The video stream for this lecture can be watched here.
Emerging from the New York punk scene, Chris Stein and Deborah Harry took the world by storm with their innovative production, sharp image and tales of urban heart break. As the songwriting partnership at the heart of Blondie, they penned some of the most definitive songs at the turn of the '80s, mixing spiky guitars, raw synths, and driving drums that enraptured and inspired kids and rebels around the world. With classic songs like "Hanging On The Telephone," "Heart Of Glass," "Rapture," and "The Tide Is High," they created their own sound from New York’s melting pot of punk, wave, reggae and hip hop, all shot through with Deborah Harry's cool soul.
RBMA: All right, it's a very exciting one today. I'm super excited, I'm sure you are too. It's a true New York moment right now. Please join me in welcoming the amazing Chris Stein and Debbie Harry.
How're you both feeling?
Chris Stein: Fine, thanks. Thanks for having us.
RBMA: It's our pleasure.
Debbie Harry: I guess you should turn that off.
Chris Stein: This place is so opulent. Is all of this paid for by the proceeds of caffeinated sugar beverages?
RBMA: Pretty much.
Chris Stein: Amazing.
RBMA: Yeah. What did West 18th Street used to look like?
Debbie Harry: 18th Street?
RBMA: Where we are right now.
Chris Stein: He means here.
Debbie Harry: Oh.
Chris Stein: Physically, it wasn't that different.
Debbie Harry: It was pretty much the same.
Chris Stein: Yeah, but it's just the interiors have changed and the quality of the cameras.
Debbie Harry: Yes, Chris is very impressed with the cameras.
Chris Stein: You see that red camera? Yeah, those are not cheap.
RBMA: You were sort of a pioneer of early New York camera stuff, weren't you? I mean, you did one of the first, almost like, pirate TV [programmes].
Chris Stein: We did this thing called TV Party, which was on cable TV once a week.
Chris Stein: And I guess it started in, I don’t know, 1980, '79/'80. It went on for four years. At that point cable TV was only available from 14th Street – no, 23rd Street uptown, so if you lived below 23rd Street you couldn’t see it anyway. It was only for the well-to-do.
RBMA: And what did you do on TV Party?
Chris Stein: We smoked a lot of weed and went crazy and, you know, just carried on. It was kind of like going to a club once a week, but everybody just gathered in this TV studio.
Debbie Harry: Well, we would start out in the bar across the street and then work our way across into the studio, so that was always nice.
RBMA: And what kind of characters did you get to meet on TV Party?
(video: excerpt from TV Party)
Yeah, there we have TV Party outtakes. It's very entertaining. That’s Glenn O'Brien, he is the host of TV Party. He’s trying to revamp it now, it's out there, and he's an old guy.
Debbie Harry: Didn't Nile go on one time?
Chris Stein: Nile was on.
Debbie Harry: Nile was on.
Chris Stein: George Clinton, one of his very few TV appearances, was on TV Party.
RBMA: Didn't you have a Basquiat interview on there as well?
Chris Stein: Basquiat was on TV Party, he did the camera, and those things that Glenn his holding up, those scribbles are by Jean-Michel probably...
Debbie Harry: Yeah, those are Jean-Michel.
Chris Stein: ...are in Glenn's archives and worth millions of dollars.
RBMA: So Jean-Michel Basquiat did the titles for TV Party.
Chris Stein: Yeah, he typed in that stuff. He was frequently typing in that. This was all very hi-tech at the time.
Debbie Harry: Typing? That doesn't look like typing.
Chris Stein: The stuff, the...
Debbie Harry: Those are scribbles.
Chris Stein: No, the overlay.
Debbie Harry: Oh, that. (laughs)
Chris Stein: It's Jean typing that stuff. That was Richie Fliegler, he was in a lot of bands. That was me with a hood on. This might have been medieval night or something. This is the compilation that some of these guys from Brink Films have thrown together. It's entertaining. Nobody's familiar with it.
RBMA: And there was always the famous phone-in part of the show as well, right?
Chris Stein: We had phone calls, yeah.
Debbie Harry: And what kind of phone calls would you get?
Chris Stein: A lot of rude phone calls, but it was great.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, it was very funny.
RBMA: So, I mean some of the names that you casually mentioned as we were talking there, obviously sort of New York legends, folklore almost. Do you want to paint a picture of what this town was like at the period you were shooting TV Party?
Chris Stein: Well, as I was in the car coming here, I looked up the glamour of decay and I found a lot of different things but no linking theme. I didn't have enough time to look on my phone for literary references to the glamour of decay, but I'm sure they’re out there, and there was something very glamorous about being in the midst of this, just rot that we were all in, in New York City at the time. New York city has become the complete opposite animal of what it was.
Debbie Harry: Yeah. Everywhere I used to go on tour, people would ask me with, you know, tremblingly ask me, how can you live in New York City?
Chris Stein: I was hearing that Detroit is going to... they’re actually talking about selling off the public art collection because they're in such bad shape, so if you want to get a glimpse of what urban decay is like now...
Debbie Harry: ...move to Detroit.
Chris Stein: Detroit is in kind of poor condition.
Debbie Harry: There's a lot of great music there.
Chris Stein: Yeah, Detroit is awesome. But New York was in the throes of, you know, everything, back in the late '70s.
RBMA: And it was famously declared bankrupt.
Chris Stein: And famously Gerald Ford, was it, there was a headline that said, "Ford to City: Drop dead." Hell, we have the headline, you guys really did your homework, that's great. I guess he was refusing some benefit that the government was supposed to supply, some aid or something was nixed.
Debbie Harry: It really was like another country. It was a different place than any place in the States, and now it's sort of become very acceptable and people come here to raise families, which was unheard of, really.
RBMA: Chris, you're from Brooklyn, right?
Chris Stein: Yeah, Brooklyn.
RBMA: And Debbie, you're from New Jersey originally?
Chris Stein: North Jersey, yeah.
RBMA: So what were those sort of original forays into voyaging into New York like for you as a young person?
Debbie Harry: It was very exciting. I always wanted to be a part of it and it was an escape route for me. I always knew that I was not cut out for suburbia and I really had no interest in that kind of life, although I had great friends there and lots of good times, lots of laughs, but I always intended to move to New York.
Chris Stein: When we first started coming in, in the '60s, it was even before the decline and the Lower East side was still neighbourhood-y and had immigrant descendants and it wasn’t the Wild West yet, as it became later in the '70s.
RBMA: So when did you first move here, Debbie?
Debbie Harry: I first moved here in the mid-'60s.
RBMA: And what were the first kind of jobs that you did when you arrived in New York to make it?
Debbie Harry: I just did anything, really. I worked in retail, or actually I worked in a wholesale market for - I forget the name of the companies - Hold Howard and Colonial Candle. I sold candles to department stores. I was terrible at it but they kept me on. (laughs)
Chris Stein: Didn't you work for the BBC at some point?
Debbie Harry: I worked for the BBC after that, as a secretary, and then I worked in the first head shop in New York City and that was a lot of fun, to meet all the downtown people and have all of the great psychedelic posters and pipes and all that stuff. I fit right in over there.
Chris Stein: The first head shop was on 9th Street and off 2nd maybe?
