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Sunday 8 December 2019

Q&A with Blondie drummer Clem Burke

The charisma of Debbie Harry, New York in the 1970s, and bringing hip-hop to the masses

Ed Power

Back in the '70s, there was a perception that Blondie was Debbie Harry (above with Clem) plus a random collection of faceless background musicians, much to the band's annoyance by all accounts.

Have you finally made peace with the fact she's a lot more famous than the rest of you will ever be?

It's been spoken about before -- a lot of the attention was on Debbie. She was a great singer, the front person, and she was a beautiful woman.

If she had been a man it would have reflected differently on the rest of the band.

There is always going to be frontperson -- a Jagger, a Jim Morrison. It was my goal to work with people of incredible charisma and talent. Debbie was certainly one of those.

More is made of [the tension] than was the case. People like to talk about that stuff. It wasn't as horrible as was made out to be.

There are always tensions between band members. It's a family atmosphere. But when you get on stage and the chemistry works ... that's what being in a band is about.

When you started out, New York was an artistic hotbed but also quite a deprived, dangerous place. Do you miss 70s Manhattan?

New York City is a very user-friendly place nowadays, which is a good thing. It's changed.

People talk about it being to the detriment of the artistic community. In terms of being able to live there and thrive, it's probably a bit more difficult as far as the economics of doing that.

I just think you look at someone like Warhol -- his influence today is stronger than ever. I don't necessarily call that nostalgia.

Among Blondie's many achievements, you brought rap music to the mainstream with 80s Rapture ...

I remember playing Rapture for my friends, after we had completed the album Autoamerican. They were gobsmacked. They didn't expect to hear something like that.

The interesting thing with that particular track, is that there is a 'song' within the rap. Rapture has a melodic hook as well as a rap, which was pretty much unheard of at the time.

It incorporated pop music. That's what rap music is today.

I think we always were forward-thinking in a lot of different ways.

So now we come to our inevitable question about CBGBs. Along with Talking Heads and The Ramones, Blondie were intimately associated with the downtown venue.

But has its place in music history been overstated? How influential can one dingy rock club be?

It was a touchstone of what was going on in rock. We were able to play original music and to make our mistakes in public.

We were able to have things happen gradually, in a workshop atmosphere. Which is what CBGBs was.

If you look back, in retrospect you can see the amazing music it produced. It was a stomping ground.

All the bands were different. They affected one another. There was this tremendous energy going on at the time.

The album Panic of Girls is out now. Blondie play Olympia, Dublin, Tuesday and Galway Big Top, Wednesday

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