Photo of the day: DEBBIE HARRY, CHRIS STEIN, BLONDIE, EARTHA KITT AND HANS – 35 YEARS LATER – or “How a Russian, an old concert ticket and Eartha Kitt got me to meet Blondie” – Last night one of music’s most influential and iconic duo, Chris Stein & Debbie Harry of “Blondie” gave a very rare 90 minute audience participation interview about their lives and the formation of “Blondie” the new wave group that we all know. All you need to hear is Debbie’s “oooohh oh oh-oh” from “Heart of Glass” and you recognize it instantly. The venue – The 92nd Street ‘Y’.
I brought with me my 1979 Blondie concert tickets from Asbury Park’s Convention Hall for the then expensive price of $8.50. ‘The Laughing Dogs’ opened for them. On the day of the concert my friend Susan and I begged the promoters not to tear our tickets so as to preserve them and they obliged! In today’s times that would never happen. So, I showed up at the ‘Y’ stage door last night at 5:30 for the 8:00 show. The Ebayers all started showing up. “She doesn’t like to pose with people.” OK, I thought, a photo is out, autograph is the main goal then.
One of the security guards saw that I had a very rare French 12″LP of ‘Sunday Girl’ with me and was eager to see it. He winds up showing me his record collection on his iPhone, proudly exclaiming he knew all the songs on his records and that they are in mint condition. “Do you have this one?!” “Remember that one?” The last one he showed me was Eartha Kitt’s first lp “That Bad Eartha”, I told him that I had been friends with her and the stories she had told me of making that first album, well…that sealed the deal. “Come back after the show,” he said.
At 7:20 a black town car pulled up and she emerged. Hair in curlers, radiant as can be. Rushed right in. Her driver told me she was exhausted, fighting a cold and was unnerved that she did not know who the interviewer was.
A few moments later Chris Stein pulled up willing to sign a few autographs. The Ebayers pressed forward. The ‘record collector’ security guard made room for me. I showed Chris my 1979 concert tickets and he laughed and said ‘you deserve an autograph after all this time!’. In he went.
Debbie’s driver and I wound up being all alone at the stage door and he started to tell me about his life. He is a Russian scientist who immigrated here in 1989, became a Wall Street trader but lost it all in the stock market crash. He decided to take his knowledge and educate his daughter on the principles of science and economics. She is now graduating with a Masters Degree in physics. We spoke of politics, America’s influence on music, only to discover he sold his piano and bought and electric guitar and knows the riffs to all the hard core rock bands of the 60’s and 70’s and starting playing air guitar for me – Blondie’s chauffeur is playing air guitar for me – surreal !
The interview was conducted by Anthony DeCurtis, co-author of Clive Davis’ autobiography. Chris in his white hair, all black suit and boots, wearing blackout shades he evoked the 1980’s all over again. Debbie looked stunningly radiant. Her now coifed hair had transformed her into a luminescent modern day Marilyn Monroe, same color, same tossed soft curls. She was dressed in a white cotton blouse with parachute style yellow shawl, tuxedo pants and combat boots. Total Blondie.
Speaking of clothes, they explained their original look came from the thrift shops of New York in the early 70’s. “Disco was big lapels, bright colors and we wanted to be the antithesis – the early Beatles black suits with the narrow lapels, secondly also because that shit was the cheapest in the stores and nobody wanted it, now it’s all gone. No one looked like us, we would get stared at in the street in those days.” Debbie laughed.
Debbie’s voice actually has a Marilyn quality, soft spoken, she takes a moment to think before she speaks, and just answers the question, short and to the point yet often reflective. When asked about being the first breakthrough rap recording artist (who happens to be a white female) with the song “Rapture” (the man from Mars is eating cars!) and how did it come about she explained, “I didn’t know the word ‘reggae’ but Chris heard there was this festival going on up in Harlem and we went. I loved that the music and that it had a message, told a story and so connected with the people, I loved the rhythm. We basically stole/copied their style…the rest is history.”
But their influences came from the opposite direction as well, “Dreaming”/(Eat to the Beat) is blatantly lifted from Abba “not enough so I could get sued” chuckled Chris. Debbie said, “yeah I listened to them, but I could never get past that polka-like sound that crept into their music.” She grinned and laughed.
When Debbie laughs or reflects she leans back and pulls her hand through that platinum ‘Marilyn’ hair and as the evening progressed and as the hair became more tossed – she morphed more and more into a 68 year old radiant Blondie/Marilyn.
When asked what rock group from the CBGB era to you feel should have been more recognized, Chris instantly and angrily said “The Ramones, I mean come on, their were fucking brilliant, they should be up there today with the Beatles and The Stones!” What was so great about CBGB’S? Debbie answered: “No one watched you, we just did shit, if we fucked up it didn’t matter and that’s how we evolved, we were not under a microscope.”
How does she feel about being such a music icon? Was she harassed? “It felt great. We weren’t thinking of the future, we were just in the moment. I mean I did wind up becoming a feminist mainly because of Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin. I wanted to get even for those ladies, I felt so sorry for them. ‘Here world take this!’ and here’s to you Billie and Janis. I was never harassed because I was with Chris, the band didn’t lay their hands on me because I was ‘Chris’s girl’. At one point though it did become us versus them, but we got past that.” On meeting Warhol: “We met in passing at Studio 54 and became friends. He was determined to photograph me in 1979, he did my hair for the shoot! He used to shoot with these crappy Polaroid cameras, I mean like the oldest archaic models, so we used to look for them in thrift stores as we toured and would give them to him,” said Debbie. That happened to be the 1979 poster advertising the Warhol Blondie issue that I had brought with me to be signed.
They have just released a new double VINYL lp with re-recorded classic hits as well as 12 new songs. The double albums has two titles “Blondie 4(0) Ever/Ghosts of Download.” Sadly they did not have a signing afterwards. They plan to tour “with festivals” in Europe later this year and tour in the USA in 2015! Chris Stein’s book of awesome photography will go on sale in August. Many of the photos were shown in a slide presentation and they both humorously reminisced about the ‘old times’. Audience questions were taken during the last 20 minutes and were very insightful.
At the show’s end I ran to the stage door already besieged with Ebayers and fans. Luckily the her driver and the security guard placed me near her car door. As Debbie noticed the Ebayers had pressed forward she didn’t want to sign anymore but her driver and the guard steered her towards me and both the guard and I said simultaneously “He’s/I’m not an Ebayer!”. Debbie looked, warmly smiled at me, squeezed my hand and signed her full name unlike the initials she had dome for the others. I floated on an ‘Atomic’ cloud all the way home. Here is my incredibly awesome rare signed treasure above – 35 years later!!
BLONDIE 1979 Village Voice ad