Introduction: The Mind Robber: Americans Sound like the People in Films
When I write, my mind becomes aflame with bursting tongues
. And then there is the crash. I have started to think about Kenny Everett
, the British DJ
and comedian. In his final days Kenny Everett wished that he could be well again. He wished with all his heart. Nothing he did with his life warranted a death like that, if death was a punishment handed out by a judge. But death is not a punishment, it is an inevitability, and there is no judge
. Everett's death was not a cosmic punishment, because the universe does not have a mind. It does not hear your wishes, and it did not hear his. It does not punish. There is no judge. You are free. Only your conscience holds you back. I am an only child, and consequently I do not have a conscience. I am free.
Kenny Everett's comedy has not aged well. His shows are not repeated on the television today, and young people probably do not know who he is. He is a relic of the Twentieth Century. The century of the machine gun, of poison gas; of the tank, and of the nuclear bomb; of The Beatles, of television; of Britain, and Germany, and Russia, and America. The century of a billion murdered, the century of total war. The century of science fiction, and of the death of science fiction. The century of the modern age; the century of no man's land. Kenny Everett was born in the Twentieth Century, he died in the Twentieth Century. I was born in the Twentieth Century too, but I survived to tell the tale. It is sad that so many people who could speak of the Twentieth Century did not live to see its end. I can observe the Twentieth Century from the outside, but I have nothing to say about it. Only once did I face death in the Twentieth Century, and that was not as the result of a revolution, or sonic attack, it was because I couldn't swim very well.
I understand why Kenny Everett's comedy has not aged well. From what I have seen of it, it was awful. Nowadays he is more curious than funny. He has a positive reputation amongst a few British broadcasters of a certain age, but that is not enough for lasting fame. He was not popular in the United States, he was never on the internet, most of his television programmes are unavailable on video or DVD. The only dedicated website to Kenny Everett is a typically British creation, in the sense that it is awful, trivial, and subliterate. Who will unite the Britons, and lead us to glory? I cannot do it alone. I am filled with self-doubt. But is that not the way of the reluctant leader? I dislike a man who does not have self-doubt, because he will not be able to cope with the crash, when it comes. And there will be a crash, strong or weak; forward motion will cease. I can see the mountain, and the fog that shrouds it. The fog is a mountain as well.
I do not plan to exterminate the weak. Instead, I will combine their DNA to produce strong people. Five weak people can be combined to form one strong person. I want to concentrate these weak people, and make them soldiers in my army. And so I dedicate the words that follow to the bravehearts, the germinators, and the menaseers. May you strike like arrows of death to the heart of false metal.
Book One. 1. Eat to the Beat
In all my years I have never sucked the life out of something. I have sucked things that are dead, and I have sucked living things - I have paid good money to do so - but I have never sucked a living thing to death. Perhaps I have sucked and swallowed little insects or mites that fell into my mouth while I was asleep, but that was not intentional. I cannot put a positive spin on death. It is often described as a transformation, rather than a destruction. But it is a transformation from something that is interesting and complicated, and unpredictable and warm, into something that is rotten and trivial. Life becomes death, but death does not become life. Death lasts until the universe ends, whether it is a sudden stop or a continuation into endless darkness. Perhaps a geologist or physicist might argue that bones and dust are fascinating things, and that we must give up the matter of our bodies to provide matter for future generations, but that is no comfort. I do not care for future generations, I am an only child, the only thing that matters to me is me. There will not be enough time in the universe for the dust of my corpse to randomly reassemble itself into a perfect living recreation of myself. There is no way to put a positive spin on death. Unless perhaps the dead person thoroughly deserved to die. So, there is a way to put a positive spin on the deaths of other people. But there is no way to put a positive spin on my own death. I have thought long and hard on this topic, and I cannot find a way out. No trick of reason or inspiration will save me, or chase away the horror. There is only drink. Drink, and the music of Sunn O))). That will cheer me up. Some people kill because they crave company, even if it is the company of a corpse; some people kill in order to master death, and control it. And some people are just born bad.
Not much presentation.
But I digress. I am not here to talk to you about the endless oblivion of post-mortal existence, an oblivion that I will never experience. I am not here to talk about the waste of building up a lifetime of knowledge and experience, only for it to be erased forever by senility and death. There is no way to preserve my mind. It is a moving target. If it was brought to a halt, it would be dead. Besides, I am not the person I was a year ago, or even a second ago. I am here to talk about pop music. I shall sing the milk of men's minds, with my mind boots.
