Sounds - 8th July 1978
L O N
D I E
A G R O
I N S I S T S D A V E F U D
G E R
(SOMEWHAT THWARTED AGAIN BY AL 'WHAT'S HIS SECRET?' LEWIS, WHO CHOSE THE PIX)
ABOUT THREE months ago Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were homeless when their apartment was gutted by fire. They are currently living at the Gramercy Park Hotel in trendy lower Manhattan, while they try to find another apartment. This was the location for the following interview.
First, a little information/opinion.
Blondie is a group, but there's no denying that Chris Stein and Debby are the pivotal forces in the group. Chris with Jimmy Destri writes the bulk of the nifty sixties hybrid ditties for Debbie to cupie doll cheesecake with. In spite of the tireless (rentless, more like) efforts of the group's PR man Toby Namecheck, Deb and Chris are the most talkative and assertive spokespeople for the group, very much reinforcing the Namecheck analogy with Ike & Tina Turner.
Stein certainly ain't the tyrant he is often said to be and from what I can gather the group is certainly no less democratic than any other I've met, a factor that is no doubt responsible for the band's ability to progess musically so comfortably.
I'd been told by a gossip lover that the group's management was endeavouring to seperate Deb and Chris off from the other four Blondie's, to in fact create two units. When I questioned bassist Nigel Harrison about this, he was clearly mystified, the current arrangement seemingly suiting him quite well.
AT HOME Debbie and Chris are almost production line American - you're left wondering just how much the naming of the group had to do with Debbie's hair colouring and how much it may have had to do with a certain American comic book institution.
Chris eats fun-type foods and plays with a skate board, while Debby does minor domestic numbers, tidying their modest suite and trying on different tops. Neither seems to have any particularly heavy axe to grind, they have that childlike quality peculiar to Americans, a gushing, gossipy manner native to New York, and a corniness and hilarity that would make their livingroom a perfect scenario for a TV sitcom. In fact many times during the interview I felt as if I'd walked into a Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Their musical history goes back a long way and some of their yarns are comic and truly enlightening. Theirs and the group's philosophy is quite simple - they wanna get rich, sure, but they also wanna have fun, after ten or more years trying they have still retained a degree of naivete and a lot of enthusiasm.
Join us now in the middle of a debate about their touring strategy (the lighter stuff comes later).
IT WAS THE RECORD company's idea to have us do the world tour as fast as possible rather than concentrate on the States. In a way it's sort of paid off because it's hard to break here, I mean the Ramones have been here plugging away the whole time we've been gone and we come back with all these gold record and they're still here, you know, hauling ass.
"I mean I don't think we're any better than the Ramones, they're fantastic. Those guys are completely valid and I think they could do as good as we could, they could do as good as anybody, as good as The Rollers," said Chris.
Maybe it's because they haven't really developed or changed much.
"Yeah, well we changed. They're changing drummers."
This was in fact the day of Tommy's last gig with The Ramones - a benefit for one of the Dead Boys.
"We're going after the show. We're supposed to be going to Studio 54, but screw that."
I'd been told prior to leaving England that Debbie was to star in a horror movie, a Hammer horror flick no less, and that Chris was to score the sound track.
Chris: "I think that's fabulous, I'd be so happy... Hammer has not approached us. That would be one of my main objectives in life, I'd love to do that. I'm dying to meet Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, they're two of my biggest idols, the team of Cushing and Lee are just brilliant. I would love to do that, it would be fantastic.
"No, never heard about that. That would be fabulous." (To Debbie) "Did you hear about what we were gonna be in... that I was gonna do the music for a Hammer horror film, and you were gonna be in it?
CHRIS: "I can't think of anything I'd rather do at this point. I could do great horror movie music."
DEBBIE: "You don't know how long we've been watching Christopher Lee."
CHRIS: "I used to be in a Christopher Lee fan club when I was a little kid."
DEBBI: "Barbara Steel..."
CHRIS: "Yeah, Barbara Steel..."
DEBBIE: "Barbara Steel shows up in a lot of Italian movies, right?"
CHRIS: "She was one of my idols..."
DEBBIE: "Chris always whacks off when he sees Barbara Steel on TV... (Laugh)
CHRIS: "Who is she going out with? Somebody really famous in Hollywood... some big name somebody. She's going out with Robert Redford or someone like that."
DEBBIE: Really? That's great. She must have a wonderful sense of humour."
CHRIS: "Well, his teeth, you know... "
About the new album...
CHRIS: "It's gonna be once again completely different..."
DEBBIE: "Yeah it's gonna be really fresh, 'cos we don't have any songs written, except for two" (chuckles)
CHRIS: "No, we have about six songs for it, we're gonna do some more immediate spontaneous type stuff, and we'll probably have some songs where everybody has a writing credit on them too."
DEBBIE: "We're gonna do a punk song in honour of Frank the Freak - we're gonna call it 'Wreck Everything', that's his motto."
(Guitarist, Frank 'the Freak' Infanti). "He's got us thrown out of hotels all over the world. Good old Frank."