Debbie Harry: Yeah, it was right around the corner from where Veselka is now. I think Veselka might have actually been there.
Chris Stein: Yeah, I hear it's been there for a long time. I remember going into the first head shop. We overlap before we met later on and we both were at Woodstock, at the festival.
Debbie Harry: Yes, we're old people.
RBMA: So the precursor to you meeting, what's the musical backdrop at this point?
Debbie Harry: Then?
RBMA: At that time, yeah. What was the music that you were inhaling and digesting as a young person?
Debbie Harry: Oh, everything. We listened to everything. I think radio was very homogeneous. They played everything, really.
Chris Stein: Everything wasn't as genre-specific as it is now, so on the same radio station you'd hear James Brown and then you'd hear The Rolling Stones. Now it's gone, all that, the days of everything being played together, certainly, but that started going out a long time ago. And we liked the Velvet Underground, we were all aware of those guys. They showed up in the midst of the flower power era with this dark record about heroin and death, and it got everybody's attention, certainly.
RBMA: So tell us, how did you guys first meet.
Chris Stein: You know, it was kind of incestuous, everybody was somehow related to everybody else on the scene, and I just went to their first show with The Stilettos, she was doing this girl trio thing. I ended up going to the first event of theirs and was very taken with Debbie, I thought she was terrific, and that was it. Then I became the first non-regular member of the band after that.
RBMA: Of a band called The Stilettos, right?
Chris Stein: Yeah, a sort of girl, campy cabaret, r&b thing.
RBMA: And when you referred to the scene, you said everyone knew each other on the scene, what was the scene?
Chris Stein: Just the art scene and the spillover from Max's Kansas City, CB[GB]'s hadn’t really started up. It was going when we first met but it hadn't really started the ongoing band situation that came later. The art scene was heavily mixed in with the music scene. The music scene was still coming out of the West Village with the remnants of the '60s bands, like The Night Owl [Cafe] and The Lovin' Spoonful and all that stuff, and the folk music scene. It was maybe more of a small-town thing.
RBMA: And there seemed to be sort of a video and film thing happening at the same time in downtown. There was almost a mini-Hollywood effect going on within your community, with people like Amos Poe, Jim Jarmusch. Do you want to talk about that whole scene and how music and film was connected?
Chris Stein: Well, to me the central milieu was always Max's. Everything sort of radiated out from there, because that's where all the people in the arts met and collected.
Debbie Harry: And that was the Max's from before the '70s, that later evolved into pretty much a rock place.
Chris Stein: A rock 'n' roll club, yeah, when Mickey Ruskin originally owned it. He's the guy who invented the velvet rope situation, he was the first one to have people waiting outside and go, you can come in, you can't come in.
RBMA: Is now the right time to show a little clip from one of the films you were in, Debbie, or do you want me to not do that? It's Unmade Beds, one of those movies, just to give an idea of the time.
Debbie Harry: Amos Poe, yeah, Unmade Beds. Oh, is that Duncan?
Chris Stein: Duncan Hannah, who was a painter.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, Duncan the painter.
Chris Stein: Curse you, YouTube.
Debbie Harry: We were all such brats, you know?
(video: excerpt from Unmade Beds)
Debbie Harry: Amos thought that he was Godard.
Chris Stein: We got to meet Godard around this period a few years later. We had this idea to remake Alphaville, so we got to hook up with Godard and he sold us the rights for a thousand bucks, which we later found out he really didn’t have. (laughs) I think Amos actually has the contract somewhere, but it never got remade.
RBMA: He was talking about pictures in that. You, of course, were a keen photographer as well, Chris.
Chris Stein: Yeah, I was at the School of Visual Arts, and I started shooting when I was a little kid with my little dinky cameras and then I started more seriously around '68. I was just always dragging a camera around.
RBMA: And you brought some pictures in as well.
Chris Stein: I have some old pictures here.
RBMA: These are the pictures you brought in for us today.
Chris Stein: Yeah, that's Debbie and Iggy on the Idiot tour in '77. That’s Debbie in front of CB's.
Debbie Harry: Did we ever find out who owned that car?
Chris Stein: Nah, I never found any backstory.
Debbie Harry: That car was always parked in front of CB's and nobody knew whose car it was.
Chris Stein: That's Devo in our hallway. That's a shot I took with a timer.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, 105 Thompson Street.
Chris Stein: Yeah, on Thompson Street, and Clem really doesn't like that because he has long hair and he decries his days as a Deadhead. That’s Kim Fowley in Los Angeles, of The Runaways, the guy who invented The Runaways and many other things. That's Lester Bangs in an outtake from 'Mutant Monster Beach Party', which was done for Punk magazine.
Debbie Harry: That was at Coney Island.
Chris Stein: That was at Coney Island, yeah. And that's Eric Emerson and Cecil Coleman; these guys were in a kind of bridge band that went from the glam New York Dolls era into the punk era. Eric died early, he was a terrific character. He was in a bunch of the Warhol films, he was one of the superstarts, sort of. He was in Heat and Lonesome Cowboys and those suckers.
RBMA: Debbie's got the T-shirt.
Debbie Harry: Yes, I came right from the gym and I loved to work out in my Ramones shirt. It gives me... something.
Chris Stein: Richard at his last gig with The Heartbreakers, that's upstairs at Max's.
Debbie Harry: Richard Hell, yeah.
Chris Stein: And that's Walter Lure's hand, that’s one of my favourite pictures of mine. It's very noir. And The Screamers from LA. The guy on the left, Tomato, we knew from the weird sort of shock rock drag scene in New York much earlier, even before the CB's scene. He was in New York. And that's Stiv Bators just a couple of weeks before he died in Paris.
RBMA: Going back to The Ramones, and you’ve mentioned "CB's" at least five times already, let's define. You're referring, of course, to the legendary club venue CBGB's in New York. I think it's worth having a conversation about CBGB's and what it meant to you and what it was like.
Chris Stein: I spent a lot of time there. I have a thing there tomorrow, like I've got some interview with German TV. You know, I haven’t even set foot in the Varvatos store ever. I will in go in there tomorrow.
RBMA: Just to define, what are you talking about when you say...
Chris Stein: Well, CBGB's is now a clothing store, a high-end men's clothing store, which is John Varvatos. He's a really nice guy, actually, I just haven't gotten in there. It's kind of mind-boggling to walk on the block. I used to spend so much damn time there and now when I walk there it's kind of disorienting, because it's just so different. It's even hard to see where you are physically.
RBMA: So it's fair to say CBGB's was really a hub for your scene at that particular time, I mean your peers? Who were some of the other artists and creatives who would just be hanging out there every night?
Chris Stein: Lance Loud, do you know who I mean? Lance Loud was the victim of the very first reality TV show, I dare say, which was called An American Family, whereby the cameras followed this family around for years at a time. In the midst of this show the son came out as gay and this was a real big deal. I don't have a timeframe, I haven't really thought about this, but that was Lance and he wound up in CBGB's with a band called Mumps, right?
Debbie Harry: Yeah, I think so. It eventually tore up the family, broke up the marriage. (laughs) Perfect ending, cataclysmic ending.