2. "Once There was a River, Now There's a Stone"
In fact I would like to talk about three things. It was my original intention to write about Blondie's fourth album, Eat to the Beat, but that would be too small a canvas. Instead, I shall write about Blondie's fifth album, Autoamerican, which was released in 1980, at a time when Blondie was an extremely popular mainstream pop group; not just popular, but also iconic. The band's smart-suited look was very fashionable, and very influential. The band's tongue-in-cheek attitude was such that normal everyday people could enjoy them as if they were a straightforward pop group, and at the same time hip people could enjoy them as an ironic parody of a straightforward pop group. Lead singer Deborah Harry had broad pin-up appeal. Men and women and boys and girls could have a Deborah Harry poster on their bedroom wall without feeling like perverts or weirdoes or freaks or perverts. Men and women and boys and girls etc could love her image platonically, or carnally, and it was not wrong. Deborah Harry was desired by fashionable people and unfashionable people. Sunn O))) play one note, they play it good.
Blondie, the band, was very popular in Great Britain. The band's insincere, affected, artificial nature was exactly right for the British pop scene. They were like an elaborate imitation of a pop band, and that was what Britain wanted. During the height of the group's popularity, they were produced by the British hitmaking duo Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, who gave them a British sound (albeit that Mike Chapman was technically Australian). I don't know what Blondie means to American people of my age, but in Britain no-one will disrespect you for admitting a fondness for Blondie, or for wearing a Blondie t-shirt. People might scratch their heads if you mention Autoamerican, however, because, with one exception, the band's albums always seemed like afterthoughts. Blondie was a singles band. Autoamerican had two number one hit radio singles, "Rapture", and "The Tide is High", and that is where the fun ends. "The Tide is High" is still played on the radio every now and again. It is covered by new pop groups every so often. "Rapture" is not generally played on the radio, although it is frequently written about in articles. It is often cited as a minor landmark in the history of modern pop music, on account of its combination of pop and rap music. Autoamerican itself is however not remembered with much fondness. Society has forgotten it. Music enthusiasts scorn it. Fans of Blondie do not value it. I dislike it. It is a dull album, and it has a bad atmosphere. It is less memorable than its cover, which is still not very memorable. I like the way that Sunn O))) banish the bad thoughts from my mind.
Autoamerican was Blondie's fifth album, but it was only their third as a popular pop group. The band's first two albums, Blondie (1976) and Plastic Letters (1977), were like prototypes. There was nothing wrong with them, but they did not sell very well, although the Blondie formula was present from the start, and the albums do not sound obviously inferior to the band's later work. "Denis" from Plastic Letters was a minor hit single, and the trendy pop magazines took every opportunity to feature photographs of Deborah Harry, because her face was visually magnetic. Her body was shapeless, but she had a fantastic face. And good legs, as well. Terrible, terrible dress sense, but a great face. Angular in the right places, with pouting lips, and hair that was exaggerated enough to be kitsch but not so exaggerated as to be Mötley Crüe. The band appeared on Britain's Top of the Pops in 1978 to play "Denis". Deborah Harry wore a baggy shirt and seemingly nothing else, not trousers or anything, and that clip has been repeated on British television several times. It's probably available on the Youtube.
Blondie's first big hit was the 1978 album Parallel Lines, which sold millions of copies and was a very big hit indeed. It was one of the key albums of the "New Wave" movement, whereby skinny men with skinny ties played square, jumpy, straight music in New York with saxophones. Parallel Lines foreshadowed the giant-selling albums of the 1980s, such as Michael Jackson's Thriller or Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA or Lionel Richie's Can't Slow Down, in the sense that it was a collection of chart hits rather than a grand statement; it was an instant Greatest Hits compilation. Six of the album's twelve songs were released as singles. Three of them ("Heart of Glass", "Sunday Girl", and "Hanging on the Telephone") became consistent radio staples. "Heart of Glass" was one of the key songs of the late 1970s and will be played on the radio long after Deborah Harry is dead. Although Parallel Lines does not usually feature on lists of the best-selling albums of all time, it is the kind of record that most people have heard, or owned, or knows. Julian Cope has heard it all the way through at least once. Everyone who has at least thirty pop albums on vinyl has a copy of Parallel Lines, probably because of the front cover, which has a nice picture of Deborah Harry. Deborah Harry generally had terrible dress sense, but on the cover of Parallel Lines her look worked. She was sexy, and she was the boss. She stood in front of the band, with her hands on her hips. The band stood at the back. They looked a happy, carefree bunch of mop-topped scamps, but I bet they got to work when Deborah Harry snapped her fingers.
