Blondie has the punk rock moves (1977)
By Mary Campbell
“We’re a backlash against groups like Emerson, Lake and Palmer — standing there being musicians,” says Christopher Stein, lead guitarist of Blondie. “It’s a strange thing. Everybody thought Jimi Hendrix was a great musician. He used to jump around and go crazy on stage. I think it’s strange people now say if you jump around, you’re compensating for a lack of ability.
“I think a lot of times, it’s not true.”
Two minutes into a talk with Stein and Deborah Harry, Blondie’s lead singer, you realize he’s a thoughtful person, and she’s no dummy either. But, Blondie is one of the groups in what is termed “punk rock,” and another stereotype that clings there is one of brainless street toughs rocking back and forth on their heels — making it on image instead of music.
Well, Stein and Miss Harry have something to say about punk rock. it’s true that they, the Ramones, Television and Talking Heads have been existing for the last couple of years or so on not much money and until recently, no publicity. They played clubs like Max’s Kansas City and CBGB — and others that opened and quickly went out of business — on the Lower East Side of New York.
They had a beatnik lifestyle. They’d play all weekend in one of those clubs and be paid $5.
Blondie was discovered one night by some wealthy people out slumming after the theatre, and hired to perform at a party in a posh apartment.
The term came from the media, not from the bands, Stein says. Danny Fields, longtime observer-participant in the rock scene, called the bands “punk rock bands” in a column in a Manhattan neighborhood newspaper, the Soho News. “Then what the rest of the press has a tendency to do is act as if it’s been aware of something all along. Writers would mention us as if they had mentioned is 100 times before.
“You remember the Summer of Love in San Francisco? It was a pretty big media event. But the kids found out when they got out there, there wasn’t that much going on.”
Stein checked out a concert by classically-influenced Emerson, Lake and Palmer. “I was surprised kids could get off on that. To me, it all goes in your head. It doesn’t make you want to move. They play music for the head. We play body music.”
Miss Harry says, “Our kind of rock affects peoples’ nerve endings. We find when we get out of New York, most places have dance floors and people get up and dance. That’s an important thing in rock ‘n’ roll.”
Blondie’s first tour was in the spring, as the opening act for Iggy Pop. A British Isles tour followed, and this fall will find them either in Europe or Japan, followed by another tour in the United States.
“Records sort of became a producer’s game. Now it’s becoming a musician’s game again. Personalities are taking their place. That’s real important.
“Records can be so synthesized. You can put the last 10 record hits into a computer and find out what everyone likes and you can make a record that sounds like everything else that’s popular. It has more to do with references to other things than to the personalities of the musicians themselves.”
Blondie is a five-person group; its first LP, “Blondie,” came out last January on Private Stock Records. Everybody in the group writes songs but the drummer. A lot of the songs on the album are influenced by the 1960s girl groups, but Blondie isn’t a nostalgia act, and its second album will make that clear.
A lot of the songs also are funny, like “X Offender,” in which a streetwalker falls for a man, only to find out he is there to arrest her.
Stein says, “I think the Ramones are funny. They have a comic book approach. It’s satire.” Miss Harry says, “They don’t let people know it’s a joke. We do.”
When Miss Harry appears on stage in a thrift shop wedding dress, saying it’s the only dress her mother wanted her to wear, it’s the truth and also a joke.
Miss Harry is responsible for a lot of publicity that has come to Blondie. The name of the group comes from what people would yell at her on the street as she’d walk along. She’s a very pretty girl, in some facial expressions beautiful. She has reminded more than one observer of Marilyn Monroe, with her combination of tough savvy. pout and innocence, appealingly combined.
She’s neither incredibly young — she recorded with Wind in the Willows in the late 196os — nor old.
Stein says comparisons with Marilyn Monroe “make her nuts, actually.”
She says, “I’m just me; I’m still trying to get it together. People on the scene say I get so much publicity. I want to earn it. I work hard and try to be good. I don’t want to just be churned out.”
Stein thinks Blondie’s first album has sold about 50,000 copies worldwide. “None of the New York groups has had a single hit on the radio yet. That’ll break the scene. Then one group will be selling more than the others. Now everybody is pretty much neck and neck.”