Chris Stein: I think they did an HBO docu about the show, but I'm not sure. It's kind of obscure stuff.
RBMA: And everyone refers to CBGB's as famously being stinky, nasty, smelly, dark.
Chris Stein: It was pretty nasty and stinky and there were dogs who used to poop around and stuff, yeah.
Debbie Harry: I wonder, I've heard that there's a lot of areas or potentially the creativity of the time in Berlin now. Does anybody know about that, is that reality?
Chris Stein: Yeah, it's all happening over there.
Debbie Harry: It's pretty cool.
RBMA: It must have been amazing to feel that momentum. Were you aware of how significant the momentum that was going on, in and around the orbit of that club, was at the time? Or was it just a club that you used to hang out in?
Chris Stein: I think everybody was pretty much in the moment, I don't think I was thinking that.
Debbie Harry: Yes, I think it was a love/hate relationship, and as they say, the best bar or club is the one closest to home. So, you know, for many of us that was the truth, that was the reality, that we lived within a five- or six-block radius of the club. It started out really as a local phenomenon and it just grew, because we built it through the press. It was very kind of intimate and personal and the newspapers started covering it and then fledgling managers would come in and they would try to promote people. It just sort of built up, it was sort of a natural build, which worked to all of our benefits, because we were allowed to develop our sounds, our act, our artistry, our thinking in veritable privacy. We would face the criticism of our contemporaries, which was often very extreme, but important. That was kind of a real plus.
Chris Stein: What I've always said is, the scene there and in Seattle and in Liverpool and a few other places really got to ferment for a while before it was jumped on by the media. Nowadays, as soon as something rears its head even that much, it's out there for everybody to see, so I don't know if that situation can ever really happen again.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, this was before cell phones even.
Chris Stein: Let alone all the rest of this stuff. Certainly, the love/hate thing is, everybody back then had a real love/hate relationship with the city in general. I remember everybody was always going, "Oh, I can’t wait to get out of here, it’s so crummy, it’s so dirty." That was a constant theme, and now I wish it was that crummy and dirty again.
RBMA: Was everyone broke back then?
Chris Stein: Yeah, the main thing is, it was so easy to live here for no money, it didn’t cost anything to live here. In the '60s there were still apartments, you had new people who had apartments that cost $20 a month, for a tub and kitchen on the Lower East Side, single room. You could get $20 a month. It might as well be 1888, you know?
RBMA: Famously, when you started Blondie you had this top to bottom house almost, right, you had a creative space that you could rehearse in?
Chris Stein: We had three floors over a liquor store that we moved into, this crazy friend of ours was the proprietor. It’s another long incestuous story. So, he wound up with this three-story loft which he invited us to move into, which was really nice.
RBMA: And cheap?
Debbie Harry: It was cheap, yeah.
Chris Stein: What was it, like 300 bucks a month or something?
Debbie Harry: No, it was 100 and a quarter.
Chris Stein: That was our share.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, that was our share.
RBMA: And where was that?
Chris Stein: 266 Bowery. There's no landmarking on it.
RBMA: And what kind of area was that, back then?
Debbie Harry: The guy from The Marbles lives there now.
Chris Stein: We were in there a few years ago. They sectioned it all off and...
Debbie Harry: ...ruined it.
Chris Stein: It’s still kind of wrecked. The top floor...
Debbie Harry: The top floor is still wrecked.
Chris Stein: Yeah, it's still destroyed, do you remember? We wound up in there doing some TV thing. It's like some Chinese absentee landlord who doesn’t give a fuck and is not...
Debbie Harry: Oh, I thought that woman owned it.
Chris Stein: Nah, somebody else owns it, some guy. But now it's right across the street from the museum of something or other. What is that, down there on the Bowery? The New Museum, OK, that, so it's not what it used to be. Across the street there were just derelict, empty storefronts that all the homeless guys would live in. Only, in those days you didn't call them homeless, they were just bums.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, they were bums.
RBMA: So you were cold, probably, not much central heating when you were in this kind of empty space, but what did this space give birth to creatively speaking?
Chris Stein: Well, we rehearsed there and did a lot of stuff for the build-up to the first album. Then we would just go across the street to CBGB's. It was like one block below Houston Street and we would just drag this stuff to CBGB's. At one point we played at CB's every weekend for seven months in a row. I remember noting that at the time.
RBMA: As Blondie, was your first gig officially at CB's?
Chris Stein: No, the first gig with Gary was at - ah, shit, some bar?
Debbie Harry: The Mushroom?
Chris Stein: Nah, I can't remember what the hell it was called. It's in the book, it's in Making Tracks, there's actually a photo from it. It was another bar, because there were a bunch of other places that people played at alternately.
RBMA: And when you finally did perform at your, sort of home club, CBGB's, and you've got people like The Ramones or Talking Heads in the audience or whatever, what did they say after you performed and was that a bit nerve-wrecking for you, performing in front of your friends?
Debbie Harry: No, the band people weren't that critical.
Chris Stein: It was just nerve-wrecking performing.
Debbie Harry: It was the other assholes that hung around, they always had something to say. The band guys were all paranoid about what they were doing, I mean, everybody was sort of staggering around and trying to figure it out and everybody's like, "Oh, yeah, yeah. Nice show."
Chris Stein: It's kind of amazing when you think about going on in this dark, crappy bar for 20 people and being uptight and worrying about how you're going to come off.
RBMA: So somehow it went from being as hip and cool as you could possibly be, to now, where we can say that you've sold 40 million records, I think the official statistic is.
Debbie Harry: That's a drop in the bucket.
Chris Stein: We remember what records were. We don't know what to call it any more. We call it a collection.
RBMA: What was the tipping point, the moment when you went from playing for your mates, basically, in a bar to suddenly being asked to go abroad or being on tour or having a hit record?
Chris Stein: It took a couple of years to build up. We went to LA, that was a big deal, going to LA for the first time. The first gigs we did out of town were Boston and Philadelphia. Going on tour with Iggy was a big deal. That was pretty awesome, the Idiot tour. It included Bowie backing up Iggy on keyboards and singing back-ups, and that was an amazing moment. We were suddenly out in America in 1977 with that and that was terrific.
RBMA: And then you had a hit in Australia, right?
Chris Stein: The hit in Australia probably predated the Iggy thing, maybe. I don't know the dates of this shit. Maybe '76 was the hit and then the other stuff really started kicking on in '77, I don't know.
Debbie Harry: Well, I’m not good at that.
Chris Stein: Somebody has to look it up and put it as a crawl, you know?
Debbie Harry: I mean, it's important that it was this gradual build-up and I think that's what we’re trying to talk about, is that there was this - as Chris says - fermentation for us and not instant exposure, this kind of worldwide, manufactured exposure. We really understand how important that was for us.
RBMA: You had the privilege in a way of controlling your image as well. You seemed to be aware of the aesthetic of what you were doing through your photography and presenting that to the world in a way that you wanted it to be communicated.
Chris Stein: To a certain extent. I mean, that is the do-it-yourself theme that we've always applied to ourselves. We never had stylists and we never had anything like that, certainly.
