(Test Post Circa 2004)
As the editor of a teen celebrity magazine—considered somewhere beneath pornography by a lot of NYC media elites—I'd experienced pretty much every form of condescension or outright disdain I'd thought were possible. Everything from, "No, we're passing on letting you speak with the band...they're avoiding the cheesy, teenybopper thing," to "Okay, you can speak with him...I'll tell him to brush up on his 'What's your fave color?' answers," to "You're not on the list after all." A stylist, often the least legit of all professionals IMHO, once sniffed to me that while it was "nice" that I had a star on my cover, "Why not give her a real cover? A whole cover? Without all these...faces all over the cover?" Adult publishing types look down on teen celebrity magazines in the same way a sixth-grader considers a third-grader a little baby. They're both children attending the same school, but the elder needs to manufacture distance to conceal self-doubt.
But I heard a new one recently.
I once attended an intimate "AOL Sessions" taping featuring Pink, an artist whose music I like and who I've met before. The first time, she was brand new and was refusing to stop to speak to me at a tiny radio show situated on the Jersey Shore. Her bodyguard actually physically threatened me, and when I told Pink what I thought of that, she told me what *she* thought of *that.* The next time I saw her was at a photo shoot. I sat with her as she had a pedicure (something she'd asked for last-minute as part of the grooming for the shoot) and she gave me a fascinating and funny interview. I liked her very much and we flirted asexually and took a picture together that captured the chemistry we'd somehow concocted for that afternoon. At this "AOL" taping, she was doing songs from her already-expected-to-bomb CD "Try This," and I had zero interaction with her. Instead, I watched in agony from the booth as she tempestuously figeted with equipment and refused to record until everything was "right." Then she sat and did a charismatic if perfunctory set and then she split and so did I, my legs noodles after hours of standing and pretending to be interested in the Process while Billy Bush chatted everyone up and pretended to be interested in them.
Thanks to my support in attending the Pink taping and my positive mention of it in my magazine, I was rewarded with another invite: This time, I was asked to come listen to and watch Blondie record their "AOL Sessions" gig under what would probably be similar circumstances.
Pink's fun, but Blondie is my #2 favorite artistic entity of all time behind Madonna and ahead of Pet Shop Boys. Deborah Harry's voice does it for me and I've loved just about everything the band's ever done. I once attended a screechingly boring experimental play in NYC in order to see Deborah Harry up close, and later stood outside and had my picture taken with her because if everyone else in the world does that with famous people, I was for damn sure not going to pass up my chance when I was standing next to someone whose work truly has made my life happier.
I arrived at the studio and went upstairs and realized right away things would be different this time. Some other reporters were milling around in a reception room, and i could see Deborah Harry (and oh, yeah, some other Blondie members) in a lounge. The recording area was a little bigger and there were chairs in the actual studio. I knew we'd be seated in the same room with the band, which made it more like a command performance.
We were escorted to our black plastic seats and I sat dead center, counting the inches that would separate me from the band—about 120 of them. The wood floors made it look like a tiny basketball court and my brain was doing pop cultural three-point throws when the band came in (minus Debbie) and started playing so the camera crew could shoot some filler.
There was talk of some kind of technical glitch with the keyboard that threatened to Pink up the schedule, then it was resolved and then as if it were no big deal, Debbie entered. She looked good and more than good looked cool, which is hard to do at 58. I find it hard to look cool at 35 and I never looked cool at 15, 20 or 25, so I think looking cool at 58 warrants some kind of nomination for an award. She had blondeish hair teased artfully and wore a modified army jacet with Blondie stickers. She also had black vinyl stilettoes of the variety seen on the album sleeve of the import edition of their latest album, the sublime "The Curse of Blondie."
At first, Debbie worried me. She was very reserved, like an intelligent baby wandering in a new environment. She wanted her mike to be back closer to the guys (shades of "Blondie is a band"). She kind of brusqely resituated things and spoke to her director with a shyness that reads as chilly, then sort of teased them with it by pretending to be demanding, knowing they were thinking, "God, I hope Debbie Harry is not going to be demanding."
At this point, a woman arrived and sat by me and asked myself and the rest of our row to move a seat down because a friend of hers, "a big, huge guy on crutches," would be showing up soon. I made sure to move more center instead of to the end like she sort of implied I should. "If he's on crutches, won't he want the end?" I asked innocently.Then she asked us to scoot our seats down more, too. If you don't hate her already, you're damaged.
The woman began talking loudly, as if everyone in earshot were an old friend of hers instead of a future enemy. She was trying to be friendly and in her brain probably felt she was gracious as hell. And literally, she was. I didn't feed into her much ("Can't she see I'm busy eyeballing Blondie?"), but when someone asks you direct questions, even if you find them instantly obnoxious, if you don't answer then you're just a jerk in any story they'd tell.
She announced, "I'm one of the editors at 'In Style.'" This is supposed to be wow-inducing because the magazine is lovely and important and, well, stylish. I still remember when it was launched...I saw a bus stop poster of the first, Barbra Streisand cover and thought, "Who the hell wants a 'Photoplay' for the '90s, all fake nice?" I've gotten much better about spotting good and bad ideas since then..I promise.
