Pop Culture Icon, Chris Stein
Here at Proud we continue to collect and present the best of popular culture in the heart of London, and when we talk about music, fashion, sex, and photography well, you cant ignore the one name that pops to the lips. Blondie.
Undoubtedly the goddess of the 70’s and 80’s New wave seen across the pond, and well pretty much every where they went… yes they. That's right, much forgotten or deliberately over looked the bomb shell that so many adored was part of a group, frontwoman Debbie Harry, which she helped create with guitarist and song writer Chris Stein in 1974, the band has gone through a number of line up changes over the years but Chris and Debbie are still at it and still performing now, their relationship has changed, they where a couple when they formed Blondie, and now they are friends and band mates. Their relationship must have made him the envy of most men in the 70’s, take a look through proud collection on Harry and the look speaks for itself.
Here at Proud, photography gallery London, we have great collection of photos of Debbie Harry as well as Blondie. First of note is the iconic New York apartment with portrait by Andy Warhol, captured by Brian Aris in 1978. The portrait by Warhol is undoubtedly one of his finest celebrity pieces, throw Harry in and you’ve got a combination of artistic voices that helped define an age. Brian Aris has a career rep that stretches from the Vietnam war to Band Aid and then the Queen (yep not the band) and the weddings of the most exclusive celebs.
Another image amongst many worth noting is of Harry, titled Parrellel Lines, captured by Duffy in 1977, Duffy was the person to go to back then if you wanted a fashion shoot, he understood how clothes where to be present on a model to get the image you wanted. This was just before Blondie got their first hit in the UK, and with images of Harry like this helped catapult them up the popularity list. It shows the time, it was punk and reggae fused in New York, a sharper cleaner punk compared to the UK scene, and very hot.
Norman Seef, South African born and relocated to the USA, captured Blondie at the Chelsea hotel, as he said “The rock group Blondie was a quintessential part of the New York cultural scene. I decided to shoot at the Chelsea Hotel as an appropriate context”. Harry was often described as having a golden age of film star quality, the back drop of new york and cleaner crisper stateside look of the lads, this image captures that moment of music history
Theres no doubt that Debbie Harry has overshadowed the group, during the height of their fame the group at one point had badges made saying just that ‘Blondie is a Group’, but a group they certainly where and by the time they split in 1982 until the reform 16 years later, that band has chalked up an impressive discography and more than a few hits, they have helped define a style and moment in music history.
The new wave movement, a title that has been often debated as to what it actually meant, in an interview in Australia Stein just said “I actually think its a lot of new bands coming-out at once, a lot of new blood that weren’t in the business before and just coming out now”. Or possibly it refers to bands that where playing in certain clubs, like CBGB’s, in New York at the time. They had a new sound, cleaner and crisper and it didn’t come under the punk genre for sure, but they had the same rebellious attitude and desire to do it themselves.
The clothes they where sporting was different to the punk scene in the UK, the torn safety pinned look was in great contrast to the cleaner, still rebellious but more of a throw back to the mod generation tens years previous. They could have stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine, they supported an incredibly photogenic look, with clothes that matched, neat hair styles and that was just the guys, Harry out front help craft an image that is still thrown about now, onesies and clashing colours, cut outs and one shoulder pieces that still parade up and down cat walks the world over, have a look at Proud's collection of Harry, Adrain Boot captured her ‘walking out in East London’, ‘Posing on stage’ and ‘live at the round house’, these three where taken in 78/79, capturing her style and the feeling, but they could easily be mistaken as a present day artist on TV or online. The official video for Heart of Glass has Harry in one strap split dress flowing dress, the popularity of that song helped lift designer Stephan Sprouse’s career, but helped cement the style of Blondie in to the mainstream popular culture.
Chris Stein and Debbie Harry’s relationship of the heart
The relationship between two of the biggest names in new wave music history is often mentioned and looked up, they where together from the start of the band, and stayed together for some where between 13 and 16 years, reports are conflicting, but what is remarkable about this love story is the friendship they still have, Harry is godmother to Chris Stein's two daughters with actress Barbara Sicuranza. I mean how many rock and roll failed relationship stories have that finisher? Stein states that “their relationship is still very close, it’s just that we don’t have that sort of romantic situation that we did before”.
So what happened?
Blonde split 1982, most people credit the demise of the band to onset of a rare skin disease that stein developed. Other rumours sited that the band where creatively drained, after 5 years on the road with very little rest, the continuous overshadow created by Harrys sex appeal meant that the band went their separate ways. But as Chris battled with his illness, he was nursed slowly back to health by Harry. When asked about why their relationship ended, they both state that it had just run its course, commentators like to high light that Debbie walked away from a burgeoning solo career, a sacrifice many wouldn’t make, but when asked if she regards it as such “No, I don’t, not at all”
The Illness and the Taxman
Well this gets googled a lot so here it is, Chris Stein contracted a rare disease called Pemphigus Vulgaris, it is an autoimmune disease that can be fatal, Stein controlled it with steroids, but you can look this up. It’s not nice. He believes now that it was bought on by the stressful life they where all living.
Interestingly Stein does not put the onset of his illness and the break up of Blondie together as much as every one else likes too, he cites that the crippling mismanagement of the bands finances, “its just that we were being fleeced so badly. The first two years we made a lot of money and this accountant we had just didn’t pay our tax bills” not ideal really ! The group went on back taxes for years.
See also: our feature on icon Pattie Boyd!
After reformation of Blondie in the 1990’s the band have endured a continues stream of success with releases ranking high in the charts, and head lining performances around the world on tour, the tax bill has long been paid and its reported that they respectively have net worth in excess of 20 million.
Both have had a certain amount of success outside of Blondie. Debbie made several solo albums and appear in a number of films over the years, she has also guested on other artists albums. She was inspired by Elton John's endless work in the fight against AIDS and she now supports several charities fighting against cancer and endometriosis.
Chris Stein has also became known as a photographer, he started in 1968, the last years of his time at the School Of Visual Arts in New York City. Chris has been around New York, well for ever, he started capturing the rock scene and the new york street life, the people moving through it, when he met Harry in 73’ it gave him the inside seat with direct access to the pioneers of a new moment in music history. He still is capturing the New York scene and its changing skyline now. He published his first book in 2016 and has collaborated with the likes of Andy Warhol, Basquiat and William Burroughs. He also notably wrote the theme to 1983’s Wild style, cult documentary looking at hip hop, graffiti and break dancing in New York around the 70’s and 80’s.
Chris is still capturing images now, he has a belief in the ability of change through the arts, how often the “image is sometimes more potent than the event itself”.