Debbie Harry: Well, basically it was because it was pre-easy technology. I mean, technology now has become easy and everyone can experiment and that's the way that the process of learning, it's about experimentation. So we did that in a quiet way and now people do that in front of millions of people. Whatever you feel comfortable with or whatever's available, it's just part of what we do and the creative process, or in the process of communication. Communication used to be very localised in the major cities of the world and now it's not, it's everywhere. I don't know if it's good or bad, does anybody?
RBMA: When you were putting those images out into the world, Debbie, when was the first time that you realised that you were gaining momentum as this almost iconic figure in rock 'n' roll, and that the image was a huge part of what you were doing as well?
Debbie Harry: I always knew about image being important and was very attached to that as a kid, looking at other artists and film stars. I always thought, "Well, gee, that’s great looking, and especially in rock 'n'roll." It was very visual. If you didn't have the visual content, for me, it didn't really add up. I think the first time that I ever really realised that this had become something was not until in the '80s, when I tried to re-establish my recording career. The late '80s, early '90s, it really was sort of staggering to me that this had become bigger. I mean, it was just ridiculous that this image thing had really worked.
RBMA: A lot of people famously say that without Debbie Harry you wouldn't necessarily have Madonna or Gaga or people who have been very image conscious in the future. But for me, it's like the music with you guys always came first and it seemed like the image was an amazing, powerful tool in getting the music to people. Is that a fair thing to say?
Debbie Harry: Well, I don’t think one would have worked without the other. For sure the music was the basis for it, so I think we were dedicated to that. I mean, it was a struggle to bring the music to the public, so that was actually the driving force.
RBMA: Talking of the music, what's the first song that we should play?
Chris Stein: Of this stuff?
RBMA: Is it "X Offender" or "In The Flesh"?
Chris Stein: The old stuff?
Debbie Harry: I don't want to hear it.
RBMA: You don't want to hear that?
Chris Stein: Can you input it later?
I mean, I like that the stuff doesn't sound dated, necessarily.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, it's OK, it's cute.
RBMA: Maybe we should fast forward to "Denis," which was massive in the UK. No?
Debbie Harry: No, no, it's all right. It's just, you know...
Chris Stein: "Denis" is always a thorn because it has "Oo-be-do" in the lyrics and it's really difficult to go out and sing "Oo-be-do," for anybody.
But you could play it, I mean, what the fuck.
Debbie Harry: You guys sing "Oo-be-do" and see how you feel about it.
RBMA: What shall we do, "Denis"? When I find the...
Debbie Harry: No, no, no.
Chris Stein: She's not going to want to hear anything. We don't sit around and listen to this stuff.
Debbie Harry: I'll leave the room and you guys get tortured.
RBMA: Well, this is significant for more than one reason, because I think it's fair to say that this moment in the UK was explosive.
(music: Blondie - Denis)
Debbie Harry: (comments over music) Recently I was asked why I didn't dance, "Why didn’t you dance on stage on Top of the Pops?" I said, "Well, when we got to Top of the Pops they would point to places where we should stand and then the cameras would do all the movement." So it wasn't like they would really tape or film a video performance or any kind of real performance. It was their performance, it was a Top of the Pops performance.
RBMA: The clip we're watching is from a programme in the UK called Top of the Pops. What's the US equivalent of that?
Chris Stein: American Bandstand, at this point American Idol, but everything was always lip-synced on Top of the Pops. But there almost was no equivalent, because in the States there's no national anything, really. I mean, there's a couple of TV shows, but there certainly is no national print media the way in the UK you have Melody Maker and NME and all those things. Everybody in the country read the New Musical Express, the NME, and it was a taste-making device for the whole country and everybody saw it all at the same time. There was no equivalent in the States, certainly, of that.
RBMA: Well, certainly, the power of the NME in the UK and, of course, Top of the Pops, which is 7pm on a weekday night. Did you feel the impact of that straight away when you started touring England?
Chris Stein: Oh, yeah. At first there was this Blondie-mania moment, with people rushing the cars and buses and stuff like that, which hadn't happened in the States.
RBMA: And did you enjoy that level of attention, Debbie, that sort of cult status that happened immediately?
Debbie Harry: I wasn't really used to it and I had led a much different kind of life. I wanted to be famous but I wasn't really aware of what it meant in terms of curbing my activities. I was used to a much freer kind of life.
RBMA: And did you find, like lots of musicians and creatives, that it was only when you left your home town that you were able to really, quote/unquote, 'blow up', as it were?
Debbie Harry: You mean from New York? Well, you know, it was pretty interesting. We had this weird thing happening in Australia and we went down there with two guys as our crew, no manager, no production, and it was pretty funky, it was pretty wild. We had at that time the hit song of "In The Flesh," which was a sweet little old-fashioned song, almost like an Everly Brothers song.
(music: Blondie – In The Flesh)
That's too loud.
Anyway, so we got to Australia and they were expecting Olivia Newton-John singing this sweet little song and various other sweet little songs. It wasn't. The whole audience just sort of sat there like this (mouth open), which was very interesting. We were highly entertained as well.
RBMA: You mentioned management. Was this the beginning of your career getting managers, getting record deals and that kind of thing? And what was that experience like at the height of the mania worldwide?
Debbie Harry: Well, we did have a manager when we went down there, only...
Chris Stein: ...he didn't come.
Debbie Harry: He just threw us out there with these two guys.
Chris Stein: But that said, the music business, the touring business in those days was nothing like it is now.
Debbie Harry: Now it’s much different. It was going somewhere and just doing a bunch of club dates, but in another country.
RBMA: Then famously, once you were with - was it Crysalis, you record label?
Chris Stein: Chrysalis we wound up on. We were first with a smaller label in the States called Private Stock, which was...
Debbie Harry: ...a hobby, a hobby label. (laughs)
Chris Stein: Yeah, what do you call it? A vanity project for this guy...
Debbie Harry: ...Larry Uttal...
Chris Stein: ...who had been partners with Seymour Stein, and Seymour went on to be much more of a visionary than Larry. They had been part of, I don't know, Bell or Buddha Records and they split up and formed their two labels. Then we got bought off Private Stock by Chrysalis.
RBMA: And then the whole A&R thing comes into play and you get sent to a producer, right, for the first time? We should mention, actually, the other people in the group at this point. How many are you?
Chris Stein: Well, we already had a bunch of turnovers, initially. I mean, there's been a lot of people in Blondie over the years. We started out with Fred and - Jesus, I mean there was a lot of people even before the success - and then Gary is on the first album, and he was a very charismatic kid by his own right. Then Frankie came in halfway through the second album, just a lot of people. The main line-up from those days was Gary and Nigel, Nigel who had played with Ray Manzarek in Nite City, the now-late Ray, who was a really lovely fellow. Nigel had been in his band, Nigel played bass on the Runaways record even though it's not supposed to be him. Jimmy, who was there early on; Clem who was there very early on, with his drumming.
RBMA: Talking of drumming, we should talk about the "Heart Of Glass" moment. Is that the first time you were playing to a click track, right?
Chris Stein: Well, I don't know, maybe some of those other songs on the record. That was the first deconstructed song, I think, as such, probably. I think all the other songs may have had a full kit and at least a bass and/or rhythm guitar with it.
RBMA: And what was the process of making that song?