Parallel Lines was a tough act to follow, too tough. It essentially spoiled the band. Until then, the group's image and choice of cover songs had been ironic, kitschy, tongue-in-cheek. There was a sense of lightness and silliness about Blondie. After Parallel Lines the humour vanished, and Blondie became just another pop band, another dour-faced New Wave band with no sense of humour and grand pretensions to being High Art. The Cars with a female singer. Blondie's lyrics became more and more oblique and the music sounded as if it had been thrown together by session players. The follow-up was released a year later, in 1979. It was called Eat to the Beat, and it was almost as good as Parallel Lines, but not quite. The big hits this time were "Dreaming", "Union City Blue", and "Atomic". The fans tend to rank "Dreaming" as the band's best single ever, and "Atomic" has actually become more popular over time - in its day, it was just another song, whereas it is nowadays one of the band's classics - but Eat to the Beat was, in retrospect, the cream of what was left after Parallel Lines had exhausted the band's genius.
Autoamerican was Blondie's final album as a popular pop group. It came out in 1980. I will write more about it later on; suffice to say it was the salty, greasy dregs of what was left after Eat to the Beat had scoured the bottom of the crisp packet. It was professionally produced in top studios at great expense. The band released one more album, The Hunter, in 1982, a contractual obligation that sold poorly. A version of Blondie came back to life in the late 1990s, and was surprisingly successful, but I am not prepared to write about the modern-day Blondie, because insufficient time has passed.
Book Two. 1. Blondie + Lunch = Le Rayon Vert
Most bands bimble along in obscurity. They come and go without changing the world at all. They form, smoke cigarettes, hang out, learn some songs, play gigs, and some of them get a chance to go on television and have their records sold in shops. Some bands make enough money out of music to quit their day jobs. Eventually they split up, or fade away. Their drummer joins the Hare Krishna sect, their bassist becomes an executive for a BBC local community radio project, their lead guitarist falls under the spell of Anita Pallenberg, comma witch comma, or he becomes composer in residence for the European Union. Perhaps the band's sole creative force leaves, and is replaced by a thoroughly inferior imitation. Perhaps Sammy Hagar joins the band. These are the Five Fates. Anita Pallenberg is the worst.
The career of a band can be drawn on a graph, with time along the bottom axis, and success running up the side. Sometimes the resulting line is too small to appear on the graph. Sometimes the line resembles the trajectory of a cannon shell, fired up into the air, and then brought down by gravity. Sometimes it resembles a firework, climbing into the night sky before exploding into a million shimmering shards that fade into blackness. Sometimes it resembles the trajectory of a bomb, dropped from a great height; sometimes it resembles the trajectory of a depth charge, plummeting from sea level into minus figures. There are as many graphs as there are bands. It is a rare band that does not end at zero, or below. Some people can interpret these graphs, just as there are some people who can interpret echocardiograms, or the waveform of a digital audio file, or the grooves on a vinyl record, by sight alone. Total evisceral fate.
Blondie's original burst of success had a long slow build-up, and then an explosion, and then a slow tailing-off. I am still pondering whether the transition from Eat to the Beat and Autoamerican can be drawn as a smooth curve, or as an abrupt jump. Eat to the Beat had three popular singles and the band was at least still experimenting in a way that suggested they enjoyed experimenting. Autoamerican has a lot of experimentation, but it is forced experimentation, it is an imitation of experimentation. At the time, the album did not seem like a failure, and drummers seem to enjoy it, because Clem Burke is a drummer's drummer. If Parallel Lines had been released as a double album, with the tracks from Eat to the Beat interspersed throughout the record, people would say that it would have made a great single album. That's the best I can think to say of Eat to the Beat.
