Blondie

Looking Through The Heart of Glass

by Tobe Damit

Da Capo Press 1998 Edition

I just finished reading Debbie Harry’s biography Making Tacks/The Rise of Blondie written by herself, Chris Stein (photographs) and under the general supervision of Victor Bockris who aided in the formation of the text and the selection of the photographs. It seemed the perfect time to read and review it since she just announced the release of Pollinator, Blondie’s 11th album, due for release on May 5, 2017 by BMG Rights Management. I was really looking forward to read this book since Blondie is a band whose music would be omnipresent on ”the soundtrack of my life’s movie”, if such a thing would indeed exist.  Blondie has always managed to preserve their uniqueness and integrity throughout the years. Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie is a story of perseverance, hope and faith. Seeing how often everything could have just gone down the drain, this is the ultimate proof that you really have to give it all you’ve got to make it… Sometimes even giving it what you haven’t got…Yet!

Young Debbie reading a book.

The prologue (added in the 1998 Da Capo Edition) is in fact a very juicy conversation between Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Victor Bockris, recorded in 1980 when Blondie was at the top, during which it appears that Chris may hold the upper hand in their couple, a subject that is rather downplayed otherwise. It also sets the tone for the lavish story, the rocky early days and the forces at work behind the creation process since Chris and Debbie obviously are at the very  core of Blondie. For the rest of the book, the story is told almost exclusively from Debbie’s point of view, constantly keeping us captivated with a very uplifting, spontaneous, straight forward and witty narrative . She goes on and about everything and everyone meaningful in her life; ”I don’t know exactly where I came from because I don’t know who my natural parents are. Chris thinks I’m definitely an alien because I fit the description in a book he read of a race of females who were put on this planet from space”.  Right in this first sentence, one can immediately sense the hurting and the wounds but also the way Debbie has learned to deal with it, and how Chris later came into play. Young Deborah knew what she was destined to be before the age of six and never wavered in her firm conviction; ”I always knew I was a singer. When I began singing with the radio I was struck by the fact that I knew the next note before it was played.”  

Very early on, she was a trendsetter during her High School days, dying her hair every possible color starting as soon as 1959 and always dressed in black, not giving much thought to what would people might say. ”When I was a freshman I started to draw attention to myself, with the orange hair and mostly black clothes(…)I always dressed intuitively and emotionally”.

Chrissie Hynde, Pauline Black of Selector, Debbie, Poly Styrene, Viv from The Slits and Siouxie Banshee. ©by Chris Stein 
Debbie and Joan Jett ©by Chris Stein

Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie gives a very moving image of how Debbie was trying to become an artist during the mid sixties, working small jobs,  going to auditions and painting. She was already singing in a folk group called Wind in the Willows. It was hard but at the same time we get to see how much that, from the sidelines, working as a waitress at Max’s Kansas City by the end of the sixties, she observed, watched and learned.”When I worked at Max’s I loved all the people from Andy Warhol Factory, like Eric Emerson, Viva, Ingrid, Taylor Mead, Ultra Violet, International Velvet, Candy Darling, and all the superstars. I was just a baby growing up in the middle of this whole incredible scene, watching Andy Warhol’s eight-hours movies and listening to all kinds of fantastic music very close up at the front.” 

Debbie And Andy Warhol ©by Chris Stein

Now of course you also get to know, in parallel, what was up with Chris Stein, how his mother was a  beatnik painter and his father died when he was only 15, how he also always was into music, painting and arts in general. He is responsible for most of the incredible amount of wonderful pictures that can be found throughout the book, giving a visual dimension for each period that Debbie takes us through. Chris and Debbie went to a lot of events and shows at the same time but it took awhile before they would bump into each other. They had very similar tastes and both enjoyed seeing live the Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane. Each of them were being influenced by both the NYC and the LA scene. Chris had his own isssues, he’d taken a lot of acid and was experiencing long periods of seeing everything as cosmic dust(!). He even received his draft notice at the beginning of ’69 while in an asylum, where he spent three months after completely flipping out. He was twenty at the time and this was a delayed reaction to his father’s death. He managed to insist he had all that was needed to be NOT eligible to join the war effort, got out of there with a 4F and rushed up to Woodstock. Debbie was there too, she had served Jefferson Airplane their dinner at Max’s the night before they left for Woodstock. They just didn’t know each other yet so they went separately, never bumping into each other.

