Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Blondie, Indoor Recess, And Puberty

Reading this particular entry of Ed Piskor's excellent "Hip Hop Family Tree" series cast me back to an obscure time I don't really remember that well.  Or at least I didn't think I could remember it that well until it all came flooding back.

When it was too cold to go out on the playground at St. Mary's, we fourth graders had recess in the classroom.  When we had repeated indoor recesses, we settled into routines - some kids played board games, some kids brought in toys ("Star Wars" toys were still huge.  This dude Tony Lakas must've had everything Kenner was pumping out at that time) and some kids read books.  I think at some point, I got tired of having my ass handed to me at "Connect Four" and "Stratego" because I gravitated over to the classroom record player.

This girl with really thick glasses named Chantal and this guy with an amazing Afro named Chum always hung out there.  They argued.  A lot.  Chum always wanted to play John Lennon - usually "Imagine".  Chantal always wanted to play the Doobie Brothers, and sometimes Dolly Parton's single "9 to 5".  Eventually, I entered the fray.  My brother had recently taken off for college and left behind a small cache of records.  Among those records was Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Greatest Hits".  I loved - LOVED - "Takin' Care of Business".  So usually, my recess was spent arguing with these two about what was going to get played next.  Well, to be more accurate, they continued to argue what would be played next, and BTO was the compromise.  You see, I was a pretty non-confrontational kid, so I didn't argue.

At some point, Chantal began to bring in singles from the J. Geils Band ("Freezeframe" and "Angel In The Centerfold") and Blondie's single "Rapture".  I have to admit it:  I loved "Rapture".  The song sounds kinda dated now; but back then, I felt that Debbie Harry had rapping skillz even before I knew the term "rap".  Or spelled "skillz" with a "z".  This song was more or less a disco tune with a white girl rapping over the top.  I hated disco even as a young lad, so "Rapture"'s appeal is somewhat of a mystery to me.  I'm not sure I can explain why I liked this song so much.

Of course, it didn't hurt anything that Debbie Harry was easy on the eyes.  Actually, that's a huge understatement:  she pretty much kick started puberty for me.  There's this one photo - I can't find it online right now - that I could stare at for hours.  Her hair was all flared up and the plunging neck line on her outfit killed me.  Now that I'm older, I still think she's pretty - lovely cheekbones, great skin.  But as a fourth grader, hey - BOOBS.

And truth to be told, I think Blondie's music has aged fairly well too.  It's never blown my mind, but I don't change the station if I hear it on the radio.  I've never actively hated it.  Like them or hate them, you really have to give it to Debbie Harry (and Chris Stein):  it's clear that they were receptive to the spirit of their time and place.  (Aren't you glad I didn't type "zeitgeist" or "gestalt"?)  In that sense, I think they legitimately earn the title "artist". For years I considered them more scenesters than actual artists.  Most press coverage of Blondie seemed to dwell on who Debbie Harry was dating/hob nobbing with.  I see now that this probably informed their music; and their music could be construed as a celebration of their time, their place, their friends.  I think that's kind of the point of the Piskar strip linked above.

Anyway, another great source about the era that spawned Blondie (and Television, and The Ramones, and Fania, and on and on) is here.  I'm making my way through it right now and it's pretty good.

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