Smash Hits - 6th-19th March 1980 - Pages 12-13
LITTLE GIRLS SHOULD BE STEIN AND NOT HEARD
Written by: Steve Clarke
Photography by: Virginia Turbett
CHRIS STEIN TALKS - STEVE CLARKE LISTENS
WITH HIS sloppy clothes and horn-rimmed glasses, Blondie's Chris Stein looks perfectly out of place amongst the conspicuous wealth mootching about in the foyer of London's Carlton Towers Hotel in Knightsbridge.
Debbie Harry, bodyguard in tow and wearing a Blondie tour jacket just in case anyone should fail to recognise her, has gone shopping. Chris is waiting for a car to whisk him off to a studio near Marble Arch to okay the final version of Blondie's version of Bowie's "Heroes", recorded live at Hammersmith Odeon for inclusion on the new single.
The white Jaguar arrives. We jump in and resume the conversation...
DESPITE THE continued success of All Things Blondie - singles, albums, gigs, not to mention Ms Harry's picture adorning who knows how many walls, it has not gone unnoticed by some observers that the band seem to have gone as far as they can in their current form.
The Mike Chapman production formula, as Stein will agree, has been milked dry. That great but slick pop just isn't quite as winning as it once was.
Meanwhile it's not just Stein and Harry who're getting their fingers into pies outside Blondie.
"Blondie definitely won't be around in five years time," reveals the likeable Chris, a man who just loves to talk.
Right now extra-Blondie pursuits include Chris and Debbie's involvement in "Union City", a movie set in the 50's; Chris' producing French band, Casino Music; and Debbie's doing the studio honours for a Canadian all girl outfit, The B Girls. And that's not to mention James Destri's playing with Bowie.
"Union City" stars Debbie in the lead role, playing a housewife who can't take it anymore. Chris scored the music.
"It's a subtle, serious movie - almost like an art movie. It may turn into a cult thing like 'Performance'. (A bizarre late 60's gangster film featuring Mick Jagger.) It has a similar look. It's very dense. The colours are very rich.
"The soundtrack is like jazz. It's like period stuff. It's not rock'n'roll. It's very melancholy."
Did he find it more satisfying than working with Blondie?
"In a way. It's more cerebral. It's more organic music. It's all my own thing. I get a little tired of doing rock'n'roll."
"I want to do some other things with Debbie's voice. I wanted to do 'Lili Marlene' (a World War 2 weepie) on this tour. It's a beautiful song. It worries me that a lot of that old stuff is going to get lost.
"I'd like to get away from the beat. I think there's going to be a backlash against the beat in the next few years. Things are going back to jazz. There's already a jazz movement coming out of New York now."
DOES CHRIS find working within the confines of Blondie frustrating?
"No, but I don't think we can do another album in this series. There can't be a third album in this series of very slick songs. The two Chapman albums are similar. We can't do another one like that and everybody knows it.
"I'd like to do some longer songs. I'd like to do something a little avant garde, a little strange. Something a little less commercial."
One possibility as a future producer is good old Giorgio Moroder, famed disco producer of Sparks and Donna Summer. Moroder worked with Blondie on the title song of "American Gigolo", a film directed by Paul Schrieder of "Taxi Driver" fame. The song, "Call Me", was a collaboration between Moroder (music) and Debbie Harry (lyrics).
"It's a very Blondie song," says Chris. "Giorgio listened to a lot of Blondie stuff before we put it together. It's not disco. It's a real hard rock song.
"Giorgio is much more of an experimentalist than Chapman. To me 'I Feel Love' was incredibly innovative. We could do a stranger piece of work with Giorgio."
Doesn't he have any qualms about this alienating Blondie's fans?
"I don't think we'd do anything that would be distasteful to them. I hope anything we did would be a logical step. I've always equated our work with Bowie who's always changed his style. You know, a series of two albums and so forth. All the great groups - The Beatles and the Stones, have changed their style.
"There's so much brain stuff going on in the band that it's very difficult to put it all into one outlet. There will be a much longer gap between 'Eat To The Beat' and the next Blondie album than there was between 'Parallel Lines' and 'Eat To The Beat'.
"We have no real immediate plans. We're gonna collect ourselves in February and work out what to do."
