Chris Stein, co-founder of the band Blondie, was interviewed by Will Hermes at the Woodstock Writers Festival. Here are my notes on the conversation:
Chris never took music lessons. His father died when he was 15. His first big triumph was learning to play “House of the Rising Sun.” He was a folk music lover. His parents were Communists. He grew up in Flatbush, went to the same high school as Woody Allen – though years later. “I was born in 1950, so you can always remember what age I am.” (Though he didn’t mention that he turned 65 this year – on January 5, if Wikipedia is accurate.) (Which reminds me, Blondie still exists! “We go out every year, usually, on tour,” Chris said. “It’s a little weird at our age, but it is what it is.”)
Chris is a great photographer, who helped establish the myth of Debbie Harry, and of Blondie. Debbie was always a little uncomfortable in front of the camera, he reveals in his book, “Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk,” which was the occasion for this interview.
“How is it living in New York now?” Chris was asked, by a man in the audience.
“It’s nice. Every conversation ends up being about real estate,” quoth Mr. Stein.
He did a lot of shooting for Punk magazine.
“We always called ourselves a pop band,” he says of Blondie.
There were two camps among the original Punks: the “art” camp and the non-art camp. (Chris didn’t exactly define the second faction, but they seemed to be more commercial. Blondie and The Ramones were in that faction.) Television was in the “art” camp. The Talking Heads were in the middle, but leaning towards “art.”
There was a slideshow of Chris’s photos. In the first, Andy Warhol was preparing Debbie Harry for a photo shoot. Andy and Debbie looked oddly similar – both pretty, blonde, opaque.
“Andy Warhol was a very nice man. Some of the people in the original Factory said that he ripped them off, but he was always very nice to us. I wish that he was still around,” said Chris Stein.
“Define Punk,” an English-accented man challenged him at the end.
“It’s mostly a style of fashion,” Chris replied. Then he thought some more. “It’s about doing it yourself, but not everything that you do yourself is Punk. It’s do-it-yourself, plus angst.” Then he chuckled a little at his own joke.