She then asked what I did. When I named my magazine, she scrunched her brow and wanted to know if it was national? Newsstand? "Oh, a teen magazine!" she exclaimed. "Like 'Teen Beat?' You're too young for Bobby Sherman but he was the one I used to like in 'Teen Beat.' A teen magazine. How...NOSTALGIC."
Bingo! That was the new put-down I hadn't heard yet. Nostalgic. Then she began to talk about Blondie, just out of earshot. "Blondie. I mean, how fun. So...NOSTALGIC." I love that she is having a trip down memory lane, but the fact of the matter is that I'm existing now, my job is happening now, I'm creating a product and supplying a demand and making money and surviving...NOW. And so is Blondie. Nostalgic? Why waste time on the good old days when the band is in front of you? It's like telling someone, "You're dead now. You're dead now," until they stop protesting and die.
Finally, she shut up.
The first song was "Good Boys," the band's latest comeback single. It was a minor hit in the UK (where their inital comeback hit in 1999, "Maria," went to #1) and it's a brilliant pop song, a Giorgio Moroder electro-dance piece of candy. But live, it sounded terrible. The problem is their instruments and in particular Deb's voice were not amped to play out to us; this was not a live show, after all. It was like the sound from her mouth was being sucked into the mike and we only heard a small noise, on key. The synth was almost absent. In typical fan fashion, I longed to tell the other scant spectators, "That didn't count. Listen to the record."
Next, the band did "Heart of Glass," affectionately termed "H.O.G." by Debbie. It was better. Then "The Tide is High" came in and Debbie really loosened up. Her singing became much more projected despite the awkward recording set-up and she began doing her white-girls-really-can't-dance defiant dance moves, indicating she was at ease. "That was weird at first, but it's okay now," she murmured. We would applaud after each take and after a few seconds so our approval woudn't register on camera. The third time we did this, Debbie looked at us and cracked a smile, 'Thank you!" It was odd to be singing in front of—and to the side of—about eight "fans," and having to juggle video considerations at the same time. "This is a little clinical," she observed. "It's like having sex in a laboratory. Or a doctor's office...except...unfortunately, not quite!"
The band tore through a spot-on rendition of probably my favorite track from "The Curse of Blondie," called "End to End," which resuscitates "Call Me" for 2004. It was clear they were so much more interested and engaged in performing their new material, not only because it's their latest, but also because they've sold themselves on the idea that it's among their greatest, a concept I don't think they believed of their next most recent CD, the good but not great "No Exit." They were clearly living and performing in the now.
I was simply thrilled to be there, and was excited to hear them do edgier, revisited versions of old songs while still doing new songs, all coming together in an of-the-moment moment that I, as a fan, knew I'd have plenty of time to be nostalgic about in the future, when Blondie ceased to exist.
When the recording ended, I knew I was going to have to pass the band in order to leave, giving me a legit opportunity to say something and hear something to and from them. But it's never that easy, is it?
"In Style" dashed over to Deborah Harry with her friend (who'd arrived mid-set...without crutches...and not so huge) and began a conversation that dragged on as I slowly assembled my things to leave. I wound up having to stand by her, waiting my turn to say something to Deborah Harry, not an enviable position for any fan—the silent lingerer always makes a star tense...'What is this clown gonna say or do?'
Up close, Debbie's not just cool-looking, she possesses an alien beauty thanks to her impossible facial structure and expressive eyes. As she spoke or listened to "In Style," there were moments when she looked like she did at the height of her career, and despite having met a million stars by now and gotten over the dazzle factor for all but the ones who mean the most to me, I was kinda worried I'd chicken out.
"In Style" should have chickened out. Instead, she was saying, "I saw you and Chris in a record store once with these huge sunglasses...I'll never forget it!" This is the kind of comment you might expect to be burped from your embarrassing aunt during a chance encounter with a '50s movie actress at Disney World, not acceptable chit-chat from a representative of a powerhouse magazine to an enduring musical icon. The next one was worse. "You got me my first paid job writing about musc. You did. No, you really did!" Debbie was beginning to glance at me a bit, discreetly imparting her discomfort at what to say, and very subtly playing to me because she recognized the scene was loony to say the least. "In Style" then told Debbie she should do something with the magazine (Debbie reminded her she had, and recently) and then handed Debbie her card. "My e-mail address is on there so, if you get into that, you know, e-mail me...no, really...not to be...but, yeah..." Debbie said (suppressing shock), "If I get into it, you'll be on my list."
In that instant, nothing separated "In Style" from the youngest and most naive girls who buy teen celebrity magazines, who fantasize that they can easily become good friends with their idols—penpals even!—if given half a chance.
At this point, I cut in. "Hi, I'm sorry—I'm not from 'In Style'" [a snort from the rude lady, though I hadn't mean to be bitchy] "but I just wanted to meet you and tell you I've had the record for months and I think it has to be the best Blondie record ever. I love it." Debbie took my hand and shook it and smiled and agreed with me.
Then I left. Because I may edit a teenybopper magazine, and I may love everything that's ever come out of Deborah Harry's mouth just as passionately as today's 13-year-old adores Hilary Duff, but there was no way I was going to ruin this future piece of nostalgia by trying to make a fraction of the impression on Deborah Harry as she's made on me. (Credit: Go visit www.blondie.net for some rad wallpapers.)