CHRIS: "Yeah he thinks he's Led Zeppelin, only he can't afford it... "
DEBBIE: "He only weighs 98 pounds... "
THEY HAD JUST recently met Neil Levenson, the guy who wrote 'Denis' way back in 1963, and he offered them the song he wrote as a follow up to 'Denis', which they were going to listen to for possible inclusion on the new album. 'Denis', although a massive hit in the UK did nothing in the States, which Chris blames fairly on the group for not touring, but Chris and Debbie have no real fondness for American radio.
CHRIS: "Yeah, it's ridiculous here, the radio now is completely dominated by Southern rock - all these kick-ass sounds - I mean, I don't even mind the Bee Gees compared to some of this other crap. You just get all this for hours and hours: 'I'm a rock and roll outlaw, rolling down the road...' you know, all this shit, it goes on endlessly.
"Johnny Winter sort of started this whole thing... I don't know if he actually started it, it's just that it started in that period 69/70, Johnny Winter first came out with all that guitar, kick-ass, Southern, boogie thing. That's all you hear on the radio now. That's it.
"The reason that the Patti Smith song "('Because The Night')" is doing so well here, is because it fits into that format. It does have that kick-ass guitar sound and everything. They're all totally horny for Bruce Springsteen here as well. They're all dying for Bruce to come out again. He's gonna be the new Stevie Wonder, work on his next record for three years and put out a triple album.
Your album won't be a triple album?
DEBBIE: "We'll be lucky if we get one side at this rate... we're doing a ten-minute version of 'Hari Krishna'
But, seriously the recording business these days requires a great deal of preparation?
CHRIS: "There's a phenomenon that we discuss all the time, the climate of the business has changed so much since the sixties. In the sixties you could go to a record company and you could say 'I have an idea for a band' and they would say 'OK, kid sounds like a good idea, here's twenty thousand dollars, go get a house in the woods and get it together. Come back in six months with a tape. 'Now you have to have your whole act together, you have to go to a record company now with a record, 'Here's my single. I got the band, I got the press, I got the concept.' Everything, and then maybe they'll take you, which was the case with us and with nearly all the New York groups. We were all established, all getting press before the record companies would ever come down and look at us."
DEBBIE: "There's a festival of very weird groups going on right now, at 105 Hudson Street. Groups, I mean I don't have a list, but there's a bunch of groups like the Gynaecologists and they're very into art rock sort of groups. Electrified beatniks."
CHRIS: "You see the art scene is really thriving alongside the punk rock scene, it's like there's three things that are called the same - art rock, punk rock and new wave, you tend to get things in all three categories happening here in New York. You can't do anything that original anymore, you just have to synthesize different things and put it together, most big acts have done that."
Chris should know, being a far more successful plunderer of sixties rock than either Elvis Costello or Nick Lowe.
BLONDIE HAVE suffered a little bit from a turn around on the part of the British music press on the occasion of their last visit to England, Tony Parsons of the NME gave them a particularly hard time.
CHRIS: "Well, one of the elements inherent - see Nigel, being English explained this to me and it's such a simple thing - the fact that the press over there is a weekly thing, they have to constantly change their views to keep their readers interested. What I found, over there, is that whatever the one paper says the other's always gonna say the opposite."
I counter that the English music press is far more a vehicle for personal opinion than simply that and only dear old MM still feels inclined to see itself as the authority in dogmatically doctinaire terms. Debbie, who has been reading the Village Voice interrupts.
DEBBIE: "Oh, Phillip Glass is playing, one performance only."
Glass, a very individual modern serious composer and pianist who's work is based on the hypnotic repetition of clusters of notes, it turns out is, surprisingly, a favourite of Chris and Debbie and both are disappointed to discover that his performance at St Peters church that night clashes with theirs at the Palladium Theatre.
DEBBIE: "He always plays the churches."
CHRIS: "I hope he doesn't take away any of our fans... "
DEBBIE: "Well, he's gonna rub out Suicide, that's for sure."
CHRIS (back on the subject of press): "The major paper in New York City, which she's reading there, which I'm not gonna name, it sucks. It's just the worst crap in the world, it's just the most over-intellectual bullshit, it's run by old men, it's bullshit. This is a weekly paper, it's supposed to have something to do with rock'n'roll, some of the pieces they come out with are ridiculously intellectual. You can't read some of the stuff they write, it's incredible.
"We heard a theory that when you go to England, when you go there the first time whatever response you get the first time, when you go back you get the opposite. When we first went over we got slagged off, and when we went back we were acclaimed. I notice that Television got slagged off after being acclaimed the first time, so maybe that theory does work, I'm not really sure."
Debbie has been looking for the details of the 105 Hudson Street festival and she reads off a list of groups that are appearing including The Gynaecologists, The Zeroes, Nervous, The Communists, The Theoretical Girls, Daily Life, Tone Deaf, DNA, The Contortions, Mars, Teenage Jesus and The Jerks.
CHRIS: "Mars is interesting, I saw them and they all looked like these Appalachian hillbillies, they are all very tall and skinny and they had this girl, who was tall and skinny and they had this weird dust bowl type image. I don't know if they still look like that."
Where does Blondie fit in with all this new wave malarky now that they ain't such a new band?
