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June 17, 2008

30 years on, Blondie re-draws the Lines

Blondie succeeded in straddling the styles of the ’70s and ’80s, a feat tried by many but accomplished by few. They came out of the resident roster of bands hanging around CBGB’s in New York, but Blondie’s basic sound was more radio-friendly than art-punkers The Talking Heads or Television, and it wasn’t long before Blondie had commercial success.

Debbie Harry was the frontwoman, a Jersey blonde who played tough, shied away from vulnerability, gave it all some depth and had it wrapped up inside of three minutes. Around her were all these skinny guys in dark suits, notably guitarist Chris Stein and the nimble drummer Clem Burke.

Blondie has now begun a tour promoting the 30th anniversary of the classic third album Parallel Lines. The same day sees a deluxe two-disc re-release of Lines. Also added are remixes, including “Heart of Glass,” the disco-tinged track that hit the top of the charts in the States as well as Britain (where they’d already been respected for some time).

Blondie’s reunion of sorts stops at the Kentucky Center Tuesday night
Blondie’s reunion of sorts stops at the Kentucky Center Tuesday night

Clem Burke was puzzled then and now by punk purists who said that a hit song with a disco beat meant the band was selling out. After Blondie went on hiatus in the mid-’80s, he was immediately invited into a variety of music projects. When Harry and Stein (who’d gone through years of struggling with a rare illness) wanted a ’90s reunion tour to include some new music, Burke joined in on sessions that were relevant and successful.

Burke said he is looking forward to trying a concert concept that has become popular in just the last couple of years: performing an entire album onstage, in sequence. So when “Hanging on the Telephone” segues into “One Way or Another” at Whitney Hall, you’ll be able to confirm Burke’s assertion that “It worked as an album, so I think it would work as, say, the first half of a live show.”


LEO: Are there any new songs that might come out later in the show?

Clem Burke: I think on the tour, we’re going to do maybe one or two things from Debbie’s solo stuff. We’ve got some new songs in the works, and we’re planning on trying to make a record, maybe next year. And just maybe releasing it online, like everyone does these days. We’ll often do one song from our old peer group, like Television or the Ramones. 


LEO: You sat in occasionally with the Ramones, didn’t you? As “Elvis Ramone?”

CB: They asked me to join the band about two or three different times during their career, and I finally jumped in as a replacement for a little while. Two of my friends (from that band) … it’s hard to believe they’re not around anymore. It’s like a reverse-Spinal Tap: The drummers are the only ones left alive.


LEO: Nobody was surprised with how you branched out post-Blondie. Is there someone else you’d like to get back together with?

CB: No. I’m proud of the work I did with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart in the ’80s (winning a Grammy for “Missionary Man”). I worked with Wanda Jackson, the rockabilly lady. I did a little recording with Bob Dylan — I wouldn’t mind working with him again someday. But Blondie’s really the home base. Debbie’d go off and do a movie, or I’d go off and work with Nancy Sinatra. And then we’d come together and there’s a bond, in the music, from people who’ve grown up together for so long. 


LEO: There’ve been some wrangles and hassles with people who were members of Blondie through some of the years. Does that keep dogging you?

CB: Like the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction? Aside from loved ones dying, that was probably the most dreadful day of my life. It was very stressful for me. But it’s not like the other members have not benefited from Blondie’s continuing. They do participate in various ways. We’ve all moved on.

But the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame … when that sort of stuff is going on, and you’re standing there in front of Ahmet Ertegun and Jann Wenner and Ozzy Osbourne, all the music business hears you clearing your dirty laundry in front of the stage … it kinda sucks. But, like with reality TV, unfortunately our society seems to thrive on that kind of controversy. 


LEO: I know you like Parallel Lines. But the remixes, the extra material — did everybody get to have approval for it?

CB: Yeah, it all got put on the table. With Blondie, there were never more than one or two outtakes. For instance, when we were making the Eat to the Beat record, Bruce Springsteen was making The River. We were in the same building, and I remember seeing every day, when Bruce came in, they’d be rolling in cart after cart of tape. Boxes of tape. For a Blondie session, there’d be just two or three reels.

So with this reissue, we’ve tried to add video footage, and there’s a French version of “Sunday Girl” … and there’s a couple of remixes. I’m not particularly fond of remixes myself. I don’t want to hear a drum machine or a synthesizer on “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” But the remix did become part of the industry. It’s something new with something old, and sometimes it works. Sometimes.  


Contact the writer at tlx@aol.com


Blondie

Tuesday, June 24

The Kentucky Center

501 W. Main St.

584-7777

$38-$45; 7:30 p.m.