Still Rocking With Blondie
Formed in 1974, Blondie was one of the most well-loved groups to come out of the New York City new-wave scene that also birthed the Talking Heads, the Ramones and Television.
The band played a faster, slightly more sinister take on ‘60s pop but found mainstream success by pioneering a blend of mod-ish rock with disco on such songs as Heart of Glass and Call Me, which became sizable hits. The band’s popularity was driven by the music, but also by singer Deborah Harry’s deadpan vocals, striking looks and platinum blonde hair.
And it still is.
Blondie split up in 1982 but reunited in 1997. Since then, the band has performed sporadically and released two albums, No Exit and The Curse of Blondie. A third post-reunion record is due in November, and the band will spend the fall touring with longtime Los Angeles punk band X.
At this point, Blondie has been together a long time. Even after you account for the band’s mid-’80s brownout, its working relationship has endured for more than 20 years — a heavier haul than many real-life office jobs. Some original members have dropped out of the fold but the group’s core lineup of Harry, guitarist Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke remains. According to Harry, they still get along.
“I think it’s very good to still be doing music. It’s a very heavy scenario,” says Harry, 68. “I think that the long break during the ‘80s is probably what saved us.”
On tour, the band will play the hits but also perform a handful of new songs. Harry compares the band’s recent work to its classic material, mainly Parallel Lines, Blondie’s 1978 breakout album that included Heart of Glass. But the new album’s working title, Ghosts of Download, doesn’t evoke retro-minded Studio 54-style glamour so much as the B-list sci-fi title tucked into the outer reaches of your Netflix queue. Chatting with Rolling Stone magazine in August, Stein explained the record’s concept, saying, “It’s all about spirits in the background of electricity in data.”
That might seem like a bit of a genre jump for a band that defined late-’70s cool chic, but there is some precedent.
Like their proto-punk peers Talking Heads, Blondie made popular music but also acted as patrons to artists that existed far from the mainstream. They dabbled in dance music and early hip-hop. Stein also produced Miami, the sophomore album by Los Angeles voodoo-punk band the Gun Club, and co-hosted the spaced-out public access show TV Party, which featured many of the New York punk and visual art community’s more outre personalities.
As Blondie began to wind down, Harry transitioned into a career as an actress and solo musician. In both pursuits, she made some edgy choices. For her 1981 solo debut, Koo Koo, she hired Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, best known for designing the alien in Alien, to craft the cover art and direct a music video for her single Backfired.
In 1983, she starred in Videodrome, an early movie by Canadian sci-fi and horror director David Cronenberg. Many of the “edgy” decisions that performers made during the ‘80s no longer seem that severe, but Harry’s decision to play a possibly incorporeal sadomasochistic psychiatrist in a movie that featured living, breathing television sets still seems pretty weird, even by today’s twerk-riddled standards.
“In a way, Cronenberg was about the coming of the Internet,” Harry says. “With my character, we really struggled with the idea of whether she was flesh and blood. She was virtual, but this was before ‘virtual’ was a construct.”
Harry’s taste is still pretty out there. She cites the freaky South African hip-hop group Die Antwoord as one of her favorite contemporary acts.
She also presents them as evidence of how things have changed in the Web-friendly world, which allowed the bizarro blonde duo unfiltered access to the masses.
During the ‘70s, Harry moved to New York to be freaky, but it’s no longer necessary to relocate.
“I think the world has changed, as far as the idea of going to New York,” she says. “Now we have the Internet.”