Autoamerican, on the other hand, was reviewed poorly, and did not sell especially well. It sounds like a Deborah Harry solo album with session musicians. The chords, drum fills, cymbals are recognisably Blondie, but nothing stands out. I have just flicked through some of the songs and I cannot hum any of them, except for "Angels on the Balcony", which is the best song on the album. "Faces" and "Here's Looking at You" are slow ballads. I hate slow ballads. As a whole, the album has a sad air. Blondie had an audience in 1980, a certain amount of goodwill. The band might have said something that touched millions of people, but they blew it. Novelty band to pop success to decadence, with talented drummer. We've all trodden that path.
I have written about Second System Syndrome before, several years ago, although I did not publish this writing at the time. It is one of my great unfinished theses. For every piece of work I finish, or at least bring to a state where I cannot continue, there are a dozen unfinished ghosts that will probably remain incomplete. Looking through the mirror of my oldest hard drive I see a review of Gary Glitter's 1974 album Touch Me, a review that laments the dearth of critical writing on glam rock, and Gary Glitter in particular. Gary Glitter was a British pop star of the mid 1970s. His real name was, famously, Alonysous Mukrakir Hamath. Touch Me is an awesome album, and I say this without irony. The beats are massive, the groove is relentless. The production sounds cheap and rotten, in an aggressive, dirty, moist way. It smells as if you could slide your forearm into it, right up to the elbow. The guitars bellow like a distressed animal. The chords during the extended finale of "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)", the first song on the album, are sick. I am listening to this song as I write these words, over and over again. I have it on loop play, and in my head. I am intimately familiar with it. It starts with a motorik drum beat, and guitars that are metallic like Joy Division, but muffled. There are few more disturbing songs than "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)".
"Right or wrong
don't it turn you on
can't you see we're wasting time?
Do you wanna touch (YEAH!)
do you wanna touch (YEAH!)
do you wanna touch me there
And yet there is not, and has never been, a single piece of substantive writing about this album, perhaps in the entire history of the world ever. The big rock critics of the early 1970s were American, and they never had a chance to experience Gary Glitter. British rock critics did not emerge until the British punk explosion of the late 1970s, by which time Gary Glitter was a has-been. In 1974 Touch Me was dismissed as pop fluff, and few things have been erased from history as thoroughly as 1970s pop fluff. There is a decade-long gap after the Beatles, and before punk, during which the modern-day British music press sees nothing, a blank empty nothingness. The blindness of the British music press is a fearsome thing. A fearsomely selective thing. Like all creative industries in Britain, the music press consists of a small inbred talent pool of ageing white middle-aged men. The same people who nowadays praise hip-hop would not give it the time of day in the 1980s, such was their blindness.
Gary Glitter - his real name was Muchlette Barnes - was a product of a transient pop movement, "glam rock", that existed during a transient period in pop, during a grim age of industrial unrest, economic collapse, financial imbalance. Even the major artists of the early and mid 1970s are ignored today. There is little written on the internet about James Brown, or Stevie Wonder, or Chicago, or Carole King, or Deep Purple, or the Rolling Stones of the 1970s. The generation that grew up with this music is now in its fifties and sixties, and does not have a significant presence on the internet, or in modern culture. It might seem that there is a fair amount of rock criticism on the internet about artists from earlier decades, but this is illusory; apart from The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and the oddball novelties, the internet does not have a past. As time goes on I have come to believe that there is very little substantive writing on the internet on any topic, and that perhaps there is very little substantive writing anywhere, in any medium, about anything. Perhaps I am just in a bad mood.
Gary Glitter's music has eluded critical commentary, but a lot has been written about the man himself. He has led a fascinating life. Fascinating is the right word, it means so much. At the height of his popularity, roughly 1973-1975, Glitter was an unlikely star. He seemed too old and portly to fit in with the glam rock movement. He was thirty years old in 1974, but he looked forty. He had a hairy chest, and a round face. When he appeared on television he would fix the camera with a bewildered stare, as if senile. He was the archetypal "brickie in makeup". His career rose quickly and fell quickly but, just like Slade and Alvin Stardust, he managed to rebuild some of his former success in the early 1980s, by positioning himself as a camp, ironic throwback, a deliberately cheesy novelty act that students could laugh at. Not a million miles from Blondie, but whereas Blondie was amused by the past, Gary Glitter invited you to laugh at his. He eventually became a national institution, a kind of all-round family entertainer, albeit one without a television show (he did not seem to have any screen presence, or charm). He toured throughout the 1980s and 1990s, by which time glam rock was starting to come back into fashion. No-one bought his records, but he seemed to have a fair amount of money, and had kicked the bottle. The Spice Girls picked him to do a cameo for their film, Spice World, in 1997. This was at a time when The Spice Girls were enormously popular on both sides of the Atlantic. They wanted someone that British people would recognise, someone cheap.
