Blondie, Fox Theater, Detroit, August 26, 2022

your hair is beautiful.

Blondie, Fox Theater, Detroit, August 26, 2022
we're gonna have a

During the encore last Friday night at Blondie here in Detroit, “Call Me,” the video screens behind the band broadcast clips from the late Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, a show that ran on NYC basic cable in the late 70s and featured so many of the downtown cognoscenti. The footage showed Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anya Phillips, Andy Warhol, Walter Steading, and others I didn't catch. It was cool because it was cool but also because it wasn't for everyone.

I stood there naming everyone I recognized, like I was chanting or saying a rosary, and it hit me in that moment that I wasn’t there but it was still my lineage, it was my chosen family, I got there as soon as I could and the bands I loved that were still around were also part of that line. I carry that energy with me, I represent us. I mean, I have one arm with tattoos representing Patti Smith, the Ramones, and Lou Reed, and this is just now somehow dawning on me. It was emotional, especially watching a stage with Debbie Harry and Clem Burke and they are still kicking ass —saw while they are definitely much loved in Detroit, Debbie’s command of the stage and the venue was phenomenal, and Clem’s energy has always been distinctive and remains but Debbie is 77 and Clem is 67 and I could see it and when they first walked out it took my breath away. Tempus Fugit.

Friday night was homecoming, because those songs are indelible with my own coming of age in NYC; those songs are so absolutely NYC and are from a place and time that is gone. It made me homesick but not in a “I want to move back” kind of way, in a “This is all gone” kind of way. I have been in this mood since I got the assignment to write about the new Blondie box set for Pitchfork. I went back and looked at my initial pitch:

“my initial notes say "'Heart of Glass' is a 9.0. Just that song alone. Everything that went into its creation, the band iterating on it repeatedly, Mike Chapman looking for a hit in that insistent half-technical half-magical thing a producer does (or did). Blondie weren't my thing back in the day but I loved them reliably and intermittently, and know entire pages of the now out-of-print Blondie autobiography Making Tracks by heart still to this day (my favorite section is probably the one where Debbie Harry talks about how she'd sit in her car waiting for alternate side parking to expire and use the time to write songs). They're an expansive, incredibly talented band that should have been bigger and should have gotten more credit than they do, but they wrote hit songs and just kept working and experimenting. It's funny that the one common attribute shared by the successful CB's bands was something as simple as plain old persistence.”


[Seriously, Debbie Harry taught me how to handle owning a car in New York City and dealing with alternate side parking. In Making Tracks, she explains in detail how what you do is sit in your car during the hour and a half or whatever that’s posted on the sign, waiting for the street sweeper; when it comes through, you move to the other side or drive around the block or somehow just get out of its way and then once it passes you come back to your spot and now you’re good until another day or two (it’s usually something like M-W-F or Tu-Th). THANK YOU, DEBBIE.]

The other passage of the book that I remembered so well that I found it in like 5 minutes of flipping is how Debbie would go out and do promo tours visiting radio stations and the radio stations would say, “We like you, give us something to play” and Debbie couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t play songs like “Denis” or “Presence Dear” or “In The Flesh,” which, I mean, it’s not like she didn’t have a point. Those people would look super fucking dumb later and definitely pretended that they had always played Blondie.

It was a total and delightful coincidence that the band were in town the day the box set came out. When you’re working on a review of a box set that includes the band’s entire catalog and four discs of additional rarities and outtakes, it’s going to take you a while to get through it all, and I started going through it in early July. It is the fun of taking out the original records and listening to them again, of digging through the rarities and outtakes and then going back and comparing them to the originals or just enjoying them for the first time. I went down a path of listening to multiple live versions of “Detroit 442,” a song I had not quite realized until the liner notes pointed out was mostly about Iggy, and in Detroit, any Iggy reference is gonna get a reaction.

I am grateful that the liner notes, written by Erin Osmon, are fantastic, and I did not have to go digging for sources or quotes, and that despite various intra-band conflicts over the years, everyone participated so everyone, including producers, are heard from. She also draws from Harry’s fantastic memoir, and I didn’t feel the need to pull out my incredibly battered original copy of Making Tracks until I was doing final edits to my review and really wanted to try to get that story about the radio stations into the word count (ed. note: i did but then had to cut it in a later revision).

It’s a very long set, you will hear everything you want or need to hear, the band is great. I was prepared to enjoy myself and dance my ass off but I kind of rolled my eyes the tiniest bit when my friend, the legendary punk photographer Theresa Kereakes described it as “mind-blowing.”

I apologized to her publicly after the show.

The reason she was right (besides that she was just 100% correct) was everything above, and quite simply the fact that the songs are great fucking songs. The other element that hit me like a ton of bricks while doing the research was how under-rated Debbie Harry is as a lyricist. I mean, Chris Stein rightly got his dues for his musicianship (and despite the band being fantastic his absence due to health reasons was absolutely felt from an aural perspective) but I don’t think I appreciated the style and the poetic impressionism in a lot of her work. I wish there was a lyric collection; I’m glad to hear that Stein is working on his own memoir and a Blondie documentary.

The pivotal moment for me in the show was completely unexpected: not “Heart of Glass,” not “Fade Away and Radiate,” but smack in the middle of the set when Clem put on the headphones for the click track, hit the toms for all he was worth about half a dozen times, a deep breath, and then they slide into “Atomic.”

“Atomic” was a single, but it barely cracked the top 40, it’s at the bottom of the charted songs, and I don’t know if I remember hearing it on the radio as much as hearing it at New Wave Dance Nights, those placeholder weekday events that you could find at random venues as we crawled into the 80’s, where you could hear Depeche Mode and Erasure and Yaz and the five-minute remix of U2’s “Two Hearts Beat As One,” and those were places where you definitely heard “Atomic.” It was the song that would make you run on the floor as soon as you heard it.

The audience got to their feet as soon as the lights went down Friday night and stayed there, and everyone around me was dancing all night, the mother and daughter in front of me, couples on dates, the row of older punk ladies behind us. There was no point that night that I danced harder than to “Atomic.” I had forgotten what it felt like to hear that song at volume, what it felt like to physically feel the rhythm and the syncopation, the emotional attenuation of Debbie’s voice, that dreamlike, euphoric mood, it is simultaneously chill and uplifting. POSITIVE VIBES. It was definitely, definitely a jam. It was a delight. It was gorgeous, and it was mine. It was yours. It is ours. Your hair is beautiful.

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