Chris Stein: It was just the way people make records now, in pieces. You do a bass drum one track and you do toms on another track and it's all pieced together. So it was challenging, to say the least.
(music: Blondie - Heart Of Glass live)
RBMA: This was produced by Mike [Chapman]. How did that work out?
Chris Stein: Mike is terrific. Mike, I am told, is involved with 70 number one records in his career, which is a lot.
Debbie Harry: And many of them he wrote.
Chris Stein: Yeah, so he was great and it was an eye-opener working with him, certainly.
RBMA: Is it fair to say it had a bit of a disco-era tinge to it, that record, right?
Chris Stein: Well, we really thought we sounded like Kraftwerk. We weren't thinking of disco at all and it just kind of slotted in there.
RBMA: But it did become a big record at [Studio] 54 and some of those clubs as well, right? And was it your first number one?
Chris Stein: In the States, yeah, it was the first American number one, so that was a big deal.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, it was a big deal. Mike came to Italy, we were in Milan, and wanted us to come down to the bar and have a drink and didn't say why he was there. We didn't want to go down to the bar, (laughs) but he insisted that we come down to the bar. That's when we found out.
Chris Stein: Because America is, with all its little regional markets and different tastes all over the country - it's still like that - it's hard to have one thing rise to the surface, it’s difficult.
(music: Blondie – Heart Of Glass)
Debbie Harry: (comments over music) Weren't we inspired by Giorgo [Moroder]?
Chris Stein: We were talking about Giorgo when we did this. We can't remember, but we certainly were aware of it.
Debbie Harry: I know you did a programme with him, right?
RBMA: Yeah, we were lucky enough to hear from him last week. He joined us last Monday, so it's interesting to join the dots in this era of music. Obviously, he was doing his work with Donna.
Debbie Harry: Well, the thing that was interesting when we finally met Giorgio and talked about the writing and the music and everything; he said he had written "I Feel Love" about five years before he could actually record it and it would be accepted.
Chris Stein: In the '60s no one was ready for it.
Debbie Harry: And that was the truth for us with "Heart Of Glass." "Heart Of Glass" had been around, for us, for over five years. That's sort of funny. I mean, there was always this sort of time thing that would happen that doesn't happen today.
Chris Stein: But you give us too much credit here. This version we kind of put together in the studio.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, this version for sure, but I'm sure that was partially with Giorgo too.
Chris Stein: I love how this doesn't sound dated at all. It sounds like MIDI - we all know what MIDI is? Musical Instrument Digital Interface, which is the language that all this crap uses to talk to itself and to other things. It sounds like something like that, only this took days and days to put the track together, whereas now if you had the idea you could put it together in an hour or so.
RBMA: How was this received, considering it was a hit at 54 and it was adopted in much the same way that a Donna Summer record would be, by club DJs? How was it received by your peers from the CBGB days?
Debbie Harry: Ah, well...
Chris Stein: I mean, Joey Ramone saying we sold out is kind of tongue in cheek, really. I don't know if he was really seriously pissed off about it.
Debbie Harry: Did Joey ever get seriously pissed off about anything?
Chris Stein: That's something else too. Yeah, you know what.
Debbie Harry: One thing. Now what was I going to say? Oh well, must have been a lie.
RBMA: I wanted to talk to you about tapping into New York musical culture as well, because obviously this does have a tinge of that era of club record, and then, of course, from my generation one of the most famous lyrics of all time is, "Fab 5 Freddy says everybody's fly." I just wanted you to talk about the "Rapture" moment, really, because I think it's probably fair to say that you're the first group with a popular reach that introduced rap on a record. I mean, certainly I think it's fair to say you introduced the idea to a worldwide public, or a pop public perhaps, that hadn't yet had the opportunity to come into contact with New York hip hop culture. How did you meet Fab 5 Freddy?
Chris Stein: Probably from TV Party, around there maybe. Yeah, I think he showed up...
Debbie Harry: Either CB's or TV Party.
Chris Stein: Yeah, I think it was TV Party.
Debbie Harry: He was a very entrepreneurial character and just was adventurous and he likes connecting the dots. He was all over and he is still today, totally. He'll call me up and say, "Well, what about this?" and I say, "Fred, how did you know this?" He’s sort of, two seconds after something happens, he knows.
Chris Stein: So in 1977 he took a bunch of us uptown to the Bronx, to a Police Athletic League, which is like a youth centre, a neighbourhood youth centre, and we saw this big event, this big rap event, which was super exciting. It was just phenomenal and it was a game-changer for me, certainly. I saw that it was paralleling what was going on downtown, but we didn't know much about it.
RBMA: Can you describe the event, what it looked like?
Chris Stein: It was like a gymnasium-type thing with a stage and it wasn't just a gig by one group, it was a bunch, it was kind of a festival where there were a bunch of groups, [Grandmaster] Flash and the Funky Four, and maybe Cold Crush, I can’t even remember. I was talking to Charlie [Ahearn] about it, actually, he had a memory of it too. I think he may have been with us.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, I think so.
Chris Stein: I can't remember what he said now, because it’s also the 30th anniversary of Wild Style, which was the first hip hop film ever made. And it was just terrific, the energy level was amazing.
RBMA: Perhaps it's not for me to say, of course, but I always got the sense that you were very much respected among the hip hop community, because you were celebrating and crediting what you were tapping into as opposed to taking it. It's like, you put a lot of people on an international stage, of course, including Flash, which is probably the first time I saw him in a video.
Debbie Harry: Well, it's a double-edged thing.
Chris Stein: Am I right in thinking you flew out Kurtis Blow to the UK, as well?
Debbie Harry: Yeah, I think so, yeah.
Chris Stein: You remember that? I can't remember it.
Debbie Harry: And we had the Funky Four + 1 on Saturday Night Live and that was quite an achievement. They were paranoid.
Chris Stein: That was the first rap act on American TV, I think, either national or local, and they still put them on at the credit crawl at the end of the show. They didn't know what to expect.
Debbie Harry: Then they fell in love with them.
RBMA: Maybe you can talk us through who's in this video.
(video: Blondie - Rapture)
Debbie Harry: (comments over music) Now this guy was supposed to be - what is his name, Samedi?
Chris Stein: I think it was Baron Samedi, lord of the graveyards in voodoo culture. I think this guy was Haitian and he was actually a great dancer.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, and he brought in...
Chris Stein: He had three girls who were...
Debbie Harry: Two girls, three girls?
Chris Stein: Three girls, yeah, and one of them sort of became possessed in the midst of the filming and they had to carry her off and revive her. They were used to going into that sort of trance state when they were dancing. I think it wasn't so much our influence.
Debbie Harry: OK, that's enough of this, all right?
You know, the rap thing is more of a tribute than an actual thing.
Chris Stein: It's an homage.
Debbie Harry: It's not really very good. I mean, it was interesting to a lot of people, but I think that the real rappers were a little bit uptight, pissed off about it, initially. But I will say, this is the first rap song that had its own song, its own music, because up until then they were scratching and taking licks from Chic and everything. This had its own embodied theme as well.
Chris Stein: My wife just told me that the Beastie Boys' first album, had they had to pay for the samples, would have cost like $10 million or something like that. That's Basquiat.