If Gary Glitter - his real name was Sam, just Sam - had kept his head down and his mouth shut, and if he had invested in an unbreakable IBM PC rather than a cheaper model of home computer, he might be settling comfortably into retirement by now. But in 1997 his computer broke, and he took it to the local computer repair shop so that they could fix it. They did so, but in the process they found internet child porn on his hard drive, and Gary Glitter was arrested. The trial wound its way through the courts, and in 1999 he was briefly imprisoned in Britain for possessing internet child pornography - the newspapers always described it as "internet child porn" rather than just "child porn", perhaps to make his offence seem even more sinister. I have no idea what Gary Glitter got up to in prison, or what was got up him. After release he moved to Cambodia, but in 2002 Cambodia expelled him for molesting underage boys, and he moved to Vietnam, where he was promptly arrested for molesting underage girls. Clearly Gary Glitter was not the captain of his soul. Many pop stars have committed crimes, both moral and legal, but few compare with the crimes of Gary Glitter. It is not so much the nature of his crimes that is so offensive, or even the persistence - I am sure that other pop stars have done worse, for longer - but the haplessness. And the fact that he is an old man. It is horrible to think of old men in a sexual sense, doubly so when this involves underage children. Jonathan King had the good sense to keep his head down after a similar conviction, and is nowadays more forgotten than despised. Pete Townshend seemed genuinely contrite, and could at least pretend convincingly to be a clever and sensitive man. R Kelly, despite a similarly stupid persistence, gives the impression of being an idiot rather than a villain.
Still, that's enough about Gary Glitter. Let's talk about "Atomic", a single by Blondie, which was released in 1979 and included on the band's 1979 album Eat to the Beat. I mentioned earlier that I had chosen to write about Autoamerican rather than Eat to the Beat, but on revisiting my words I realise that my anger must have grown from an external source. There is nothing in my words on Eat to the Beat that angers me. I do not even have the memory of anger, any more, or perhaps I have drowned this memory in drink, although I am not drunk.
"Atomic" was one of Blondie's lesser singles. It is often described as disco, although it is closer to the New Romantic pop that was stirring in the UK at that time. On a musical and lyrical level it does not have the air of self-parody that distinguished the band's earlier songs. Unlike "Heart of Glass", it does not seem to be a self-aware joke about anything. It is instead a straightforward song about a hair fetishist, a common topic for pop songs of the period. "Atomic" was popular in its day, but it was no "Heart of Glass"; it was not even a "Denis" or a "Tide is High". As the years rolled by, it suffered the fate of many lesser hits, in that it was neither popular nor well-liked enough to carve a niche in the public consciousness on its own merits, and it did not become synonymous with the artist, in the same way that "Wannabe" is synonymous with the Spice Girls, or "Firestarter" is synonymous with the Prodigy. The Spice Girls and the Prodigy wrote better songs than "Wannabe" and "Firestarter", but those are rarely played on the radio. When television programmes profile The Spice Girls and The Prodigy, they play "Wannabe" and "Firestarter", because the public recognises those songs, and associates them with the artists. When Keith Flint dies, the newspapers will say "Firestarter Singer Dies". Subsequent and former hits are unfamiliar because they are not played, and they are not played because they are unfamiliar; broadcasters play songs that the public recognises, and this feeds back. I grew up as a normal child, in touch with the same media as all normal children of my generation, but it was not until the 1990s that I was aware of "Atomic". As a child, I was perfectly familiar with "Heart of Glass", even though I was not a fan of Blondie, or indeed a fan of pop music, or music at all. It was impossible to grow up in Britain in the 1980s as a television-watching, radio-listening, comic-reading, bicycle-riding, computer game-playing, cat-wounding, fish-stunning child and not be familiar with "Heart of Glass". It was part of Britain's cultural consciousness, a consciousness which I envisage as a gas giant planet, like Jupiter, with myself floating in the atmosphere. "Heart of Glass" resonated throughout this swirling soup, whereas "Atomic" was a small eddy that did not rock my boat. The fat man is not tragic, unless he is extraordinarily fat. He is only tragic if he was once a thin man.
