This book starts at the very beginning, and takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride into the backstage arena, jostling between interviews both past and present; we are drawn into the inner circle of the band. Informing the reader of the story from all the band members themselves, throughout their musical history, from their early incarnation’s right up to current day. From falling out with band members, rivalry with other bands, disputes with record companies, to taking a brief walk on the wild side into Debbie’s early days, family life and her deeply personal relationship with the creative driving force which is Chris Stein. Lots of faces are present from the New York scene, and interesting little stories surface and fulfil the reader anxious to know more.
It was great to hear early associates talking about the Band, from Elda Stilletto, who joined forces with Debbie in girl band The Stilettos, and the Red Star producer Marty Thau, the man who recognised the very early talents of Blondie. ‘Parallel Lives’ is littered with never before published personal interviews, which were conducted by former Zigzag Editor and co- writer Kris Needs. He touched on his own personal memories of the band and experiences of travelling with them on their UK tours in those heady often mass hysteria days. Kris befriended the band, and became the one journalist they felt they could trust to write about them without prejudice, with honest accounts of their inner workings. Many of his personal insights and interviews are within this biography and are in my view what makes this book particularly appealing.
‘Blondie is a group’ became a famous slogan devised by their PR company in the late 70’s as Debbie was getting all the press, derogative or sexist reporting became the order of the day. It was tough going, but they weathered the storms, with support from her then partner in crime Chris Stein they worked through many of the trials and tribulations of being in the band, the conflicts and turbulence between members of the group, which are documented at great lengths in this book.
Debbie has to be one of the most legendary pin up women in musical history, with her quirky fashion style, peroxide two tone hairstyle, which inevitably inspired many female artists. We get the low-down from Debbie, on working the tables at Max’s and the famous musicians and actors upon which she served. Andy Warhol called her his “favourite pop singer” and I enjoyed reading Deborah’s [as she now likes to be know] thoughts on Andy. Deborah makes no bones about the fact she enhances and maintains her looks, and she pulls it off with panache. She is timeless and the epitome of cool rock n’ roll style. She is also one smart cookie, and an extremely interesting individual, with insecurities and complexities [just like everyone of us], which make for an appealing study.
Whilst the book doesn’t seek to shock, exploit or glamorise either Debbie or the bands involvement with the more dubious side of rock n’ roll life, it gives us a flavour of the often hidden world of the music scene. What is highlighted also is the sexism towards Debbie that was often played out by the press, and the frustration this caused at not being taken seriously for her stage performances, music and lyrics. Painstaking research appears to have been a crucial factor in putting a book of such work together, if the bibliography is anything to go by, which is extensive.
Throughout the many manifestations of Blondie, they have always tried to adapt to many different styles of music, moving with the times, never looking backwards. Always re-inventing their sounds, amalgamating their music with punk, pop, reggae, disco, rock and electro. Whilst many bands from the 70’s have come and gone, Blondie are still here battling the storms and the challenges that the music industry face. They are one of the most iconic bands to emerge from the original New York punk scene.
There are lots more to be said about the book, but why don’t you go and read it for yourself – if you’re a Blondie fan or not this makes for compulsive reading.
Review by Melanie Smith – June 2012
Parallel Lives by Dick Porter & Kris Needs is available to pre order [Hardback £16.96] on Amazon