Debbie Devolves ©by Chris Stein

Debbie had a lot of issues of her own, being so depressed that she couldn’t sing without bursting into tears. For a while she managed to keep it all together by using various drugs but 1969 was a very pivotal year for everyone. ”Paying for the drugs and doing them became a bigger drag than the problems I was trying to solve(…)It was a tremendously down period and we all had to shake off the freakouts that occurred in ’68 and ’69(…)All that sadness and tragedy just kept going through my head. I love the blues, but I didn’t want to sing them. I wanted to entertain people, have a good time, and be happy.”

Debbie looking fabulous on front of CBGB’s©by Chris Stein

So, she quits drugs and took a sabbatical from the whole scene for three years, during which time Chris, having been released from the asylum for good, went on welfare and, sponsored by the division of vocational rehabilitation, was studying photography at the School of Visual Arts, and making some of the connections that would eventually lead to the fatefull event of Debbie and Chris finally meeting.

Chris Stein and Blondie (Not from the book!)©Robert Rosen REX

The Stillettoes

The Stillettoes Amanda, Elda and Debbie ©by Chris Stein,1974

Debbie gives us a very detailed description of what she was trying to accomplish musically with The Stillettoes who were Elda Gentile, Rosie Ross (later replaced by Amanda) and Debbie; ”a combination of the aggressive Shangri-La’s rock and the round solid vocals of an R&B girl group. The overall idea was to be entertaining and danceable. The original group included Tommy and Jimmy from the Miamis, Timothy Jackson and Youngblood. Tony Ingrassia was the choreographer and worked  on giving them a cohesive look so that they each had a stage concept.” 

Eric Emerson©by Chris Stein

Chris became involved with Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps via the School of Visual Arts by becoming the Dolls’ opening act, and quickly became friends with all those people who hung out on the periphery of the Dolls, eventually becoming Eric’s roadie. He was invited to the second Stillettoes gig at the Boburn Tavern on 28th Street by Elda herself who was the mother of Eric’s children. ”The most striking thing about collaboration is that it often happens in dreams. A microsecond of dream will unfold an elaborate scene in a flash.It’s an amazing form of communication and it happened between Chris and me the first time we saw each other when I was singing and he was in the audience(…) I was very nervous so I delivered a lot of songs to him. We had a psychic connection right away, which struck me particularly because I’d previously only had such string psychic connections with girlfriends”. Chris joined the group on Elda’s request.

Blondie

Early Blondie: Gary Valentine, Debbie, Chris Stein and Clem Burke

Now I gave you a very detailed insight of the early days but the book is even more exhaustive, leaving absolutely no stones unturned as the group slowly takes shape, requiring numerous musicians replacements, new musical directions, new looks and styles, the final result of all this evolution being the band worldy known today as Blondie -always  having at it’s very core Debbie and Chris Stein. Reading it you really feel as if you are right there with them, reliving every moment and all aspects of what was to become a very unique band, not really punk, not really disco, Debbie insists on saying that Blondie was a pop band, nothing more, nothing less. Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie is a very fascinating journey to the top with all its up and downs, the tours, the crazy people, the shady promoters, the providential roadies, the tragic and the funny anecdotes, and everything stardom life is about. Chris Stein and Debbie Harry being always the very core of Blondie, you get to see them on various pictures with all the punk and post punk icons as they go on tour around the world several times, living their success with an integrity as persons and artists that is rarely seen.

Starting on the Bowery’s very distinct selective CBGB’s club with The Ramones and all the other bands that have now become legends, Blondie was to later gain international success and go around the world more than once to become one of the most successful bands to have risen from NYC. Here are a few people that you can see with Debbie and/or members of the band on photos included in the book: Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Devo, H.R. Giger, Siouxie, Chrissie Hynde, Andy Warhol, The Screamers, David Bowie, Ray Manzarek, Suzie Quatro, Joan Jett, Cherie Curie, The Buzzcocks, The Screamers, The Ramones to name very few, thanks to Chris Stein who really did an amazing photography job!

Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, David Johansen and Joey Ramone ©by Chris Stein
Debbie and Iggy ©by Chris Stein
Debbie and Bowie ©by Chris Stein

 

 

 

 

 

 

Debbie Harry during the video production of the “Koo Koo” project with HR Giger ©by Chris Stein

You also have a very interesting insight on various projects she was involved with like Blank Generation, a seminal movie about Richard Hell, a remake of Godard’s movie Alphaville that sadly has never seen the day, a promotional clip involving HR Giger‘I Know You Know”. I also happened to watch a cult sci-fi horror movie from 1982: ”Videodrome”, directed by David Cronenberg. Deborah Harry plays the role of Nicki Brand, a sadomasochistic psychiatrist and radio host. I found Debbie’s performance more than satisfying and the movie to be very prophetic.

Robert Fripp as Lemmy Caution, Debbie Harry as Natacha von Braun; from the never made remake of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville. Hair by Mary Lou Green ©by Chris Stein

The book doesn’t contain the usual formal complete list of everything Blondie or its members have been involved with nor a complete discography but rather focuses on the narrative and it’s quite ok since it’s done in a way to sustain the readers interest in the story Debbie tells with a surprising gift for writing. Such a list would have been a cool addition but I’m pretty sure it’s not that hard to find on the internet.

     Making Tracks is not only about The Rise of Blondie but also about how they all handled its success. It does not contain a complete discography nor every movie she has played in Every true Blondie fan should read this book since it contains everything you want to know delivered with Debbie’s very witty way of seeing things that always sustains your interest since it is written from a very intimate point of view; and as I mentioned the photos are a very important ingredient in making the reader ”part of the gang”. The whole story is very cohesive and never boring. I will leave you with this quote written by Debbie near the end of the Heart of Glass European Tour that I found very interesting as she compares the UK culture with the US:

”Politics is business-getting enough money to win, keeping enough to stay in power and make more as a politician. The politicization of art in the sixties was very hypocritical. It existed in the minds of the people who wanted it to exist, but the people who were in power were definitely not having anything to do with it.

Debbie Harry and the Buzzcocks during Blondies European Tour, by ©Chris Stein 1978

I don’t think there’s too much difference between the Americans and British scenes, Everybody wants the same thing for themselves and their culture, but the methods have to be different because of the differences in the way the cultures operate. In America Iggy was a radical force without saying anything political. His presence and what he did was a radical phenomenon. If somebody can get on the subway and wipe out the minds of the people who see him, he’s having an effect on them and doesn’t need to say anything. I hope the kids in England realise that we all want the same things, we’re just going about it in different ways.”

Debbie with Iggy Pop by ©Chris Stein

Almost all of the pictures above are taken from the 1998 edition of Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie and taken by ©Chris Stein. I only posted very few of them. The book is litteraly loaded with awesome pictures, most of them are very hard to find.

All rights reserved tobedamit.com 2017

ROCK’N’ROLL HELLHOLE

NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell

Here’s the whole beautiful mess:

A terrific documentary that captures a pivotal moment in the history of a city and its pop culture.

by Marc Campbell

Punk, disco, hip hop, the blackout, Son of Sam, Tony Manero, CBGB, Studio 54, Max’s Kansas City, Show World, Paradise Garage, cocaine, polyester and leather—1977 in New York City was exhilarating, a nightmare, fun, dangerous and never boring. It was the year I arrived in downtown Manhattan with a beautiful woman, no money and a rock and roll band. I hit the streets running and never looked back…unless it was to watch my back.Blackout

I was living in the decaying Hotel Earle in the West Village when NYC went black. The power failure of July 13, 1977 knocked the city to its knees. I was sitting on the window sill of my room keeping cool or as cool as one could keep during a sweltering summer night in the city. I was drinking a nice cold beer and listening to the music of the streets when at around 9:30 p.m. everything suddenly went completely dark…and I mean dark, dark as Aleister Crowley’s asshole. It was the strangest fucking thing you could imagine. One moment the city was there, then next it was gone. The only illumination came from automobile headlights lacerating the night like ghostly Ginsu knives. My girlfriend and I clutched hands and felt our way down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk. We walked to Bleecker street in spooky darkness. We weren’t alone. The avenues were teeming with the dazed and confused. Not that unusual for the Village, but the confusion was different. Was the world coming to an end? disco fever