Debbie Harry: That's Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Chris Stein: Probably his only rock video appearances.
Debbie Harry: OK, come on. I'll smash your computer, I will.
Chris Stein: That's Lee Quinones, also known as LEE, a really great, brilliant graffiti artist.
Debbie Harry: I don't know who that guy is. (laughs)
Chris Stein: Yeah, I don't know who that guy is.
Debbie Harry: Well, it was fun to do anyway.
RBMA: All right, well, even if you don't like it, we're going to give you a round of applause for that, OK?
RBMA: So where are we at in the timeline of Blondie for a moment? Do you mind me raising the fact that you were also a couple at this stage?
Chris Stein: Yeah, we were hanging out a lot. This is from Autoamerican, which had this and "The Tide Is High" on it, and famously when we gave the record to Chrysalis they said, "We don’t hear any singles on this record."
Debbie Harry: They said that about Parallel Lines too.
Chris Stein: But that’s what record companies do. I mean, record companies were and are inherently evil.
Debbie Harry: Anybody here from a label? Bless you.
Chris Stein: I shouldn't make a broad statement like that, I'm sure there are some indie labels...
RBMA: Well, if anyone is qualified to talk about the highs and lows of the music industry, it's definitely you guys. I mean, it's relevant, obviously we've got a room full of musically-minded producers, DJs, singers, artists. You definitely had a rough ride with management and money and accounting experiences, is that right?
Chris Stein: Well, the main thing was that the two years we made the most money, our accountant decided not to pay our taxes, because those were the days of tax shelters and loopholes and trying not to pay taxes, even on a non-Apple, Amazon level.
Debbie Harry: Also, we were extremely bad business people. We really didn't pay attention to it, or were very interested in it, so we trusted our management to take care of things. I think now people are much more knowledgeable. Record companies now want a percentage of everything you do, I mean, that's rough too. They take a percentage across the board of tours, merchandise, records or CDs. Whatever income's coming in, they are entitled to some of it, which is kind of gross.
RBMA: It is definitely a relevant subject to talk about, because we mentioned 40 million records at this stage in your career. Definitely, you were hitting 20 million records worldwide, yet parting ways with a manager. How is it that you can have 20 million records on the board and not be paid right? It's amazing. For us, we sit here and go, yeah, Blondie, Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, superstars, but there's definitely been low points where you've had platinum discs on the wall I imagine and not...
Debbie Harry: Even funnier was when "Heart Of Glass" was at number one, we were on suspension, which means that we hadn't fulfilled the obligations of our contract. So we had a number one record and we were also on suspension. The whole thing of it was mad, it was really mad.
Chris Stein: It all goes back to the surf mentality. The Brill Building, does anybody know what that was? It was a building in New York where all the old songwriters would collect and write and do their work out of. It all kind of represented the corporate aspect of the music business at the time, with publishing meaning paper publishing, physical objects and such. It was kind of a surf mentality where you were working for the record company rather than with them, certainly.
RBMA: It might be an oversimplified question, but if you could impart one bit of knowledge about what you've learned from the bad bits.
Chris Stein: Oh, just don't trust anybody. I mean, what the fuck. The big thing was having somebody come along and go, "You can trust me, son," and do that thing, and then you're fucked from there on, you know?
Debbie Harry: There is more information now, so that's very good.
Chris Stein: Yeah, at that point the guy we had for a lawyer went on to write textbooks that are used in entertainment law classes, and I don't think there were entertainment law classes in the '70s, it just didn't exist.
Debbie Harry: So you can image how people before us really never saw [proper compensation]. I mean, you hear stories like that all the time, right? Artists from the '50s and the '60s that never saw a nickel.
RBMA: Talk to me about the cover of Parallel Lines.
Debbie Harry: Well, it's what it is. It's nice. It's OK, black and white. If the music hadn't happened I don't think it would have stood out particularly as great art or hugely interesting. It just became very popular, so the artwork meant something.
RBMA: I can't think of another popular rock 'n' roll group that’s a band of guys with a female front vocalist. Has that ever happened before or since?
Chris Stein: Gladys Knight & The Pips.
RBMA: I guess. Rock 'n' roll, though?
Debbie Harry: Did you ever see when The Pips performed without Gladys?
Chris Stein: Yeah, they were called And The Pips.
Debbie Harry: It's great, it's so great.
Chris Stein: It's great, they just do the back-ups for "Midnight Train," you know?
Debbie Harry: They just do the back-ups, it's fabulous. "I heard it..." Yeah, it's really funny.
RBMA: So at this point in your career there's loads of people around you who you couldn't trust, but you definitely have always trusted each other. We don't want to pry too much, but it's beautiful to have such a creative soulmate partnership that's lasted to this day. Maybe you can talk to us about working with the person closest to you.
Chris Stein: Oh, with Debbie, we just have a lot of unsaid communication, a lot of non-verbal stuff goes on. I don't have to ask her much because she always will have the same conclusions.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, and sometimes he'll... most recently, there were a couple of lines in a song that he came up with, and then there were two more lines that had to be written, and I had already written them. So I mean, it just sort of happens. It's easy for us. I mean, we certainly have had our disagreements and battles, but not so much recently.
Chris Stein: No, we get along pretty good.
RBMA: And do you mind, Chris, talking about the period in your life when you fell ill?
Chris Stein: No, I just had this weird illness, which is genetic, I’m told. You have to be of Mediterranean, Eastern European origin, and I was doing so many fucking drugs I just wore myself out and really lowered my immune system. And this thing came up and it took a couple of years to get rid of. It was annoying but interesting.
RBMA: And am I right in thinking, Debbie, that you put things on hold for yourself as well in order to...?
Debbie Harry: Well, I don't know. I really had no super-ambition to be a solo artist. I always like the idea of working in a group, in a band, and I loved collaborating with Chris, so... I mean, simultaneously - let’s figure out the rest of this now - we got dropped from our label.
Chris Stein: Yeah, we were at a low point. What is this, '82?
Debbie Harry: Chris got sick, our financial manager did not pay our taxes, all of this. The bottom fell out and so I probably wouldn't have been able to continue. I was swamped in this mire of complicated, disgusting issues. Nowadays, one of my favourite things to say to people is, don't forget to take a vacation, because we worked non-stop for seven years under extreme pressure, and Chris started his own label and he was producing artists, and we were doing a lot of stuff without stopping. And stopping is very important, so it shows that we were forced to stop. They said, stop, and that's basically what happened.
RBMA: And you're still sitting on the sofa together.
Chris Stein: Well, yeah. It is what it is.
Debbie Harry: Don't press your luck!
RBMA: I don't want to cliché too much the '70s and '80s drug thing, but it is a relevant sort of sidebar to the timeline of some of the ups and downs of the group as well. How much did that have an effect on not just you guys and your personal relationship together, but the whole ensemble?
Debbie Harry: I think everybody was taking drugs. It was socially [accepted], that was it, that was what was going on. I don't know what’s going on today, really. I think people experiment and try things. I don't know, I don't see people being constantly involved with drugs. It's perhaps more of a party thing.
