Deborah Harry's iron force and sexy voice return to First Avenue
When my little sister and I were very young, we were obsessed with playing "radio." One of us would crawl inside a large booth made of couch pillows on the living room floor and the other would wall up the remaining entrance with more pillows. Then the one outside would loudly announce, "I wonder what's playing on the radio!" and turn an imaginary knob on the outside of the "radio box." At this cue, the one inside would begin singing one of many of the songs we'd heard earlier that day on the radio (a real one), and continue until the radio controller would say, "Let's see what's on Channel 'X'."
What was on our "radio"? Plenty of '70s chart-toppers, including a continuous rotation of "The Tide is High," "Rapture," "One Way or Another," and other Blondie hits.
The beautiful and electrifying Deborah Harry, a.k.a. Blondie, was one of our favorite performers. The glittering but tough femme fatale represented an escape from our fun but drab-colored lives, not that we could articulate this (or all the lyrics, for that matter) at the ages of 4 and 6. But we knew she was part of a world of people who had brightly painted hair and tight clothes and who seemed totally disinterested in everything. We could only occasionally catch glimpses of this alternate reality on TV, for our well-meaning parents worried about the impact glamorous rock stars would have on their impressionable children.
So we played "radio" for hours. Because I was the oldest (by a whopping two years), I usually got to be the controller and make my then-4-year-old sister sing on command. Today I critique music and my younger sister obsessively performs "Heart of Glass" at karaoke bars. Maybe Mom and Dad had correctly surmised our susceptibility . . . if only we'd played "lawyer" or "Bill Gates."
Yet, they're the ones who brought New Wave and punk rock into the house, with their affinity for college radio and Dad bringing home the crazy musicians he would briefly form bands with. (Dad's drummer once came out of the bathroom with blood dripping down the side of his face. He pointed to his just-pierced ear and asked, "What do you think?")
In the midst of all this Midwest drama, somewhere far, far away, Blondie was writing and performing music that would change how people looked at women in music forever. Sure, Dad and his buddies taught us about rock (and the evils of TV), but Deborah Harry showed us that chicks rock, too.
The woman behind Gen-X?
She was seductive and sexy, yet strong and cold. Musically, she couldn't really sing much better than my pre-K sister -- who could, granted, belt out a mean "Heart of Glass" -- but it was the iron force behind her flat voice that made the songs what they were.
She was sarcastic and ironic and could sing about everything -- her heart breaking, having sex, Martians eating cars -- as if it were some big joke she was sharing with the world.
This creative, in-your-face ideal resonated with me as a child, even more so as I grew into a know-it-all teen.
Deborah Harry, I imagined, would be the type of woman you could share your dirty secrets with because she could always counter with something even stranger and dirtier. After all, she played the bad girl obsessed with bondage and death in the movie "Videodrome," and then the wicked witch in "Creepshow 2."
But by the time I had dirty secrets of my own to share, Deborah Harry disappeared from the airwaves, and Blondie had apparently called it quits. I wish I could tell you where I was the moment Blondie disbanded, like those people who can tell you were they were when Kennedy was shot or when Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodore Geisel) died, but I can't. It was more like she faded away.
'The Curse of Blondie'
Sixteen years after their last record was released, Blondie (Deborah Harry/the band) is scheduled to release their new album, "The Curse of Blondie," Tuesday, April 6. According to Blondie's Web site, the title comes from the fact that bad things kept happening to them whenever they tried to get together to record. And even after laying down the tracks, problems kept erupting, including the disappearance of the finished studio tapes two years ago.
Apparently, they broke their curse. The album produced in its honor features R&B, rock, industrial, metal and something I like to call neo-disco (which sounds like vintage Blondie). The album also includes a wonderful pop song called "Hello Joe" dedicated to Joey Ramone, and a rewrite of a traditional Okinawan folk song, "Magic (Asadoya Yunta)."
"Curse" proves Deborah Harry & Co. are more than a '70s byproduct. The timelessness of the music -- something my sister and I, even at 4 and 6, picked up on all those years ago -- has kept Blondie a radio staple for decades and a favorite at karaoke bars everywhere.
The first local venue to host Blondie was the famed punk and New Wave hotspot Jay's Longhorn, then at 14 S. 5th St., in 1978. By 1999, when the band returned to town they played at The Guthrie, 725 Vineland Place. (That must've been when Harry and her bandmates were appalled at a certain Downtown icon. A snippet from the band's blog: "The american cities are just weird i cant figure why some are so seemingly hip and youth oriented while everyone on the steet dresses so conservatively... i couldnt believe the f**king statue of mary tyler moore in minneapolis..." [sic . . . except the asterisks].)
Now on their international "Phasm 8" tour, the band is returning to their club-based roots. Blondie plays First Avenue, 701 1st Ave. N., later this month. And with the club's amazing sightlines, you're guaranteed to actually see Blondie/Debbie Harry so you can tell your co-workers and children about it, although you might want to consider the impact it may have on your daughters.