Friday, 3 January 2014

October 1978

The Quest For Blondie Part 2

McSorley’s Old Ale House starts to empty like the glasses and the band decide to move on to CBGB’s.

In the contrived decadence of the club, about as meretricious as the iceberg wino Jimmy Destri mentioned earlier, the four guys disperse, checking out the − uh − depravities and emaciated faces. Someone I’ve never met before hands me a huge bag of coke, which I take with me to the toilet.

‘Hey, I’d like to introduce you to a coupla friends of mine,’ says Clem, when I emerge from the cubicle. He ushers me to the bar and interrupts a conversation between two typical electrical-appliance American housewives. ‘This is Mary.’ She wears golden glasses to match her long, straight hair. Her eyebrows are the same shape as her top lip, which gives her face a strange symmetry.

‘Hi.’ ‘And this is Marge.’ She’s heavily tanned and her skin has suffered slightly. Her smiles are a little tired. ‘Hi.’ ‘They’re the Shangri-Las!’ I have visions of waking up in a hospital bed with a nurse above me full of re-assurance and comforting words: ‘You're okay now. You've just been in a state of shock for awhile. Take it easy . . .’

When I was twelve the Shangri-Las had epitomised everything that was dirty and sexy. Libidinous teenage punkettes inhabiting a voodoo vestibule where jailbait languished on stained plastic sofas. I remember seriously starting to think about thighs when I saw them singing 'Remember (Walking In The Sand)' on Top Of The Pops one Fireworks Night. I’d never heard a song quite like it before. Time kills. To be confronted by these thirty-year-old women makes me suddenly a mite depressed.

And, believe it or not, they're making a comeback. Well, just these two, Mary Weiss the blonde in the brunette pack, and Margie Ganser.

Maybe Mary’s singing voice still overflows with that rub-sucking venom. ‘We broke up originally,’ says Mary – straight voice, like the steam from the spout of a kettle – ‘because we were young and there were too many people out there trying to squeeze every last drop of money they could get their hands on out of us. That left a really bad taste in our mouths.

‘For a long while we've been running away. But now it's time to face the music. Besides, the business was much more dangerous in those days. There's a child in my soul and I don't want it to die. I can't let it perish. When that goes you're dead.

‘I really got screwed up when the band split. I was nineteen. I'd never been out with anyone while I was on the road. Christ, I'd been a rock ’n’ roll star at fifteen and I was only just getting over my first period.’

Margie tries to talk over the band on stage (it was audition night and they were playing 'God Save The Queen' like they were a Woolworths cover job or a too-dark Xerox). ‘We never knew what was going on. How could we at that age? We got to do things 15-year-olds never dream of. It started off with high school dances - we were younger than the punters - and it just escalated. We played parties where the kids used to make their own wine because we were all under age.’

Mary looks tired. She offers to drive me back to my hotel. In the car she says they met with little success at New York record companies. ‘They expect us to be completely punk. Y’know, they say things like "How does it feel to be the Queen of Punk?" And one guy wanted us to be the female equivalent of the Ramones. I’m twenty-nine years old. I’m serious about my music. I don’t care for punk that much.’ I say I’ll call her for some more gen. She says okay. I say goodnight. She says seeya.

‘Hey, what happened to you last night?’ says Clem the following evening, straightening his collar in the dressing room at My Father’s Place. ‘We had a real great time. After we left CBGB’s we all went on to Max’s Kansas City and met up with Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. Real nice guys.’

My Father’s Place is a club on Long Island about forty minutes’ drive from Manhattan, and Blondie are playing two shows tonight. It’s a converted bowling alley and the long tables where the punters sit are the original lanes. Pin-table pyrotechnics with free pizza thrown in. Backstage the Greenwich weirdos are out in force. It’s all prurience and strawberry-blancmange brasses eager to lavish praise on what looks like becoming New York’s creamiest cult band.

Debbie doo-doos past in white culottes, takes a seat opposite a reporter from the strike-ridden New York Times and churns out the same old spiel while doting dykes strain their ears. A guy comes to the door and asks a sound man for Debbie’s autograph. As he says the words ‘Debbie Harry’ his hand automatically reaches down to his crotch and he mimes a jerk-off, smiles and leaves.

Blondie are as big in the States as they were in the UK a year ago − in other words, they ain’t big. My Father’s Place seats about five hundred, all diehard fans who gasp the moment Debbie appears looking like Sandra Dee on sulphate. Blondie’s three-minute bam-bam is the ultimate in pop perfection. Sanguine satisfaction in every root-e-toot-toot nuance, in every aphrodisiac phrase.

The set is predictable. Highlights from the first two albums, a substantial segment of Parallel Lines and the obligatory ‘Get It On’ encore. The only real difference is the slight corpulence around Chris Stein’s stomach and jowls. The second set is the same, except for Debbie’s loose-fitting orange dress. But the audience is cut by half, and most of them are the first-set patriots. Still, The World About Us was never like this. And they’ve already found their Shangri-La in the verdant pastures of the English charts. But will they ever make the ‘Leader of the Pack’?

I have a drink with Debbie at the bar after the gig and she tells me she loved my interview and thought the Venus in blue jeans line was neat. I think I’m in love.


Next: Pere Ubu in Toronto

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



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