CHRIS: "Synthesis, we're just trying to put different things together. It's hard to say where we fit in, I'd like to be like a more real Bay City Rollers, because the Bay City Rollers are so appalling. They're all right, they make good music, but their image... everybody knows they're not really clean-cut, they're a bunch of punks and run around like maniacs probably. They chase little girls and all that, everybody knows that.
"It'd be nice to be accessible to that many people. We aim at little kids, we're hopeful. Look what happened to the whole hippy generation, they're all tore up by Madison Avenue, they all got jobs, computer programmers and shit, these are all the same people who were running around being radical, right now they're all trying to buy real estate saying 'We're all part of the system now.' Which is in a sense what we're doing, we're all working in the system but we're trying to get our creative juices out."
DEBBIE: (still poring over the Village Voice: "Sun Ra's playing on Saturday... "
CHRIS: "Yeah I know... " (to me) "But it's nice to see all these different things going on at once. It's nice to see all that 'mod' stuff come back to England, the Boyfriends, the Pleasers all that kind of stuff."
DEBBIE: "The funny thing is that at one time, according to the standards of the day, we were an art rock group, and when we were an art rock group everybody put us down and said we were a garage band because we were screwed up and funky. And then we got good, we got slick we got some tight professional touches, and now people say we're not art rock, we're just commercial crap."
CHRIS: "We were like a glitter group, but musically much more punkish. Johnny Ramone used to wear silver glitter pants - stretch lurex.
DEBBIE: "Mmmmm, they were cool, they looked great. Those black leather jackets are crap."
CHRIS: "He'll probably kill me if he ever reads this... "
DEBBIE: "He knows... "
CHRIS: "Everything came out of that period - the Dolls and the 82 Club - all that shit is what really kicked everything. Television were slick, when they came out they were like a deliberate backlash, I remember seeing one of the girls from our old group, Stilettos, she said, 'I just saw this group and they were so funny, they all dress like old men, they wear baggy pants and they all wear ripped up clothes... "
DEBBIE: "Some beatniks... "
CHRIS: "... they look so funny. That was like a real novelty, cos everywhere you were going there were these slick, tight, glitter, gold and platform shoes, all that kind of crap."
DEBBIE (talking about the Stilettos): "We used to drag on tons of props and everything, it's really cute, too because when we did all that stuff, we were dragging on props - we had flourescent crosses and all that weird shit - it sort of looked like S&M too and I was in St. Louis recently and we met this girl group called the Welders, an all-girl group, all sixteen years old, and they do all that sort of thing, dragging on props, and it's really fun.
"The English groups don't really use that many props. The only groups that really continued doing that and made something out of it were the Tubes and maybe Split Enz."
BREAK FOR A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM DEBBIE AND CHRIS TO ALAN LEWIS (the man without whom Ms Harry wouldn't be the world famous pin-up that she is today)
DEBBIE: "Please Alan, come out of your shell, we know you have secrets... "
CHRIS: "We want to see a naked picture of him on the cover, as our mascot. Or wearing a leopard-skin jockstrap. Is he 400 pounds or something? He's just a normal looking guy, huh? I think there should be more beefcake pictures of the boys, it's true. Get him in a leopard-skin jockstrap on the cover."
DEBBIE: "Give the girls an incentive to buy his stupid rag... "
(Pause for Loads of Yuks)
(This is an outrage. I didn't commission this feature to be insulted. -Ed)
CHRIS: "It's funny the whole sex symbol bullshit. You see a trillion zillion pictures of Frampton half naked, right, but nobody ever asks him what it feels like to be a sex symbol they ask him 'Oh, Peter how's your guitar playing going?', and nobody asks the Rollers 'How does it feel to turn on thousands of little girls to wet their pants? Right? But when you're a girl that's all you get. The whole sex symbol thing, you know, Blondie is a group, it's so hard to take it seriously."
SKIP LENGTHY DISCUSSION OF POLITICS AND THE THIRD WORLD. BREAK FOR SPECIAL EMBARRASS JANE SUCK INTERLUDE.
DEBBIE: "Jane is fabulous, she's so demented, you know... "
CHRIS: "She's just like one of our own people, she reminds us of someone we know from CBGBs. We were very suspicious of her at first because of the Runaways thing that she'd written."
DEBBIE: "We confronted her at the Runaways party, I pushed a chair in front of her and made her stop walking and she said 'Get that chair out of my way!' I said 'Who are you?' she said 'I'm Jane Suck!' and I asked her 'Did you write that stuff about the Runaways?' she said: Yeah!' and I said 'Then what are you doing at this party?' and she said 'Cos I'm a ligger' and I said 'What's a ligger?' and she says 'I hang out and take free stuff whenever I can.'
"I said 'Well, listen you wrote that unflattering article about the Runaways and I don't think it's very polite of you to come to their party.' and she replied with 'what's the matter haven't you got a sense of humour? That was a joke.'"
CHRIS: "That's the classic journalist line when they slur you 'It's a joke'.
CONTINUES PAGE 35
(Please note, although this article says the interview continues on page 35, there's nothing more printed).