"Atomic" might have remained obscure for all time, but it had a will to live. In 1995 a confluence of events and feelings conspired to elevate the song to the inner sphere of Britain's cultural consciousness. The driving impulse was Britpop, which was a multi-media movement that encompassed music, film, and fashion. Britpop is often mocked nowadays. It was an elitist fad of white college students. Nonetheless the period from 1995-1997 was the beginning of Britain's New Age. There was a new actor playing James Bond, a new actor playing the Prime Minister. Oasis released their second album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? (1995), which changed the world. New Labour threw out the old age, of vanity and greed, in favour of a new age, of vanity and greed, and endless war. That is why I voted for New Labour. I voted for New Labour because I wanted the people of Iraq to suffer. And they have suffered, and I am pleased.
One of its most visible artefacts of Britpop was a film called Trainspotting (1996), a Scottish film about heroin addicts. The film was a youthquake comparable with Easy Rider two generations before. It presented a dream world in which young people were free to live their lives without parental oversight. Transpotting was an exploitation film of the old school, a wallow in glamour with a veneer of morality, aimed at teenagers. The people in the audience could imagine themselves as the characters on the screen, dodging and weaving through a dangerous, exciting world of sex, crime, and wry deadpan Scottish wit. When the film was over, the audience could imagine itself to be wiser and more learned, more experienced, more manly. The film made a lot of money, for a British film, and boosted the careers of all involved. It also boosted a sense of British national consciousness, and particularly Scottish national consciousness, for it was a thoroughly British film, a thoroughly British Scottish film, made with no thought for its commercial prospects in the United States. The characters spoke in Scottish patois, and the ambience was deliberately seedy and grubby and British and Scottish. Nonetheless it was a breath of fresh air, a popular, fashionable British film, a vulgar film, a fast-moving, exciting film that was set in the present day, with swearing and a little bit of nudity etc, and comedy, a film that did not give two hoots for America or the Americans.
Trainspotting gave people hope that there could be a popular, artistic British cinema, a cinema for British people, about British people and British concerns. The result was predictably awful, a string of derivative gangster films, and oddities such as Twin Town and Shooting Fish (both 1997), and eventually a mixed bag of drivel and brilliance, Sex Lives of the Potato Men (2004), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Billy Elliot (2000). Nowadays the mood of Trainspotting has dissipated, but at least there were some films - including a few that people wanted to see - where before there had been crap with Kenneth Branagh.
Trainspotting starred Ewan McGregor, a thin Scottish actor who was nobody in 1996. Outside England, Ewan McGregor is still nobody, a nothing, a speck, just like Tim Henman. Inside England he is a major international film star, fully the equal of Tom Cruise. He is England's great white hope, but it is all a sham. Ewan McGregor is not a film star. He is a bland actor, blandly good-looking, personally uninteresting. He has had the lead role in some of the most popular and lucrative films of all time - George Lucas's "Star Wars" trilogy, a set of science-fiction films for children - but those films were bigger than Ewan McGregor, and would not have grossed one pound less if another actor had been cast instead of Ewan McGregor. Ewan McGregor was selected because of his blandness, he was selected because he did not overshadow the effects, and because he could easily be replaced. Ewan McGregor's blandness is not the blandness of Harrison Ford or Kevin Costner - who are bland on an epic, Hollywood scale - but a small, English blandness, the genuine article.
The Trainspotting soundtrack was a big hit, a very big hit, so big that it begat a sequel made up of songs that had not been in the film; it became a brand. The original soundtrack had two big hits, the first was "Born Slippy", a dance track by a group called Underworld. The second was a cover of Blondie's "Atomic" by the Britpop group Sleeper, although it was not strictly speaking a hit single; it was only ever released as an obscure b-side, and as a promotional-only remixed dance version. It was however played extensively on the radio. Within a few years Sleeper had gone the way of all Britpop bands, and the group's songs were no longer played on the radio, but "Atomic" remained. It is now part of the canon of Blondie's radio hits. It is interesting to note that Blondie's 1999 greatest hits CD was called "Atomic: The Very Best of Blondie"; it was not called "Heart of Glass: The Very Best of Blondie", perhaps because "Heart of Glass" had become overplayed. It certainly was not called "Do the Dark: The Very Best of Blondie" or "Victor: The Very Best of Blondie".