THE DAY we talked was Chris' last day in Britain before returning to New York. He and Debbie live in a $600 a month apartment in the city, "a penthouse, but a real funky rundown penthouse."
"Everybody gets the impression that we live in opulence," he complains. "But we live the same lifestyle we lived three years ago. It's just a little expanded. We're not making a lot of money. We've literally given away a million dollars to get out of bad deals."
Apart from the one date in Paris, Blondie's recent tour was strictly a British vehicle.
"We did it for the record sales, but the primary reason for coming over was for the fans. The reaction's been incredible," says Chris.
Not all the reviewers have been equally knocked out, but most of the knocks in the press are, as far as Stein is concerned, water off the proverbial duck's back.
"Most of those bad reviews are based on some dumb sexuality. Debbie is the victim of a lot of reverse sexism because society is geared to where a woman should be doing a man's role. And it's quite obvious to me that a lot of critic's attitudes are based on this 'How can she do this? How can she go out and expose herself to all these men?'
"At the same time nobody ever mentions all the male groups that do it. Nobody considers Johnny Rotten, or Lydon or whatever his name is, to be... The guy is a sex symbol for a lot of little girls no matter how you swing it. There are little girls who lust after Johnny Rotten. But nobody condemns him for his sexuality. Maybe that's a bad example..."
Does it bother him that people lust after Debbie?
"No. It's always good-natured and I think the way she projects her sexuality comes back. A guy will run up on stage, fight his way through all the bouncers, and having got to her gives her a peck on the cheek. That's happened so many times it's really funny."
Doesn't being together 24 hours a day put a strain on their relationship?
"No. It's much better. I seriously wonder what direction it would have taken if we weren't together. I would recommend to anyone that they get into the same line of work as their partner 'cause it creates so much less competition."
Talking of which, is there never any rivalry between Stein and Ms Harry?
"I don't consider myself a rock star. I'm a musician and a performer. I'm not into the whole rock star syndrome, smashing hotel rooms and killing groupies.
"It bothers the rest of the band to a certain extent, but no more than, say, any of The Stones resenting Mick Jagger being in the limelight all the time. If anything was going to break up the band, it would be everybody wanting to do their own thing."
ALTHOUGH BLONDIE still have a long way to go to achieve the kind of success in America that they've won over here, they now have a sizeable following in The States. "Heart Of Glass" was number one in the US and "One Way Or Another" and "Dreaming" went both Top Twenty.
Chris, however, isn't very interested in improving Blondie's standing on his own turf:
"We can fill out 3,000-seaters in any town in America but the enthusiasm just isn't the same. Everybody's jaded. Everybody sees a million rock concerts. There's so much TV. The American audience is tremendously underestimated as to their sophistication and taste. The result is that they're inundated with a lot of crap.
"Personally I'm very disgusted with the way the new wave is now being handled in America with some of those fake new wave groups, who will remain nameless but we all know who they are. (He is, readers, talking about the likes of The Knack and The Cars.) Their fast promotional campaigns are just ridiculous. It's just taken the vitality out of everything."
What does he like then?
"Unfortunately I'm not that familiar with my contemporaries. I'm always following up weirder and weirder avenues.
"The only contemporaries I'm familiar with are in black music. I'm really turned on by the Two Tone bands. I think Selecter are fantastic. I'd like to get something going like Two Tone in New York but the racial tension is so high in America compared to here that it's so hard...
"I've always wondered what Blondie's acceptance would have been if we had black people in the band. Actually the second runner-up to Clem in the auditions was a Spanish kid. There haven't been white kids in black orientated bands."
So what does he listen to at home?
"I play 'Marlene Dietrich's Greatest Hits!' I play 'Sounds Of Tibetan Buddhism'. It's a series of seven albums really well recorded in Tibet. It has an effect of atmosphere. If you have cats and you put one of those records on they start going bananas. I'm into psychic music and a lot of avant garde stuff.
"I like The Clash a lot. I think Strummer's a visionary. I think he has a heavy overview of the world situation. I think The Clash can serve a great purpose in the next couple of years. They can bring a lot of people together."
On a more down to earth note, what's going to happen when Blondie split? Will you back Debbie as a solo act?
"That could easily happen. We'll always be performing. I'm a victim of the Ike Turner syndrome already," he cracks.