Sunday, 29 December 2013

October 1978
The Quest For Blondie Part 1 

And then it’s New York again. Instant replay. This is getting seriously close to commuting. Every time I set foot on a plane I think I’m going to die, but after a line, a large brandy and Coke and a cigarette, the cabin looks a rosier place. I’m here for Blondie sans Debbie and Chris. But I also check out the intriguing Dan Hartman whose hot ‘Instant Replay’ is up there in my chart of fave 45s in ‘78 style.

This trip to New York is all part of the conspiracy to change my life forever. Remember what I said about the Debbie Harry interview − that it started a chain of events that would alter the course of my entire life? First, David the itinerant publisher tentatively stepped in, but his real influence would come later.

Debbie’s final words as I got up to leave gave me an idea for a feature: ‘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.’

I sell the idea of a non-Debbie-and-Chris-Stein Blondie interview to Record Mirror. Next stop, Manhattan.

I mean, did you know there were four other people in Blondie apart from the sugar-candy kisser of Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, the man who bought his eyebrows from Axminster? Yeah, it’s true; I’ve seen ’em with my own eyes. Seen ’em on their home ground too − in ol’ numbland New York, that necropolis with neon tombstones where . . . Oh, so you think it isn’t dead, huh? Listen, any city that shows The Partridge Family twice every morning on TV, split only by I Love Lucy and Brady Bunch re-runs, just has to be dead, or severely wounded.

Like a Victorian explorer venturing into fleshy foliage in search of an obscure tribe, I take a cab to a nocturnal recording studio in one of the more uncivilised districts where the natives eat strange exotic food they call ‘Burrgakeeng’, which they claim possesses health-giving properties, and drink copious amounts of the ‘Pepsee’. The taxi winds its tortuous way through narrow streets infested by an unfriendly creature known locally as ‘deemugger’.

Alighting from the cab, I ask a statuesque black guy where I might find the Unknown Blondie. His eyes freeze and he utters a primal scream before fleeing into the night. My God, what have I let myself in for? Just then a wizened old man taps me on the shoulder, like they always do at such moments, and rasps, ‘The Unknown Blondie is a taboo tribe in these parts. ’Tis a curse of a thousand McDonalds to merely mention the name.’

‘But you mentioned it.’ ‘Yes − and I’m only nineteen!’ he wheezes, and points to a dilapidated building. ‘There. But beware…’

A tangled web of close-circuit TVs guards the door. I beat my way through, slide into a waiting elevator and press the button for star-filled limbo.

The doors open onto a recording studio that shows no sign of life. I hear a rustle and a figure dashes from behind one speaker to disappear beneath a control desk. Nervy. Not used to strangers. There’s some indecipherable chatter.

I reach for my Pistols album . . .

‘You’re a journalist?’ It’s the voice of Clem Burke. He touches me in what appears to be an Unknown Blondie ritual. But I soon realise he’s just making sure I’m real. ‘Hey, you guys, it’s a journalist.’ From the vinyl gloom emerge Jimmy Destri, Frank Infante, Nigel Harrison and several Elvis Costello lookalikes.


It takes some time to convince them that it’s them I intend to write about. Not Debbie or Chris, the Sonny and Cher of the lacquered New Wave.


It transpires that Clem is involved in producing former Unknown Blondie bass player Gary Valentine and the tribe has gathered to listen and rave.

‘This guy is sure talented,’ says Clem, in cute, cumbersome, cocktail tones. They decide to show me their native ways.

‘Hey, let’s take a drive to McSorley’s,’ says Nigel, an English muffin with fluffy curls. On our way we pass a giant plastic lizard recently erected on top of a bank. ‘Could cause a lot of trouble − sure scared the shit outta me,’ says Frank, who looks like he could make it as a movieland method myth -- y’know, all corrugated cheeks and Mogadon eyes.

McSorley’s Old Ale House (established 1854) is a soiled, silent-movie straitjacket of a bar in Greenwich Village (where the nuts come from). Fatty Arbuckle could have been filmed here, looking clown-sad and lovable but all the while immersed in crazed sexual fantasies. When it was built, women weren’t allowed into bars so there’s no ladies’ john. Local libbers have complained but McSorley’s virginity remains intact.

An Irish waiter asks if we want dark or light beer, both brewed on the premises. The party go for light.

‘No, I’m not at all jealous of Debbie getting all the attention,’ says Jimmy, teen-dream face. ‘See, I think she sees it from our level too. I’m very happy having a face like that selling my music. I wouldn’t be in the position of selling records for Chrysalis if it wasn’t for her. She sells my music. I know that if I was in a record company and was responsible for marketing Blondie, I would market Debbie Harry as a viable commercial product simply
because she's the obvious thing.’

The table is now overflowing with glasses. A dollar for less than half a pint. ‘In time,’ Jimmy continues, oblivious to the stains and the ascending banter on other tables beneath timber walls covered with badges and original photographs of cloth-cap five-o’clock-shadow debauched ghosts, ‘people will begin to realise that Blondie is a conglomerate of ideas. All of us can do other things. We’re good musicians. It’s really cool being in this position because I have the opportunity to do other things. See, I get the respect that being a part of Blondie brings − and so you get asked to do things.

‘Okay, I admit being in the shadows was frustrating at the beginning, but now it’s just perfect for me. I don’t want to be a star. I’m happy everyone’s looking at Debbie on stage and not me. I’m content playing keyboards, writing and producing. Besides, it ain’t all that much fun being in a band.’ ‘Richie Blackmore’s mother . . .’ What the hell has she got to do with this conversation? But Nigel is insistent. ‘Richie Blackmore’s mother once said to him, "Why don’t you get yourself a decent job, son?"’


‘Well, I love being in a band. It’s been my ambition since I was sixteen.’ ‘What made my dreams come true,’ says Jimmy. In case you’re wondering, Clem and Frank are embroiled in deep conversation. ‘I was anxious to get somewhere. I came from a bad neighbourhood in Brooklyn, which ain’t that different from poor parts of London except for the accent and colour of the police cars. ‘I worked fourteen hours a day to get through college. When I was twenty-one my father gave me fifteen bucks and I felt like a king. Fifteen bucks!’

‘I lived in Hollywood for a while,’ says Nigel, ‘and many kids I bumped into who were in the music business were so rich. And you know why? Their parents organised trust funds for them from an early age. Y’know, twenty bucks a week for years. So these kids live a real maniacal life. It’s easy when you know you’ve got twenty grand coming to you in a year or so.’

The waiter brings another round of beers. Jimmy starts getting angry. ‘Yeah, some people are born lucky. I worked in a hospital emergency room strapping up junkies. I saw people who had no determination or energy try and get on simply because they’ve always had it easy. ‘That’s why when a dude becomes a pimp or pusher and starts making money, he becomes very ostentatious and buys every flashy thing he can lay his hands on. He ain’t ever seen ’em before.’

Jimmy then relates the tale of the frozen stiff.

‘One day Chris and Clem were walking in the Bowery and found a wino who was frozen solid dead. And they call this a rich country. You’re kept on a certain level and if you can’t transcend that you rot.’ Or freeze.

Next: The Quest For Blondie Part 2 and a chance meeting with the Shangrilas at CBGBs

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY



No comments:

Post a Comment


About Me

My photo
London, United Kingdom
I'm your Flexifriend blogger for all your Flexipop! needs.....