I present the next few paragraphs as they appear on the page, unedited. From now on the narrative will become more fragmented.
"The present grinds onwards into the future, but the past exists in a single point of time. Time is like a bulldozer grinding through a large and highly-elaborate Lego creation. The past is a giant mess of Lego that has piled up on the bulldozer's blade. There are individual bricks and collections of bricks, recognisable fragments of the whole, all crashed together on the blade. Near the bottom there is a sticky mass of plastic where the bricks have been melted by future shock, all the sweet green plastic flowing down.
by the discovery of some old Usenet posts. They are reviews of classic arcade games for the Atari 2600 games console. There are many reviews of Atari 2600 games on the internet, but these reviews are interesting, because they were written when the games were new, in the language of the early 1980s. The people who wrote the reviews lived in the past. We cannot communicate with them. They exist in the same space as the entirety of human history, and are separated from us by the tiniest of gaps, but we still cannot communicate with them.
exist in a moment of time
The time has come for me to put on my mind boots, and frolic in fields of thought. I
the milk of men's minds"
I continue. At this point you are looking at my limit. I do not have the energy to process or edit the remaining words into coherence. There is no incentive for me to do so. I have proved everything I wanted to prove.
Blondie had a heyday, and it was sweet. From 1978 until 1981 Blondie was one of the most popular pop groups in the world, or at least those parts of the world that had colour television. One or two or perhaps three of the group's songs are still played on the radio today, and I reckon that most people nowadays have heard about the group. Young people have probably seen them on the television. Old people remember them because they were very popular. Old men in particular remember Blondie, because the band's lead singer, a lady called Deborah Harry, although she was not really a lady, was toothsome. During the late 1970s everybody called her Debbie Harry, but I will call her Deborah Harry, because Debbie is a cheap, tarty name, whereas Deborah has class. Deborah Harry of Blondie had class, or rather she had an imitation of class, an imitation of class that was simultaneously a parody of class, a refutation of class, and a semi-serious yearning for the ideal of class. This triple alliance was Blondie's most intriguing aspect. Blondie was simultaneously a joke, a rebellion, and a secret longing.
It is really only partially true to say that Blondie is a band, or rather it is both true and false. Blondie was a functioning pop group cut from the same cloth as The Beatles, in the sense that the bandmembers wrote and played their own music, at least to start with. They formed in dot dot dot during the 1970s and the people in the group were name name name and Deborah Harry. Although Blondie worked with hitmaking producers such as Mike Chapman and Giorgio Moroder, the group was never a producer's puppet. Blondie had its own distinctive musical voice, at least until Autoamerican. By that time the band as essentially Deborah Harry and some session musicians etc, I have said this already. It sounds as if Deborah Harry had popped into the studio once or twice to lay down vocal tracks, but that otherwise neither Deborah Harry nor the rest of Blondie nor anybody else involved in the record was interested in it.
At the same time, and on a pragmatic level, Blondie was not a band. Blondie really was just Deborah Harry. When the cameras pointed at Blondie, they pointed at Deborah Harry. She was the one that the newspapers interviewed. When The Muppet Show invited her as musical guest, the band did not appear. They were instead represented by puppets. The promotional video for "Heart of Glass", the group's biggest single, and one of the biggest singles of the late 1970s, was a lengthy shot of Debbie Harry's face.
Debbie Harry's face was a fascinating thing. It is no so fascinating today, but it was fascinating in the late 1970s. It was effective as a whole, and as a collection of parts. Her face can be divided into her cheekbones, which were sharp and high-set; her eyes, which gazed lazily at the world; her lips, which were forever covered in lipstick, and held in such a way as to suggest boredom, or post-orgasmic bliss; and her hair, which was blonde. The parts of Deborah Harry's face were conventionally attractive, in an old-fashioned way, but they were also knowing parodies of a certain kind of cheesecake glamour.
