Blondie, The Clash and Nirvana are punk bands for people who don’t like noise….or punk…or spitting, anger, self mutilation and something that erroneously got called ‘anarchy’. The punk brand of anarchy expressed itself as legions of disaffected young people, banding together and expressing their angst and horror. Society hates us: We hate society. Society rejects us: We reject society. The drugs, the noise, the volume, the style, all of it sought to distance and reject the mores, morals and culture of the hippy generation. Sid Vicious once wore a tee shirt saying he hated Pink Floyd. It was a neat shorthand for hating the wispy, natural, peace, love and understanding of the 60s generation. On the other hand, Deborah Harry was once in a hippy band called Wind in the Willows, who released a self titled nursery-rhyme-like quintessentially dorky album in 1968. The album flopped and the band fell apart, leaving Harry to look for a new direction. It is amazing what a change of clothes, a change of scene, and a sharp eye for the next big thing can do for a girl. Harry was never a riot girl, she was a lost hippy who got overly happy with the eyeliner and found herself trying to be vaguely as interesting, good and avant-garde as Tina Weymouth from Talking Heads actually was. Debbie was good at empty headed, and turned it into an art form that managed to make that cross over from Bowery CBGBs’ dive bar fodder to mainstream success.
Punk existed in perfect equilibrium with the straight non-punk world. It was a balancing act, an exorcism of rejection, and a supreme release of energy. Punk was drugged up, dragged down and threatening an uprising of youths who did not know how to articulate the “more” they needed from life. Nirvana managed to bridge the gap between populist and authentic without selling out, and stayed grunge-punk in ethos, spirit and artistic output. They said something whilst exploring the effects of nihilism. Nirvana was about destruction. Blondie is what happens when there was nothing there to destroy in the first place. Nirvana get a pass and can excuse themselves from this collection of bands of pretty-girls and cute boys who wore the trash bags, put on the trash-vibe, but in reality were nothing but Pop-Pets who saw dollar signs in faux rebellion.
Blondie did well at CBGBs because she had nice tits that she was not shy of showing off, legs that went on forever, and cultivated a cute little Marilyn Monroe gone bad girl pretty vibe that balanced out the testosterone filled fury of the scene. Blondie’s main female rival – Patti Smith embraced the punk scene and its inhabitants for all she was worth. She did not dress up as arty, and instead became and wrote the art that Blondie put in the bank. Let’s face it Blondie was cute and even punk boys are human. Lester Bangs in his short book about Blondie wrote in length about Debbie Harry’s underwear, and there lays the extent of her punk attraction. Debbie is the kind of girl that writes a heart of glass above the ‘i’ in her name. Patti is the kind of girl that tears out the heart of the matters, and chews it bloody-rare on the stage spitting it out at her audience. Patti Smith was all in on the physicality, embracing the visceral nature of life and death. Blondie distant, unavailable, but aspirational. Patti was punk – skinny legged, gangly as a new born foal, Keith Richards chopped hair and Rimbaud’s shirt and blazer hiding her skinny fragile frame. Blondie was a pink rosy pop princess with a few safety pins artfully speared through her mini dress and Richard Hell’s torn tee shirt, two sizes too small, stretched across her perfectly perky boobs.
Lets face it, Patti as a piece of eye-candy at best is homely, at worst is downright terrifying. Patti did not go for wooing audiences with her boobs, but rather her words. Blondie was not competing with the men like Patti Smith did, throwing on a suit and tie and contorting herself on the stage, humping on that eternal ‘parking meter’ in a way that would make Iggy Pop blush, no, Blondie was seducing the boys with her total lack of threat. Patti Smith had the ovaries to pull a Rimbaud-infested séance with the hereafter whether the boys found it cute or not. Blondie was a pin up. Patti stuck the pins into the voodoo doll and danced barefoot over that intersection between music and poetry. Blondie was giving the punk boys something to wank over. Patti wooed Gloria and said something, said everything. Her statement that ‘Jesus died for someone’s sins but not (hers)’ sent shockwaves through the radio waves. According to punk folk lore, Hilly’s infamous chili was allegedly enough stimulus for Stiv Bators to release bodily fluids and enhance that strange brew with some dna in an act that I hope was entirely apocryphal, but you can be sure that if it wasn’t Blondie provided the inspiration for his beautifully degenerate and disgusting and absolutely perfectly punk act.
