Friday, 29 November 2013

September 1978

Picture This

I get to Heathrow an hour early only to find Dina’s flight is delayed by two hours. I haven’t seen her in three months – what’s three hours? The time now is two fifteen p.m. She’s due in at 4-25 p.m.

So I have a coffee and read the paper.

Shit! 2-30 p.m.

I take a walk. I’ve never been so full of longing and desire and friendship. It’s too hot a potato for my patience to handle and I’m on fire, a hunk of burning love, a many-splendoured thing. I sit down and read the paper and have a coffee.

Shit! 2-53 p.m.

I honestly never believed Dina would come back. Everything she ever wanted in life was in Cyprus − sunshine, laughter, the comfort of family and friends with a clear blue sea and pine-clad mountains never too far away. And here there’s me, full stop. Okay, I know she enjoyed the freedom that London offered, freedom from the shackles of a traditional seventies Cypriot mother -- but I ask you, sunshine, laughter, the comfort of family and friends with a clear blue sea and pine-clad mountains never too far away, or me?

Well, she chose me. Maybe she knew she’d never find another living soul who loved her as much I did. Maybe it’s women’s intuition. If it is, then it’s not as sharp as women make out because if you ask the 2013 Dina she’d stab me a million times to get through to the sunshine, laughter, the comfort of family and friends with a clear blue sea and pine-clad mountains never too far away. I thought you gals had something going for you, but it turns out you’re just as dumbarse as men are.

Shit! 3-20.

I get up and wander around the shops. WH Smith is full of Stephen King, Robert Ludlum and John Le Carré – ghouls, guns and gumption. I read the first pages of half a dozen novels, glance through the NME, scratch my arse, check out the latest Louise Brown story in the Guardian, scratch my arse again, have a coffee and read the paper.

Shit! 3-50.

Will this plane never come?

I’ve written to Dina while she was away and spoken to her, courtesy of the Cupid on the switchboard at Record Mirror. Her face was beginning to fade, with the trace of a smile the last to go like a Cypriot Cheshire cat. Suddenly I can see her again. She hasn’t passed through the gate but I see her perfectly, see her loveliness. She’s close by and my memory can sniff her out. She’s still at the baggage carousel but she’s all I can see, all I can hear, all I can feel.

And there’s my dream, come true…


My first meeting with Debbie Harry starts a chain of events that alters the course of my entire life. It’s a funny old game.

Picture this: Debbie in black in transit i
ncognito in shades in London.Incandescent coffee-cup laughter in the hotel garden. Cheesecake smile, creamy frown, peachy patter. The fifties starlet without a Tab Hunter shoulder to cry on. Forget the odd bark line of maturity -- it’s just another dream gone wrong.

She's younger looking than I expected. The Bitch Brothers had instilled in my innocent mind visions of a hoary, gum slithering club hostess with honeycomb features. Instead, I encountered a face of eyes; two Roaring Twenties crystal balls reflecting the miasma below.

Yes, below. For Debbie more than any other female singer of the seventies has been elevated to those untouchable heights reserved for movie stars. Y'know, every guy's gossamer sexual fantasy − blissfully unattainable combined with a masturbatory elegance. Visions of her swathed in and out of a focus wonderland on
Top Of The Pops'wearing silk shorts − looking for all the world like a blonde Ava Gardner pickled for thirty years to preserve that pristine promiscuous look − only serve to perpetuate the myth.

If ever there was a Venus in blue jeans it's Debbie Harry.

But moments before she was in schoolgirl regalia for a national-newspaper photo shoot. All black stockings and suspenders peeping out from beneath a short pleated skirt like war wounds. ‘I don’t mind posing for photographs. It’s part of my art form.’ A disposable voice. It’s there, you listen, it disappears, you forget. ‘Being a photograph, being an actress, being a sculpture. It’s all creating image simultaneously.

‘Okay, so maybe that whole image thing can backfire. Now people review Blondie less in terms of music and more in terms of how I look. All I know is, I’ve always tried to stimulate interest in this group through whatever channel’s possible. Sure I have some regrets about that, but I’ve learned to accept them. I used whatever advantages I might have to sell records.’

Hence the wet-lipped Marilyn Monroe come-on. ‘I used that kind of image a lot in the early days because it was convenient and made for easy reference. But I’m not at all like Monroe.

'She got sort of lost inside. I have more creative outlets. She was a legend, but not in a Da Vinci way. All she really did was turn people on and that’s not what I want. Anyway, I don’t cultivate that image any more. I’m more sure of myself now . . . and the music. I don’t ever want to end up a legend.’