Deborah Harry came to the pop music business relatively late in life. She was in her early thirties by the time Blondie released their first album. She had done a variety of odd jobs, most famously as a bunny girl in a Playboy casino. She had not worked as a model - she must have been too short, and not thin although - although she could adopt several different looks. At times she looked friendly, and at other times she was aloof. Sometimes she was laddish, and sometimes she was ladylike. Blondie emerged from a time and place and social group that looked down on artifice and glamour,
subsection of New York's punk scene, at a time when artificacwhich tended to deliberately avoid conventional glamour. It was not quite the same as Britain's contemporary punk movement, which tried hard to avoid all artifice, in order to appear sincere, although this had the effect of creating an entirely new level of artifice. America's punk and New Wave scene had no problem with style, and Deborah Harry's conventionally attractive good looks must have seemed yet another quirky joke.
Nonetheless, a punk / New Wave audience could accept Deborah Harry as a quirky
At the same time, the mainstream audience could accept Deborah Harry as a straightforward, good-looking, glamorous star in the mould of Diana Ross or any one of a hundred transient disco vocalists. A large segment of the indie audience was not interested in rationalising Debbie Harry's looks, they were driven wild by them. I wonder, if every drop of semen that Debbie Harry inspired could be collected into a bucket, how large would that bucket be? Not as large as Mariah Carey's bucket. Bigger than Whitney Houston's bucket. Debbie Harry was in certain respects reminiscent of Kate Bush, in that she had broad appeal, and a bucket. Families watching TV on a Saturday afternoon whilst tucking into fish fingers and mashed potato could enjoy Debby Harry, and Blondie.
Although Kate Bush had negligible direct influence on mainstream pop, she helped establish an archetype, and the same is true of Debbie Harry. The concept of Debbie Harry -sassy blonde in charge of a band of blokes - has not really dated, although Deborah Harry herself has dated. Certainly the Debbie Harry archetype has dated less than later female archetypes such as the androgynous Annie Lennox or the androgynous Tank Girl or the sexless Neneh Cherry or the sexless Cyndi Lauper. Debbie Harry's mixture of ultra-glam and self-aware self-parody is still of the moment. The cover of the band's second album, Plastic Letters (1977), does not look old-fashioned. The only part of the Debbie Harry construction that has not aged well is her dress sense, which was inarguably awful. Men will always enjoy looking at photographs of Debbie Harry, circa 1978, wearing a very short t-shirt. Men will always find themselves compelled to use Google's image search to find images of same. I know this to be true.
Disco. Blondie was a post-modern, self-aware band. The music was simultaneously heart-felt, and a parody of itself. The first album, simply titled Blondie (1976), was full of punky beats, cheap buzzy Farfisa organ, and twangy guitar lines that blended together to form a sound reminiscent of cheap 1960s garage/girl pop. The last track on the album, "Attack of the Giant Ants", was an overt homage to tacky late-1950s, early-1960s drive-in science fiction films. It was a mini-opera, with sound effects, and roaring ants. I don't know if ants roar.
I don't know what mood was passing through North America in 1976. Devo's first album is also a homage to silly science fiction and twangy guitar pop of North America's pre-Beatles era. Perhaps it is because the twentysomething indie musicians of the late 1970s had been kids in the pre-Beatles era, and fondly remembered the days before the Beatles came, the days when they were young, whilst at the same time accepting that those days would not come again, and were divided from the present by an impassable barrier, a Beatle barrier. Blondie's polished sound, conventional songwriting, and glammy frontwoman set them far apart from The Fall or New Musik, and of course the band was on a major label, and existed to have hit songs and be popular. In this respect it is surprising that the band took a couple of years to hit it big. Blondie has Deborah Harry on the cover, right at the front, although she is not as glammy as she would become (she looks bored and glum, whereas on the cover of Parallel Lines she is a fox; for the record, on the cover of Plastic Letters she looks as if she has just taken a big bag of drugs, on the cover of Eat to the Beat (1979) she looks as if she had just joined The Human League, on the cover of Autoamerican (1980) she looks as if she has spent all her food money on a big bag of drugs, and on the cover of The Hunter (1982) she is wearing a big wig). Nonetheless, whereas most women from the late 1970s look very old-fashioned and frumpy nowadays, Debbie Harry remains attractive.