Chris Stein: I've always thought that my parents' generation had absolutely, really zero information about drugs, that we growing up never heard anything about it – except that, OK, this might be fun or it seems like it should be amusing or whatever – so that was it. The ravages of it weren't as apparent as they are now, certainly.
RBMA: Let's play another song. Shall we play "One Way Or Another" or shall we play "Call Me"?
Chris Stein: Yeah, I mean "Call Me" is good if you want Giorgio.
(music: Blondie – Call Me)
(Debbie and Chris have an aside)
We were talking about Liberace and the HBO thing, that's all.
RBMA: Is it good?
Chris Stein: Yeah, it was awesome.
RBMA: Michael Douglas, right?
Debbie Harry: Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.
Chris Stein: I think I saw people complaining that Matt Damon was too old to play a teenager, because the guy was like 17. I thought the make-up was fucking as good as the walking dead, it was amazing, the stuff they did.
RBMA: What made you think of that during this song?
Chris Stein: Nothing.
Giorgio, yeah. Giorgio was the opposite of Chapman. He wanted to just do everything as fast as possible, so we just went in there, did a couple of hours with him. I think he redid some of the parts with his guys and that was it.
RBMA: Fast-forwarding a little bit, once you've got through and you're back on track after being sick, you reformed Blondie but with a slightly different cast. I mean, I don't want to dwell too much on the negative stuff, but for people who are just starting out in music it's definitely worth not ignoring the possible things that can happen when you fall out with people, or things don't work out with other band members and stuff. Maybe you could talk to us about that experience in a positive way, what you can draw from it?
Chris Stein: Oh, I don't know. We had been working with Lee Fox for years. I mean, he's been working with us for 20-odd years at this point.
Debbie Harry: Really?
Chris Stein: Yeah, we've been working with him since god knows when. So, I don't know, I tried to work with Gary again. Gary and I were always friendly except when we were in a working situation when we would bump heads. It didn't seem to work out. Maybe it's my fault, maybe it's his fault, it's hard to say. We didn't really think about using Nigel and Frankie again.
Debbie Harry: It's very difficult to keep an ensemble together, especially if you're sharing a partnership. We were all partners in a corporation as well.
Chris Stein: The band situation is fairly democratic. You have to have a vote, get out-voted and stuff like that.
Debbie Harry: It's one of those things. I mean, when you work on a film you're working with people for six weeks, two months, three months at the outside usually. Even in that short situation, even in the run of a play, there's things. Egos get in the way and it doesn't work. After how many years, forget it. Sometimes it just wears itself out. I mean, friendships come and friendships go, and you mature in different ways at different timing. That's just life, right?
RBMA: It's clear that you two are the creative nucleus of Blondie, but what is the creative process? Do you like being in the studio, do you spend a lot of time there? Maybe you could just give us an insight into how you make music together?
Chris Stein: Well, it's been changing all the time with technology now. I say I'm glad that we were at the height of analogue recording and we got to experience that, but I really enjoy working with the modern stuff, with the computers. Just working the way it is, it's much more intuitive once you get it going. There's a lot of people involved, I think there are more people involved with this last thing that we're wrapping up now than ever before. We have more outside influences and individuals coming into the whole project.
Debbie Harry: I will say that Chris was into computers at a very early time, with the Amiga and Compuserve, right? Was it Compuserve?
Chris Stein: No. You see, her computer skills are like... Compuserve, no. We had Amiga's early on, which was a Commodore, is that what you're trying to say?
Debbie Harry: Oh, it was a Commodore, right. But Compuserve was a network, like AOL or something, right?
Chris Stein: Maybe. I remember the onset of email.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, you used to get it on the phone.
Chris Stein: With dial-up, right. I remember the onset of email, and if I had any brains I would have bought all those great domain names, but what can you say.
Debbie Harry: You're a failure.
RBMA: And what's the process now? You're working on a brand new record, what's the process?
Chris Stein: Yeah, we've just finished a bunch of stuff.
RBMA: What do you do in the studio, Chris?
Chris Stein: Me? I sit there now and I do a lot of programming and I make a version of the song, somewhat, and then I send it to my producer, and he replaced some parts, and then we all got together later on in the process, and replaced more parts. But at this point every song has some of my little synthesizers and things on it that we started out with.
Debbie Harry: Yeah, he comes up with some nice sounds.
RBMA: And Debbie, have you enjoyed this new bout of touring as much as you did the first time around? Do you still get a kick out of touring and performing?
Debbie Harry: Well, yeah, I mean, that's what I do. That's what I've wanted to do and trained myself to do. And I still learn things from it, so it's not like I walk out like a zombie or a robot. It's something that's an experience that I learn things from all the time. I mean, technically it's become a lot easier for me, with in-ear monitors and the sound equipment. Everything has improved, the technology has really improved, it's great.
Chris Stein: Yeah, the whole thing is much easier.
RBMA: Do you want to play something from this new material?
Chris Stein: Sure. What have you got? Play "Drag You Around." I'm hearing that radio is responding to this track.
RBMA: And this is brand new from... when was this recorded?
Chris Stein: Over the course of last year.
(music: Blondie – Drag You Around)
Debbie Harry: This is not mastered. This is a mix, not a master.
(photos show on screen)
RBMA: I love the way that when I'm playing it, we're just putting pictures up and there's a casual, "Yeah, yeah, that's the painting..." Do you have that in your house, the original of this?
Debbie Harry: I do. Well, he made a lot of them, but I have a copy, yeah, fortunately.
RBMA: And this is the Warhol photograph of you, right?
Debbie Harry: Yeah, I think so, one of them. Yes, that's my 'secretary with attitude' pose.
Chris Stein: That song was written by a guy, a friend of ours from New Zealand who’s named Matt Barus, and he has a group called The Dukes, which is a very cool band from down there.
RBMA: Well, I'm conscious that we're going to run out of time and I know that there's going to be a lot of questions from the room, so if you're happy I think we should hand over the mic to the floor and try and take as many participant questions as we can before we run out of time.
Torsten Schmidt: Well, first of all, thank you for being here. Urban folklore has it that Mr Stein, you were quite instrumental – you just mentioned the 30 year anniversary of Wild Style – in securing the funding for that project. And if I heard the story correctly, a German state television agency, which at the time was probably the most conservative broadcasting entity in the world, was instrumental too.
Chris Stein: Now, this is all beyond my ken here. I've never really heard any of this stuff.
Debbie Harry: This is Charlie's stuff.
Chris Stein: Yeah, I'd have to ask Charlie, Charlie Ahearn.
Debbie Harry: The Akademie der Künste was very not conservative, I found at that time.
Chris Stein: But I don't know if that's what he’s referring to.
Participant: Apparently the ZDF, the German state television, funded Wild Style and rumour has it that you were the one making the link.
Chris Stein: No, I was just there in a musical capacity. That was it for me.
Debbie Harry: See how these lies start?
Torsten Schmidt: But that’s what this forum is for, we can finally get it straight.
Chris Stein: I don't think they had too much money at all.
Torsten Schmidt: In a roundabout way it was like, thanks for being somehow involved in that and bringing that to the world.
Chris Stein: Yeah, Wild Style is great.
Debbie Harry: You could look up Charlie.