I don’t have much time for cultural sponges, that see a gap in the market and vomit up something appropriate, watering it down, and packaging it up for a wider audience. I don’t have much time for women who use their feminine wiles to get places, whilst doing something populist and not interesting. I am not fond of throwaway pop, even with a punk edge and impeccable credentials. I want to to listen to women who play with the big boys on their own terms, instead of beating the men at their own meat game by participating in it.
Patti does Blondie better than Blondie. Blondie is a one trick pony. Punk has a poppy edge – it takes pop and subverts it, but where is that line between punk and pop? I would say it is somewhere south of Blondie who never achieved the punk reality that the band’s CBGBs credentials suggested, but north of the glorious Ramones. Judy is a Punk Rocker would be cute if Blondie did it, but would Blondie ever be friends with a Judy? I can’t see it myself, too much hassle, too much passion, too much propensity towards death and violence. Ramones were cartoon freaks, but added enough noise and speed and ugly to it to make it punk. Blondie was too pretty and cold to be a punk. Her heart was too clear and unclouded and perfect: she needed to make some broken glass out of that pretty glass heart of hers, then we might be getting somewhere. Getting a gig at CBGBs was astute, but it did not a punk band make. Judy, the punk rocker that the Ramones sing about, according to Joey might ‘die’ fighting for the Symbionese liberation army ( small, American far-left militant organization active between 1973 and 1975 that eventually met a sticky end with a cop shoot out). Can anyone actually see Blondie dying for the SLA? She might break a nail, or feel something, or be moved or outraged or else forced to some extreme of emotion and the action that naturally leads on from involvement. Blondie was all about the nothing, not the something. It was the lack of message, not the dedication to anything other than the cause of beauty and making some money.
Blondie seeks for distance, not closeness. She is all about that lack of emotion and meaning, not the fight or exploration of the slaughter of those two scared cows of modern culture. Patti, however, was a serious contender for punk casualty status. Patti lived in the piss factory she sang about. Her heart was not glass, but instead ‘pumping’ overtime with the speed and life of it all, her ‘heart pumping,’ her ‘fists pumping’, the bassline driving forward into a frenzy of action and life and passion and natural forces and powers. In Dancing Barefoot Patti sings ‘we shut our eyes we stretch out our arms and whirl on a pane of glass an asphyxiation‘ This is punk: the gross poetry of life in degeneration. It runs with the fluids of life and the blood and the guts and the jizz allegedly in Hilli’s chili. This asphyxiation Patti sings about under the glass, smothered out of breath, is the polar opposite to the hurricane that Patti Smith exists in, that she seeks to ‘free’ in Pumping My Heart. Blondie is lack of breath, lack of life. In fact I have seen more emotion and passion in a Kraftwerk album than in the whole of the Blondie back catalogue.
Harry’s music is not about the overflow of emotion, it is a nilhilistic festival of ‘adore me, want me? Cant have me.” It is blank, sociopathic, and heartless. Blondie is ‘gonna get ya get ya get ya’ and then desert you in a supermarket aisle along with the rest of the poison rat (race) food. This ‘come hither’ ‘get away from me’ jive, is as far away from the Salome dirty hunch that Patti Smith does on the stage in Gloria as it is possible to be. Blondie is sexy without the sex. It is the promise and the tease without the release.
One way, or another, I’m gonna lose ya
I’m gonna give you the slip
A slip of the hip or another, I’m gonna lose ya
I’m gonna trick ya, I’ll trick ya
One way, or another, I’m gonna lose ya
I’m wanna trick ya, trick ya, trick ya, trick ya
One way, or another, I’m gonna lose ya
I’m gonna give you the slip
I’ll walk down the mall, stand over by the wall
Where I can see it all, find out who you call
Lead you to the supermarket checkout
Some specials and rat food, get lost in the crowd
One way, or another, I’m wanna get ya
I’ll get ya, I’ll get ya, get ya, get ya, get ya (where I can see it all, find out who ya call)
Blondie is gonna git ya, but you sure as shit are not gonna get her! Chris Stein’s polish, combined with a lack of spit from their blonde lead singer meant that Blondie were all form and style but without any substance to it at all.
