Another great piece of rock history from The Merv Griffin Show. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein adapt to the role of talk show guests with the ease of the cool New Yorkers they are. And this cements Merv’s place in the Hipster Hall Of Fame. Totally.
It’s 1980 and Blondie has gone from Bowery punks to pop stars. You can tell Harry and Stein are struggling a bit with the whole fame thing.
In 2008, a live recording of the Velvet Underground, made in 1967 (one of the earliest live recordings that exists of the group) at a NYC club called The Gymnasium, was bootlegged, and received joyously by fans. Notable tracks include the live debut of a full 19-minute long workout of “Sister Ray,” “Guess I’m Falling in Love” (which was on the Peel Slowly and See box set) and a song that’s never seen the light of day anywhere else, “I’m Not A Young Man Anymore” (Lou Reed would have been a 25-year-old in 1967, go figure). You can find the VU Gymnasium show bootleg on a number of audio blogs.
The venue was located in the East 70s, and was originally a Czechoslovakian health and social club. The gym equipment was actually left in the club. A teenaged Chris Stein, later of Blondie, played at the Gymnasium with his own band and remembers seeing The Velvet Underground there:
“It was pretty late at night by the time we got out of the subway in Manhattan and headed toward the Gymnasium. Walking down the block with our guitars we actually saw some people coming down the street and they said, ‘Oh, are you guys the band, because we’ve been waiting there all night and we couldn’t take it anymore, we left because they never showed up.’ So we said, ‘Yeah, we’re the band.’ We went inside and there was hardly anyone there. Somebody said Andy was supposed to be there, but he was off in the shadows with his entourage, we never saw him. We hung around for a little while and they played records, then we headed up for the stage. It was a big echoey place, we had absolutely no conception of playing a place like this whatsoever, but Maureen Tucker said we could use their equipment. So we plugged into their amps and the amps were all cranked up superloud… The only song I remember doing was “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover.” We must have done a few more, but I remember sitting down after a while because the whole thing had gotten me pretty discouraged. Then somebody came over and said, ‘Oh Andy likes you, he thinks you’re great.’ We must have played five or six songs then we just gave up. By that time the rest of The Velvets had arrived. After a while they started to play and they were like awesomely powerful. I had never expected to experience anything like that before… I was really disappointed that they didn’t have Nico, because we thought she was the lead singer, but I distinctly remember the violin and their doing “Venus in Furs” because a couple of people in dark outfits got up and started doing a slow dance with a chain in between them… There were maybe thirty people there. It was very late, but it was a memorable experience…”
It seems likely that Stein might be describing this very show (no Nico here), The complete and utter lack of applause might also be because of the small number of people Stein recalls being there. It was 45 years ago, so who knows? (They only played there twice, anyway, April 6 & 7, 1967, the night Stein saw them and either the day before or the day after that)
Below, have a listen to “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore.” I’m totally in love with this song. It’s been criticized elsewhere for being “minor” and “unfinished,” but fuck that noise, this is the bloody Velvet Underground and this groove don’t quit. I wish there was a 19-minute long version of this one, too. Turn it up loud enough that it hits you like a freight train.
Chris Stein of Blondie is not only a fine musician and songwriter he’s also an accomplished photographer. These photos of the last few days in the life of CBGB must have been heartbreaking for Stein to shoot. Blondie, along with some of the most significant bands of the past four decades, started their career on the ancient stage at the east end of one of the funkiest bars in the known universe.
Beneath these layers of band stickers and graffiti are more layers of band stickers and graffiti. They’re like the rings of a mutant tree, each layer representing a phase of CBGB’s evolution. Radiocarbon dating the walls of the club would have revealed the raw ages of the pre-history of punk rock.
It is a sad to see the once great disheveled beast gutted and splayed like a rock and roll King Kong fallen from the skies onto the yuppiefied streets of the new Bowery.
There are more of Stein’s shots of CBGB, as well as photos of Blondie, punk pioneers, Graceland, H.R. Giger and more, at Chris’s fascinating website Rednight.
Here’s a short but compelling clip of Blondie’s Chris Stein and William Burroughs having a chat in 1987. Wish there was more.
Chris describes the scene:
This is a pretty simple discussion here, (i was trying to sound intelligent)... Bill is just saying that war is part of the natural plan, universe whatever… he drops a lot of phrases that come from Buddhism, he and Kerouac, Ginsberg and co. were all enthusiastic followers… i dont really think that Bill was a devoted practitioner… he was more of a mystic or animist in my opinion.
This was shot in the basement of the last and biggest Warhol factory which was the old Con Ed building on Madison and 33rd street for a segment of Andy’s cable tv show hence the models who were directed to wander through the shots.”
How can it be that we haven’t yet covered Blondie on this blog? What a tragic oversight! One that I must redress immediately…
I absolutely loved Blondie when I was a kid, after discovering them on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert when I would have been about ten. I recall being transfixed by how beautiful Debbie Harry was and thinking how cool she dressed. I had never seen a girl who looked like this before… and I was quite impressed. Debbie Harry made a strong impression on my young mind that a keen and idiosyncratic fashion sense most probably signaled a female creature of high intelligence (nearly, but not always, true). I was a fan from that moment on, believe me when I tell you…
The first Blondie song I heard on that day was In The Sun. I danced and pogoed around my grandparent’s living room in my socks, sliding on the floor as I did so. Watch the clip below. It was an exhilarating thing to see something like this back then. I was a kid very attuned to rock music—the way most ten-year-olds today are into SpongeBob SquarePants—and Blondie was a real sit up and pay attention change of pace from Foghat, Uriah Heap and REO Speedwagon, the groups normally seen on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.
Completely aside from the insanely sassy gorgeousness of Debbie Harry, Blondie really stood apart musically from everything else that was going on at the time. Their songs were catchy, upbeat and fun. Despite their CBGBs pedigree, they really were never punks. There was a knowing calculation behind their persona, a campy, cabaret vision of ‘60s girl groups and Farfisa-infused garage pop.
For my money, the greatest artistic statement made by the band is 1980’s Autoamerican, an album reviewed poorly when it came out and that has never really been properly re-evaluated by either critics or audiences.
Autoamerican has aged very, very well. It doesn’t sound like anything else other than Blondie and so is a bit timeless in that sense. The opening track, Europa, a brooding modernist instrumental that dissolves into a spoken word rant from Harry extolling the virtues of cars. It’s an amazing song and a cool way to open the collection. The album contains both The Tide is High (originally a late ‘60s rocksteady hit in Jamaica for the Paragons and U-Roy—I bow to their genetic coolness for knowing about this song then) and Rapture, the song that, more than any other piece of music introduced the world to the concept of what rap music was. It’s a masterpiece of pop. I listened to it three times today—quite loud—and the skill, charm and verbal dexterity with which Debbie Harry casually rattles off her dada-hipster rhymes still astonishes 30 years later. It’s got a groove as funky as one written by James Brown, Prince or George Clinton, a feat almost no other white group can lay claim to.
My favorite moment on Autoamerican is T-Birds, a soaring piece of road music featuring angelic backing vocals courtesy of Flo and Eddie. If you’ve never heard Autoamerican before—and you call yourself a music fan—get your hands on it and give it a chance. Truly Autoamerican is one of the great lost albums of the New Wave era.
Bonus clip: Blondie do a cover of Goldfinger on German television’s Musikladen show: in 1977:
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