Chris Stein: Charlie Ahearn, he's still kicking it with Wild Style. They have the 30th anniversary. They're doing a special pressing – I think they're pressing each one of the tracks separately to be used for mixing, scratching, whatever.
Torsten Schmidt: On the rumour note, Mr Moroder last week said that you were not actually quite happy with "Call Me" and were not really liking to perform it.
Debbie Harry: Oh, no. Our keyboard player downright flatly refused to play it, because they replaced his part. He was very insulted by that.
Chris Stein: Yeah, I mean Giorgio was Giorgio. It was Giorgio and he had two guys, one was an engineer and the other was a guitar player and keyboard player, and I'm sure they replaced a bunch of our parts. We may have made up and influenced the parts, but I think they were refined by some of those guys. Clem is definitely on there, that’s for sure. Beyond that I can't say for sure, because we just worked with him very quickly, worked up a version of the thing, and then he said OK and the next thing we know we heard the finished product. I know it's his synth guys on there, it's his standard sound.
RBMA: Next question? Don't be shy. I was shy at the beginning.
Debbie Harry: They're sick of us already.
Participant: This question's for Blondie. Is it true - and if so, can you talk a little bit about it - did you once upon a time hitch a ride from Ted Bundy.
Debbie Harry: So, supposedly, yeah.
Chris Stein: We will never know if it was actually Ted Bundy.
Participant: Well, I know he had lots of different disguises.
Chris Stein: The guy she hitched a ride with had the same M.O.
Debbie Harry: I thought you were going to ask me about my moustache.
RBMA: Any more questions? Can we go to participants first? Participants, now is your time.
Debbie Harry: I have to say that I received a track today from a Turkish couple, sent to me by Rainer from Die Haut, so I was very excited by that.
Chris Stein: Did you like that?
Debbie Harry: Yeah, I'm looking forward to us sort of branching out. I've always been curious about working over there and meeting people from areas of the world where the music stems from a different place.
Participant: I want to ask about the song "The Tide Is High," which was originally sung by a reggae band called The Paragons, who are actually not that mainstream. How did you go about picking that song?
Chris Stein: I had gotten a compilation record from a friend of ours who's a writer, just a reggae compilation record. That one track really stood out and the original is amazing. If anybody hasn't heard it, I really recommend digging out the old version. It's got a violin on it, so all the horn lines are based on the violin lines. It's really weird for a reggae track from the '60s to have a violin on it.
Debbie Harry: And it has beautiful harmonies.
Chris Stein: Yeah, it's great.
Participant: Did you have any other reggae interests or artists that you liked at the time?
Chris Stein: Yeah, I was always a total reggae buff. We were criticised on the last record for having too many reggae songs.
(music: Blondie - The Tide Is High)
Debbie Harry: Well, I just want to congratulate you all for getting this opportunity, presented from Red Bull. I guess it was a contest of sorts?
Chris Stein: Are you guys from out of town?
RBMA: All over the world.
Debbie Harry: Fantastic.
Chris Stein: Toots and The Maytals should be in the rock 'n' roll hall of fame, it's pathetic. I mean, among many others, but that one is my favourite peeve. Those guys are so influential, that body of material is amazing.
Participant: Thank you again for being here and sharing with us. I wanted to know, was it challenging to be a powerful woman in rock 'n' roll, and how did you deal with criticism over the years?
Debbie Harry: (laughs) Oh, god, not very well. I don't know, I probably didn't feel particularly powerful. I was struggling with my own inner demons. But I think that I had determination, I had an excellent partner and friend, so I got lucky. But criticism, I know that after one of the trips to the UK in the early days, I think I stayed in bed under the covers for a couple of weeks, after being written about in every possible way. It was too much. I guess you learn to deal with it and one of the things I learned was not to read criticism while I was working or on the road, or just let it go and not be bothered with it.
Chris Stein: Yeah, now we're in the era where there's no such thing as bad publicity, I think that's more in play than ever before. All the people having nervous breakdowns in the media, and that still manages to elevate them and get them another 150,000 followers on Twitter.
Debbie Harry: And I will say, now, that my perspective, if I read some kind of criticism, it gives me an understanding of the person who wrote it.
Chris Stein: But that's it. I think people gravitate towards negativity. I find that if I’m reading 800 Facebook posts saying how great we are and then one guy writes, "You suck," then that affects me more than the other 799 saying how great we area, so it's weird.
Participant: Interesting enough, punk is always viewed as being a British thing by mainstream media and in the reflection afterwards. What would you say that you guys from New York were different from the lads in London at this time in the '70s.
Chris Stein: Well, the British punk scene was genuinely more politically motivated than in New York, where it was more of a social phenomenon, I think. Recently, we just saw Vivienne Westwood coming to the Met Ball and she was making a political statement about some soldier who was being wronged over there, so she has maintained her [political stance].
Debbie Harry: Yeah, it was very political in the UK.
Chris Stein: To me, that was always the biggest crossover. The Ramones are singing about...
Debbie Harry: ...mental problems.
Chris Stein: Mental problems, this and that. Johnny Rotten was singing about anarchy, so there was a maybe a different worldview from the two things. I'm not sure which influenced the other, really. We know that Malcolm came and saw the [New York] Dolls.
RBMA: Malcolm McLaren?
Chris Stein: Yeah. Malcolm put some of those elements of the [New York] Dolls and Television on the Sex Pistols.
Debbie Harry: In a way I think it's probably pretty close to being the same thing. I mean, we approached it from the perspective of social issues, which comes down to being affected by politics.
Chris Stein: But also, here in New York it was a musical backlash against all the mediocre, MOR music that was going on in the '70s, too.
RBMA: And did you see those people as your contemporaries, overseas? Did you have a creative relationship of any kind with Vivienne and Malcolm and all that?
Chris Stein: Well, the guys from The Damned we were always friends with, different bands.
Participant: Hello, thank you for being here. So, I came from Chile and in my country one of the most legendary dance clubs is called Blondie, in tribute to you. Have you heard about it? And I'm asking, is that a good example of the legacy of Blondie?
Debbie Harry: Cool.
Participant: Have you heard about this story?
Chris Stein: That we're popular in Chile? Yeah.
Debbie Harry: No, no, this is another band in Chile named Blondie.
RBMA: A club, a club, a whole venue.
Debbie Harry: We're going to have to go get them now.
Chris Stein: No, I haven't. What do they do? I'm a big fan of Latin music these days.
Participant: Sorry, again?
Chris Stein: Is there actually another Blondie band in Chile?
Debbie Harry: Ah, I thought you were talking about another band. Ah, the hell with it.
Chris Stein: We don't get down there much, it's ironic.
Debbie Harry: We've been there a couple of times though.
Chris Stein: We have two Spanish language tracks on this record coming out, so we'll see what happens – not completely, but we have Spanish, Latino guest artistes.
Debbie Harry: From Systema Solar...
Chris Stein: ...who are from Colombia, and Los Rakas from Oakland.
Debbie Harry: From where?
Chris Stein: Oakland.
Debbie Harry: Oakland? They're Mexican originally.
RBMA: Well, it's been a great privilege for me to sit along such legends and for us all to have such an education today. Thank you so much, Chris Stein and Debbie Harry.
Debbie Harry: Thank you, thank you very much.