Blondie’s heart is not the lump of gristle that Patti’s is, it is pristine and unfeeling and unpumping, made out of glass, there for display, not for use. Rapture is a hypnotized ‘back to back’ asexual buzz full of beauty but no release. Punk is the exact opposite of Blondie, and you know what they say about opposites. Just because you wear striped boat neck tops, and cultivate an art-house vibe that became more art school in the hipster hands of Chris Stein, and write Union-city-pale-blue-eyes, it does not make the band the successor to the Velvet Underground. Blondie did not have the guts and grimness to accompany its pristine unsullied canvas. The Velvets threw some paint at the situation. Blondie just pretends to, wears the art college clothes and lets the hair hang perfectly, and then does nothing to muss it up and get their hands dirty at the tar pits. The perfect, over-produced cleanness of the Blondie sound only attracted the punk crowd because of some clever branding and a devotion to nothingness…not to mention a very short skirt. Punks appreciate nihilism. Punk is overwhelmingly male and Blondie played that game well. Patti forged a career out of sheer Rimbaudian brilliance. Blondie made a career out of sugar puff marshmallow pop songs and the fact that all those dirty little boys (and some of the girls) had their tongues lolling out at her picture perfect unavailable pin up girliness-ness. Patti sings “I wanna squirt cum and inseminate you’, and for those perfect four minutes you believe she could shoot you up with ideas, with energy, with fertile noise and fury. Blondie is the ultimate prick tease.
There is nothing clever about simple songs. Sometimes things are exactly how they appear on the surface: empty. It is this emptiness that craves to be filled, with dicks, testosterone, screaming, sound, noise and devotion. The void eats up adoration, reflecting (just like the Velvets once sang in Ill Be Your Mirror) who the audience is in case they forget. Forgetting who you are in the middle of a hurricane of punk and sex and drugs is entirely possible. Every punk needs a mirror, if only to snort some filthy peanut butter speed off of. The maelstrom is unforgiving and intense. Blondie was that empty eye of the storm; the empty hole to shoot the cum or the drugs or the ideas into the void of. Blondie exists in that void, as the mirror showing the body-slamming masses who they are: horny. They are a surface, a background bop, a pop band who provided space to not pump so hard, not breathe so furiously, not think so much about everything that was wrong.
Blondie was the great distraction of the CBGBs era, but what they were never was great. Nor were they punk. Patti’s Blondie-esque shoop shoop song Redondo Beach provides all that Blondie prettiness, coming on like the Shirelles or The Blossoms, with that wall of sound girl group vibe, lulling the audience into a false sense of security, whilst Patti lays on the lyrics. The song is about how the body of a girl washes up on Redondo Beach as Patti mulls over a fight with a lover and how they might never return again. They might as well be that body on the beach, they are just about as ‘gone gone’. Patti plays with the jarring of the dark lyrics about a suicide of a pretty girl with ‘apple blonde hair’, and their juxtaposition with the pretty bubbly melody line. In my darker moments I wonder whether Patti was fantasizing about killing her competition, another girl with ‘apple blonde hair’, who she hoped was ‘washed up’. A blondie perhaps. Patti probably is not that mean, but the song about the dead blonde girl, alongside the Blondie-esque melody line and style is almost too perfect to pass up.
Blondie had no attitude, no jut of the jawline, no body slashing peanut butter wearing, suck a Dead Boys dick while they perform a tooth grinding guitar noise solo outrageousness. What they did have was Debbie Harry, a backing group of poseurs Warhol Factory era vintage fashionista wannabes, and a natural inclination towards emptiness. It was enough to make them rich. It was enough to make them famous. It was not enough to ever make them great, important or worth anything more than being music to turn down far enough that it does not impede conversation or the hum of the engine down some godforsaken interstate between mediocrity and greatness.