I write a monthly column for a magazine looking back at behind the scenes stories from interviews I have done, and inspired by autographed records in my collection. I thought I'd share them here after publication, so this week it's Debbie Harry and Blondie. The signed album cover is below.
Looking at my copy of Parallel Lines by Blondie, I see a glamorous icon with attitude, the only one in the band not smiling in a timeless photograph that showed the world the essence of glam punk. Beauty with a nod to the Beast.
In the late Seventies however, as a wide eyed newbie in radio, I saw none of that. I was a student who dabbled in local radio, nervous about chatting to the upcoming band and only discovering later that I had been asked to do it because no one else would give up their weekend off.
Our first meeting was the beginning of a relationship that grew to a nodding acquaintance each time we met, a recognition that we'd been in it together since before their world turned mad. I could say they always called when they were in town but I'd be lying, though a few late night hotel drinking sessions did take place over the years.
Like every other male and female, breathing or otherwise, I was in love with Debbie Harry, so I was nervous when we first met in the radio station canteen. The band were very friendly, with Jimmy Destri acting the clown (hence the Adolf moustache and his signature on the cover).
She, however, was still THE Debbie Harry, but as she stood I saw that she was tiny, not the leggy star I'd imagined, and I began to relax. Her hair was brown at the back, something I'd never considered a possibility, and she swore a lot. My flight of fancy was faltering, soon to be grounded by a final revelation that left me in no doubt this beautiful woman was very, very human.
I took Debbie through to the tiny studio and started our interview, and I can't remember what we chatted about, but I do remember I couldn't take my eyes off her lips. They were historic. Plumptuous pillows that predated collagen and have never been matched. Perfect, and distracting.
If I was becoming nervous again, Debbie changed all that when she took a coughing fit, hacking up a huge gob of catarrh, and spitting it in to her polystyrene cup. Even for me it was difficult to be in awe after that.
When we finished I went back in to the studio and put the cup in a bin. This was before eBay or Amazon, and perhaps today it would have ended up on the web, some cleaner asking for offers. I'd love to have seen the certificate of authentication that went with that.
For years afterwards I was invited to interview Blondie on many more occasions and, as they rose to become global stars, the chats moved to hotels such were the demands on their time. I remember being back stage with them before and after gigs, the mayhem, screaming and excitement permeating everywhere, with me getting high on adrenaline and the band simply taking it in their stride, almost bored by it all.
Then, after millions of album sales and several platinum discs, Debbie gave up her career when boyfriend Chris Stein became seriously ill. She felt it was her place to look after him, her priorities spot on as she turned her back on fame.
Years later the band eventually regrouped but almost everything had changed. Drummer Clem Burke was still there, but English bassist Nigel Harrison plus keyboardist Jimmy Destri and guitarist Frank Infante had left. Two of the guys tried to sue to prevent the Blondie name being used, and it became acrimonious. I was particularly disappointed when the band were inducted in to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and a group of almost strangers took to the stage. When an interviewer asked Debbie whether she missed the original guys, she said this was the only band she needed. She had airbrushed the others from history in just one, curt, reply.
I'm still a fan, still think they wrote great songs, fab radio hits that gave a whole lot of joy to many people, and the new band still turn up at family festivals to this day, generations standing together and singing along.
The tiny, brown haired girl with a bad cough did well, but so did all the others. I’ll remember that they smiled in balance to her pout, larking around on stage to counter her aloof beauty. Blondie was a band that created a bit of pop history, and they did it together.