By midnight the streets where mobbed with people who had figured out that civilization wasn’t ending, it was on vacation. There was a festive vibe in the air. It was like Mardi Gras for the blind. The bars and pubs that stayed open were candlelit and booze was flowing for free. Refrigerators weren’t working and there was no way to keep perishables from spoiling so instead of facing the prospect of throwing food away some joints were feeding people for free. A few cabbies got into the spirit of things and maneuvered their taxis in such a way as to shine their headlights into the cafes providing diners with surreal mood lighting. It was a prison break theme park. And this wild night was bringing out the best in New Yorkers. But it didn’t last. As the blackout continued through the next day and night, things started to change. The novelty of the crisis wore off and it got ugly. What had started out as a party turned into looting and violence. An unexpected payday for the poor and desperate.

The blackout put the whole gamut of what makes New York marvelous and miserable on display: the “I got your back, brother” slamming into the “fuck you!”ra1

These were times when the city was an unseemly beast, a scabrous, moulting fat rat that was exciting to look at but terrifying. Part of the excitement came from the ever-present sense that things could go haywire at any minute. I lived intensely in the moment, acutely aware of everything around me, jacked up in a state of heightened consciousness that was both Zen and manic. Being in the here and now of New York City in 1977 wasn’t a hippie thing, it was survival. And when I got inside the safety zone of Max’s or CBGB, among my tribe, I was ready to get fucked up, to get high, to dance and celebrate.

In the city of night, we went to bed at dawn and rose at dusk. We were vampirebefore vampires became hip.

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White Trash Punk Playground

The two books go well together, giving a representative look at the intersection of music, art, scene-making, fashion, hustling, and hanging out that made the early New York City punk scene so indelible.

Vintage Photos of New York City’s 1970s Punk Playground

David Johansen of the New York Dolls and Richard Hell of Television backstage at CBGB. From White Trash Uncut by Christopher Makos, © 2014, published by Glitterati Incorporated

Two notable recent books from Glitterati Incorporated take readers deep into New York City’s 1970s punk underground. Playground: Growing Up In the New York Underground by Paul Zone, with Jake Austin (of Roctober fame!), features photos and firsthand accounts from a foot soldier in the rock and roll wars waged in the city’s now infamous clubs, including Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. White Trash Uncut, meanwhile, comes out of Andy Warhol’s factory scene and, as you might expect, takes an artier look at the New York scene.

Given that my tastes tend more towards the Ramones/Dead Boys/Dictators and less Warhol/Waters, Playground hits a real sweet spot. Zone’s photos pull back the curtain on that time and place in a way few other books on the ’70s NYC scene have done. Being in a band at the time (The Fast), Zone was in the thick of it from the beginning. Sure, you get plenty of (mediocre) performance photos. But that isn’t why you’re here. Where Playground shines is in its casual photos of friends—famous and not—behind-the-scenes, after hours and off guard, almost 240 pages of them. It also brings Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s awesome oral history of the early New York punk scene, Please Kill Me, to life. It’s a perfect companion.

With the recent passing of Tommy Erdelyi/Ramone, Playground is particularly timely. It’s an exciting visual romp through a unique period in the history of rock and roll. Looking through the photos, it’s hard not to notice how many of the people featured have died, many way before their prime: drugs (too many to list), AIDS (which also took Zone’s brother, Miki), cancer (three of the original Ramones) and weird car crashes (Stiv Bators). How the hell are all the Stones still alive and the Ramones all dead? Here are some samples from that book:

Sylvain Sylvain, Johnny Thunders, and Jerry Nolan (New York Dolls) at Max’s. (August 1973)
Tish and Snooky at Manic Panic on St. Marks Place (1978)
Debbie Harry (Blondie) at Max’s. (1975)
Dee Dee Ramone and Connie Gripp in Max’s kitchen. (1975)
Wayne County at the Coventry, in Queens. (1973)
Crayola at Max’s. (1977)
Originally published in 1977, White Trash Uncut, by Andy Warhol Factory devotee and one time Interview staff photographer Christopher Makos, quickly went out of print and became something of a collector’s item. Finally reprinted, the book consists of a mix of artsier photos—close-ups of body parts and portraits of players in the art and music scenes, focusing on that point of intersection between the two in venues like Max’s Kansas City. It leans heavy on photos of the well-known, if not outright famous: Richard Hell, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, the Dead Boys, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, David Bowie, Divine, Man Ray, John Waters, Marilyn Chambers and plenty other luminaries of that era. The reprint includes 25 photos not included in the original book. Here’s a sampling:
Punk Rock fans, New York City.
David Bowie in Los Angeles.
Divine and John Waters
Hustler, posing. (Jeans by Fiorucci, Milan.)
Earring by Gillette.

PLUS!

CBGBS BLITZKRIEG BOP FEAT. RAMONES , DEBBY HARRY & DEAD BOYS 

LONDON SCENE 1978

The Way They Were

Old Punk documentary from Granada TV on Channel 4. Features (in order):- Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, Buzzcocks, John Cooper Clarke, Iggy Pop, Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury, Penetration, Blondie, Fall, Jam, Jordan, Devo, Tom Robinson Band, Johnny Thunder, Elvis Costello, XTC, Jonathan Richman, Nick Lowe, Siouxie & the Banshees, Cherry Vanilla & Magazine….. The tape fails there! I have left the adverts in for historical reference – TSB, Once, Cluster, Coke is it, Roger Daltrey in American Express, Ulay, Swan, Our Price, Gastrils, Cluster & Prestige. All content remains the copyright of the current holders ~ I claim none.

 The Punk Rock Movie

A revealing look into the bands comprising the 1978 London punk-rock scene, and a peek back-stage at the lives behind the facade. Includes performances by Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees and other concurrent bands.

Most of the bands were filmed at the Roxy club in London, where Don Letts worked as a DJ. Letts filmed the bands very simply with a Super-8 camera, and also filmed on the tour bus and at shows with The Clash and The Slits. The Sex Pistols were filmed at Screen on the Green in London on 3 April 1977, Sid Vicious’s first show with the band.

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New York Dolls

All Dolled Up!

A New York Dolls Story – Found Tapes:

In the early 70’s Bob Gruen and his wife Nadya Beck bought a video camera and filmed around 40 hours of footage from the New-York Dolls. This is a must see!!  

noisey-slide-understandmag

Artist Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The New York Dolls created punk rock before there was a term for it. Building on the Rolling Stones‘ dirty rock & roll, Mick Jagger‘s androgyny, girl group pop, the Stooges‘ anarchic noise, and the glam rock of David Bowie and T. Rex, the New York Dolls created a new form of hard rock that presaged both punk rock and heavy metal. Their drug-fueled, shambolic performances influenced a generation of musicians in New York and London, who all went on to form punk bands. And although they self-destructed quickly, the band’s first two albums remain among the most popular cult records in rock & roll history.

All of the members of the New York Dolls played in New York bands before the band formed in late 1971. Guitarists Johnny Thunders and Rick Rivets, bassist Arthur Kane, and drummer Billy Murcia were joined by vocalist David Johansen. Early in 1972, Rivets was replaced by Syl Sylvain and the group began playing regularly in Lower Manhattan, particularly at the Mercer Arts Center. Within a few months, they had earned a dedicated cult following, but record companies were afraid of signing the Dolls because of their cross-dressing and blatant vulgarity.

