December 13, 2018

Blondie’s Chris Stein on His New Book, the Future of the Group and Why He Wasn’t Bar Mitzvahed

Blondie members (from left) Chris Stein, Debbie Harry and Clem Burke.

Few bands have had the staying of Blondie. The New York-based band first hit it big in the late 1970s, ultimately scoring hit after hit – “Heart Of Glass,” “Dreaming,” “The Tide Is High,” “Rapture,” “Hanging On The Telephone,” “Sunday Girl,” “One Way Or Another,” “Call Me”… Last year’s “Pollinator” album featured collaborations with Sia, The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, Joan Jett, Charli XCX, TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek and The Strokes’ Nick Valensi and was named one of Rolling Stone’s “20 Best Pop Albums of 2017.”

Blondie co-founder, guitarist and songwriter Chris Stein has also found success as an artist outside of Blondie. His latest book is “Point of View: Me, New York City, & The Punk Scene,” a collection of photographs taken by Stein. Stein and Blondie frontman Debbie Harry will be part of an event at New York City’s Cooper Union on November 30 in which “Point of View” will be discussed alongside Rob Roth, Blondie’s creative director; the event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is recommended.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Stein by phone. We chatted about his Jewish roots before talking about “Point o View” and his other endeavors.

Jewish Journal: Were you bar mitzvahed?

Chris Stein: No, my parents were “reds.” (laughs) So we never really practiced, but we did have a big birthday party when I was 13.

JJ: Did being Jewish ever come up when you were with Joey Ramone or other punk rock scene people who of The Tribe?

CS: Nah, I don’t think so. It was always kind of unsaid. I was close to Joey but I don’t think we talked about it specifically that I can remember.

JJ: How long did you spend putting together your new book?

CS: The book was put together over the course of a year, pretty much, dealing with film. I suppose if we had digital cameras back then it might have been a lot faster. But I had a good editor on the book, I enjoy the process.

JJ: Did you have all the film readily available? Or was a lot of it in storage?

CS: I have it all here where I live. It’s not a huge amount of stuff, it’s all in binders. It’s just a huge pain in the ass looking for individual images because there’s really no way to mark the stuff. There’s really no way to categorize it when you think about it. It’s just there… Most of the original film containers are gone, it’s just pages and binders. So that’s a time-consuming process.

JJ: What was your entry into the art world beyond music?

CS: My mom was a painter and a window designer. She knew [Willem] de Kooning and all this stuff, so I was always exposed to it.

JJ: But in the case of collaborations over the years with Warhol, Basquiat and all that, how did your entry into that world happen?

CS: I went to art school, the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, so there was always that crossover. I was always doing photography.

JJ: Beyond that, you always had a lot of interesting projects going on, like TV Party. When did you first start to diversify beyond just being a guy in a band?

CS: Everyone just kind of multitasking back then. It was just what we did. Some people were strictly musicians, but [David] Byrne was always doing photography…

JJ: Is that still the case today? Do you have projects going on beyond Blondie, your photography and your books?

CS: We’re always doing other things. For Blondie, we’re always being approached about films and TV.

JJ: The album Pollinator was interesting in that you used outside writers for a lot of the songwriting. Was that something you would do again?

CS: Yeah, sure. Actually, we got another great song from Johnny Marr that we’ll definitely do, we’ll record it. I don’t know if we’ll do as much on the next album, but for sure. It’s nice to make connections with younger artists that are out there working.

JJ: So there is another Blondie album planned right now?

CS: Yeah. I haven’t yet finished dealing with the book, so I haven’t really been into songwriting mode. I’ve got to start doing that pretty soon. But we’ll do another one with [producer] John Congleton because he was so much fun to work with.

JJ: Being more than 40 years into a successful career, is there anything you are still hoping to accomplish?

CS: Yeah, of course, I can always think of stuff. (laughs) A long list of things, for sure.

JJ: Let me phrase that a different way. Is there a career accomplishment you are most proud of? Or is it simply a proud accomplishment to still be doing it over 40 years later at a high level?

CS: Yeah, we’re getting a lot of love these days. We kind of have complete acceptance now that we didn’t have 20 years ago. That’s a nice thing.

 

JJ: Ultimately is there something you wish more people knew about you, beyond you being someone that wrote a lot of hit songs?

CS: I don’t know. I just would like more Twitter followers. (laughs)

JJ: Not Instagram, but Twitter specifically?

CS: Twitter is for the political aspect of it, so I’m always on there complaining about things.

JJ: So in closing, any last words for the kids?

CS: I don’t know, I think things are good [now]. It’s an interesting period we came up in but things are also exciting now. It’s not terrible to be in the moment.

More on Chris Stein and Blondie can be found online at www.blondie.net.