weren't anything but a one off hit singles label and unless you had a hit right away they didn't know what to do with you."
Enter Chrysalis with astonishing cheque and the rest, as they say, is pop history.
What are the other kids in the band getting up to without the confines of the band?
"Well, Clem (Burke, who somewhat astutely plays 'Premier' drums) is doing session work with Rod Stewart's bass player, uh, I can't remember his name (Philip Chen). Jimmy (Destri, the keyboard Blondie) is producing a band called The Student Teachers. Frank (Infante, fellow guitarist) is jamming mostly."
Stein fails to mention what Nigel Harrison the English bass Blondie is up to. Perhaps he forgot that, ahem, 'Blondie Is a Group.' He then reveals that he himself is producing a Walter Stedding, a Red Star artiste who plays "real free music, crazy, jazz type stuff."
The five are also becoming the band's mouthpieces, though if you recall Stein was quoted in these pages as saying that the band were sick of the Brit rock Press and they wouldn't speak to any of the rotters again. So there! Na-na-na-na-na! I question Stein on the issue.
"As a journalist you should know that everything you read should be taken with a grain or pound of salt as the case may be. That guy was nice and all but you have to remember that we only talked for about 15 minutes. It's difficult to talk about the Press without being specific. Generally your Press serve a great function for new bands because they can get exposure at a national level and that doesn't happen here," states Stein grovelling somewhat.
His veneer of politeness flaws when I broach the subject of a fellow journalist who penned a cutting piece on Debbie's seedy past, alleging that she had been a streetwalker and a junkie.
"That guy is a speed freak, you shouldn't believe all that shit he wrote. I think he's a good writer, eloquent and all but he's just an idiot who's filled with hate and animosity. He's just jealous of me and Debbie because he's nowhere and he needs to get his thrills by writing something vicious and snide every week," slams the man.
He reiterates the point as firmly before closing the conversation.
I ask if the allegations of Ms Harry's past are unfounded.
"You mean was Debbie a streetwalker and a junkie?," asked the boy who's wild about Harry.
He pauses then, "Not as far as I know personally," he replies a mite dubiously, then wanders back into the rigours of preparing for the band's first major US tour.
Blondie will be back in this country to do gigs in September or October. She'll probably be bringing her band with her too.
THIS WEEK a reader writes to ask our advice about what to do with those very popular posters of Debbie Harry we used to have in the centre pages not so long ago. We have tried to help her with her problem though of course we understand that at time we fail to be quite as astute and perceptive as we might like. If you have any further suggestions on this readers please write and tell us.
I HAVE now got all your Deborah Harry posters displayed on my bedroom wall. I collected the series and they have been turning slowly brown ever since. The problem is that when my boyfriend first saw them he exclaimed that he wanted to 'do things' with them. Immediately, I got the wrong end of the stick and we had a pillow fight which resulted in one of the posters being torn. I managed to replace it and he finally explained that he wanted to doodle all over Debbie. Now, I don't really mind but the thing is that you can only doodle so much and eventually she has ended up looking like Kermit, Basil Fawlty and Adolf Hitler all rolled into one. My Mum says the thing to do is put a plastic sheet up over the poster and keep doodling on that and changing it over. My boyfriend says that this doesn't give him quite the same thrill. What am I to do?
Of course, this must be a problem. I guess it's at times like this when someone like your local MP could probably help. Anyway, any suggestions will be welcome and as this is only one of the many fascinating letters we've to go through let's move on.