Robert Lund - Man About Town
Catching Up On The Legacy of BLONDIE
<CLICK IMAGES FOR PHOTOS>
Some of you may remember the downtown scene of the 1970s, when Blondie was one of the new bands that used to play in clubs like CBGBs. Others might have been too young, or some (like me) might have been too socially retarded to have taken part in that scene. I loved Blondie back then, bought the vinyls, and tracked their evolution into world stars, but had never identified them as a local band coming from among us.
I recently got an email from someone asking if I would link to his book on my web site. I suggested it might be a good idea if I could see the book first, so in a few days I received a copy of Blondie, From Punk to Present: A Pictorial History from Allan Metz, who had compiled it. The 512-page book presents many photos taken over the past 30 years, but is also a collection of essays, interviews, and articles covering every aspect of Blondie and the musicians who make up this unique band, far more than just a pictorial history. While not quite a substitute for being there, the book provides a context and perspective on Blondie which made me regard the band and its members in a totally different light. (For one thing, I had apparently always fallen for the girlish image projected by the Debbie Harry of Blondie, and was totally stunned to discover that this girl is my age!)
When Blondie first got together in the mid-70s, bands like The New York Dolls, The Heartbreakers, Television, The Voidoids, Patti Smith, and others were redefining popular music in NYC in reaction to what the "hippie" music of the 60s had become after being swallowed up into the commercialized mainstream. Blondie stood somewhat apart from these bands, daring to produce music based on a variety of pop influences which lacked the dark, intellectual overtones of much of the music of the scene. When Deborah assumed the role of lead woman as cool sex icon it was a sharp contrast to the way, say, Patti Smith presented herself as "one of the guys" on stage, and many in the scene wrote Blondie off as sell-outs. Many missed the point, that Blondie exuded pop culture in much the same way as Warhol fed it back to consumers, and Blondie was ostracized by the cliques of the local NYC rock scene. Their first real successes came from European tours, then the West Coast, until they finally had their first US hit with Heart of Glass in 1979. Other NYC bands who took themselves rather seriously didn't get Blondie's "pop art" aesthetic, and females looked down on the way Deborah played up her sexuality on stage (ah, but who could have helped but be jealous of that face!). No one realized how she was paving the way for so many of today's hot female rock icons.
I can't summarize the history and significance of Blondie in a few words here, but articles by many people in the book give a well-rounded picture of their contribution to modern music. An entire section covers the activities of the members after the group's demise in 1982, highlighting Harry's ongoing acting work and performance with The Jazz Passengers. Sixteen years after the dissolution of the band amidst times of tension, unhappiness, and illness (of Chris Stein), the band got together again in 1998. Uninterested in doing simply another "reunion tour" and replaying their old hits like so many bands are doing, they worked for many months at producing the next Blondie album No Exit, covering an even wider range of musical styles than they had throughout all their other albums. They're all older, wiser, and more mature now, and the new material is embraced by fans old and young at concerts along with their old material which has become such an integral part of popular music over the past few decades.
This book puts Blondie and a lot more into perspective, and I treasure it as part of my continuing music education. You can see some photos from the book of Deborah Harry at recent Squeezebox parties at donhills.com/gallery/DH-Sqzbx. But, as the bloggers say, "read the whole thing."
While reading the book, I heard about an upcoming performance by Blondie on A&E's "Live By Request" show. Determined to see the band live at last, I secured a ticket with the help of Barry Kramer, one of the creators of www.blondie.net. The live broadcast was held in the John Jay College Theater on May 7th. I protested being told where to sit in the auditorium (I stand up front at gigs, don't you know who I am??), and prepared myself for a bad time, sitting 50 feet from the stage, no cameras allowed, all that. But from the moment drummer Clem Burke launched into his fiery intro to "Dreaming" you couldn't keep the crowd in their seats. Even from that distance, I was so totally blown away by Deborah's charming style, the perky youthful way she moved around to the lyrics, expressing every line with all the actress in her, I was so sorry I had never seen them live before. Calls were being taken in real time, played on the house speakers; and as soon as a caller got the title of a song out of their mouth, Burke jumped right into the song and the band was off, leaving any further caller comments unheard. It was somewhat different from a normal gig, catering to the needs of live TV. Far from the loose-knit CBGBs band of the 70s, these professionals would finish a song, then redo the ending from a few bars back to give A&E audio to fade to commercial. We didn't hear the commercials - during the breaks, the keyboardist turned up the audio on his laptop, so we heard the Kung Fu game he had running in the background.
Deborah was just divine throughout, playing the sexy "Blondie" image to the hilt at every opportunity. And it was a unique opportunity to hear the band members interacting between songs, giving some insight into their personalities. When the host asked Chris Stein about his musical influences, what he'd been listening to recently, he said he'd been "listening to a lot of Shostakovich lately." Put that in your CBs crackpipe and smoke it!
Afterwards, a friend and I waited around the theater exit to try and see Harry and Stein come out, which we did, and it was enlightening. As Deborah walked to her waiting car in loose-fitting slacks and a denim jacket, mixing with and relating to friends and relatives, she struck me as a woman of some maturity, gorgeous and looking quite a bit younger than me, but quite different from the chick I'd just seen dancing around the stage. I was then even more impressed with her talent in continuing to play that role they devised some 30 years ago as the iconic female figure that led Blondie to worldwide fame. It's always inspiring to see another person with some years behind them keeping their youthful side alive and sharing it with the world!