But she’s already halfway there with a history that reads like a B movie. Left her comfortable home, where her mother ran a candy store, for the bright lights of New York. Predictably the bulbs went out, leaving a twilight zone of Times Square druggos and groupies. Debbie became an addict with a pillowcase view of the rock world.

‘I finally decided it was about time women took the initiative in rock and roll, so I formed a band, the Stilettos with Chris Stein, and kicked my habit. I have no regrets about those days. I had to get away from home. I had to experience life to the full. I had to. I suppose I was lucky to come through unscathed. I’ve been left with an inner feeling of contentment. I made up my mind to do those things and it’s all turned out worthwhile. Surely that’s better than sitting in front of the TV all your life wishing you had done the things you’re watching other people doing.’

That indeed may be so − but the corpulent bozos among us would rather watch in their claustrophobic cells of splendid voyeurism than venture one step beyond. Stardom appears to have landed her with one hell of an age hang-up. When asked that delicate question she pauses, lowers her shades and replies, ‘My published age is thirty-two. I think most people lie about their age when they pass twenty-five. And being in this business only makes things worse because the accent is on youth, so I guess it’s crucial that I should be marketed in the right way.

‘What these marketing men tend to forget is that rock ’n’ roll is a part of everyone’s life now, no matter how you react to it and what your age might be.’

She is wary, forever on guard against giving any kind of reply that could be misinterpreted, thanks to previous interviewers, she says, who managed to carve her up nicely. Sometimes she looks older than those thirty-odd years, sometimes younger -- it depends where the sun happens to be in the sky . . . So, what of persistent marriage rumours with guitarist Chris Stein?

‘Totally unfounded. Sure, Chris has proposed, but I'm just nowhere near ready. We have a great relationship and I'm sure marriage would ruin all that, leaving at least one of us unhappy. I sort of feel sorry for the man in a married situation. For a woman it's a business proposition and since I already have a career I don't need it.

‘A wife has to help her husband’s career, which limits her chances of doing something stimulating with her life. If I had a kid I’d like to make it legal to give the child some kind of identity. But I think Chris would rather I gave birth to a guitar anyway.’

She says it’s only the true love she’s found with him that has helped her overcome her fears of sexual come-ons. ‘I don’t worry about them anymore, thanks to Chris. Now I can even let girls approach me after a show and I think it’s flattering. It’s the drunks in bars who spit in your face while they try to chat you up that I can’t stand.’

And it’s not only the drunks. The era of the Blondie slag-off is upon us. It was just a matter of time. You’re heralded as the next big thing and before you know it you’re given away free in a packet of cornflakes. Blondie’s sex-on-the-beach sound has, according to some sources, lost its Alka-Seltzer.  

‘On the new album Parallel Lines we’ve tried to make as many singles as possible. The songs are better than ever simply because we’re now a fully fledged band. The image and the music are working together for the first time. We’re touring again in the States, which is a great challenge and gives our music a bigger bite. And the lyrics, which were always third-person transsexual anyway, are improving all the time. I was always a Walter Mitty character and that whole romantic detachment is beginning to show in the songs.’  

Walter Mitty, huh? There surely can’t be much left she can imagine.

So that’s it. A quick chat with a production-line dream. Oh, and there was something she asked me as I motioned to leave. ‘Listen, er, do you think you could mention the rest of the band? See, er, everyone seems to just talk about me and it makes me feel kinda guilty, y’know.’ Blondie are Chris Stein guitar, Clement Burke drums, James Destri keyboards, Nigel Harrison guitar, Frank Infante bass and Debbie Harry vocals.

Ooops . . .

Ooops indeed. A few days after the interview appears in
Record Mirror, I receive a phone call from a guy called David who says he wants to reproduce it in a magazine he’s publishing about Blondie.

I enquire what sort of magazine and he tells me it’s an unofficial poster mag.

‘What’s a poster mag?’

‘An A4 magazine that opens up into an A1 poster.’

‘In that case I don’t think it’s appropriate . . .’

‘I’ll pay you two hundred and fifty pounds in cash.’

‘Er, yeah. Okay. Go ahead and use it.’

The next day, in a pub around the corner from my house, he plants the cash onto my palm and I feel like I’ve just participated in a smack deal. David is of indeterminate age – anything between twenty-five and thirty-five. He wears a cream suit with a couple of stains, teeth likewise, and appears to be a slightly eccentric chancer. He intrigues me.

A few days later he gives me another £250 for my Boney M interview . . .

Next: Boney M and David Essex

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013

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