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Late in 1972, the Dolls embarked on their first tour of England. During the tour, drummer Murcia died after mixing drugs and alcohol. He was replaced by Jerry Nolan. After Nolan joined the band, the Dolls finally secured a record contract with Mercury Records. Todd Rundgren — whose sophisticated pop seemed at odds with the band’s crash-and-burn rock & roll — produced the band’s debut New York Dolls, which appeared in the summer of 1973. The record received overwhelmingly positive reviews, but it didn’t stir the interest of the general public; the album peaked at number 116 on the U.S. charts. The band’s follow-up, Too Much Too Soon, was produced by the legendary girl group producer George “Shadow” Morton. Although the sound of the record was relatively streamlined, the album was another commercial failure, only reaching number 167 upon its early summer 1974 release.  dolls

Following the disappointing sales of the Dolls’ two albums, Mercury Records dropped the band. No other record labels were interested in the group, so the Dolls decided to hire a new manager, the British Malcolm McLaren, who would soon become famous for managing the Sex Pistols. With the Dolls, McLaren began developing his skill for turning shock into invaluable publicity. Although he made it work for the Pistols just a year later, all of his strategies backfired for The Dolls. McLaren made the band dress completely in red leather and perform in front of the U.S.S.R.’s flag, all of which meant to symbolize the Dolls’ alleged communist allegiance. The new approach only made record labels more reluctant to sign the band and members soon began leaving the group.

courageous-cat-04By the middle of 1975, Thunders and Nolan left the Dolls. The remaining members, Johansen and Sylvain, fired McLaren and assembled a new lineup of the band. For the next two years, the duo led a variety of different incarnations of the band, to no success. In 1977, Johansen and Sylvain decided to break up the band permanently. Over the next two decades, various outtakes collections, live albums, and compilations were released by a variety of labels and The New York Dolls’ two original studio albums never went out of print.

Upon the Dolls’ breakup, David Johansen began a solo career that would eventually metamorphose into his lounge-singing alter ego, Buster Poindexter, in the mid-’80s. Syl Sylvain played with Johansen for two years before he left to pursue his own solo career. Johnny Thunders formed The Heartbreakers with Jerry Nolan after they left the group in 1975. Over the next decade, the Heartbreakers would perform sporadically and Thunders would record an occasional solo album. On April 23, 1991, Thunders was found dead in his room at the St. Peter House in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nolan performed at a tribute concert for Thunders later in 1991; a few months later, he died of a stroke at the age of 40.

MI0002490791In 2004, former Smiths vocalist Morrissey — who was once the president of a British New York Dolls fan club — invited the surviving members of the New York Dolls to perform at the 2004 Meltown Festival, a music and cultural festival that was being curated that year by the singer. To the surprise of many, David Johansen, Syl Sylvain, and Arthur Kane agreed to the gig, with Steve Conte (from Johansen’s solo band) standing in for Thunders and Gary Powell from the Libertines sitting in on drums. The group’s set was well received by critics and fans (and was recorded for release on DVD and compact disc), which led to offers for other festival appearances, but only a few weeks after the Meltdown show, Kane checked himself into a Los Angeles hospital with what he thought was a severe case of the flu. Kane’s ailment was soon diagnosed as leukemia, and he died only a few hours later, on July 13, 2004, at age 55.

With Sam Yaffa (of Hanoi Rocks) on bass, the remaining Dolls played a hometown tribute to their fallen brothers at Little Steven‘s International Underground Garage Festival in New York City on August 14, 2004, reuniting again (this time with Brian Delaney on drums) in 2006 for the all-new CD/DVD One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This. The Todd Rundgren-produced ‘Cause I Sez So appeared on Rhino in 2009. A fifth studio album, Dancing Backward in High Heels, featuring both Johansen and Sylvain and produced and mixed by Jason Hill, appeared from 429 Records early in 2011.

The very controversed red leather look Malcom McLaren gave the New York Dolls, also using a communist flag backdrop for their concerts. Not very long afterwards McLaren was flying back to UK. The Dolls were history and McLaren was about to enter it. With a keen eye for trends, McLaren realised that a new protest style was needed for the ’70s, and largely initiated the punk movement in the UK, for which he supplied fashions from the Chelsea boutique ‘SEX’, operated with his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood. The issue of a controversial record, “God Save the Queen”, satirising the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977 was typical of McLaren’s shock tactics, and he gained publicity by being arrested after a promotional boat trip outside the Houses of Parliament. The Sex Pistols became more associated with the Punk movement than any other band.

The Dolls Red Patent Leather Era. 1975, ©Photo by Bob Gruen