Blondie I Was Elvis Ramone

There's a new Blondie CD due out in early October: 'The Curse of Blondie'. Drummer Clem Burke gives a preview: "It's pretty deep; Debbie's come up with some really great lyrics and it's a real interesting record. It's pretty eclectic, like most of our records have been before." While the album isn't due in time for the band's Adelaide concert, the single Good Boys features a disco beat and treated vocals, with Debbie Harry sounding as young and sharp as ever.

Burke agrees that Blondie always embraced different genres and new technology, explaining: "We are a product of our surroundings, what's happening contemporarily in music. We're kinda like a sponge, absorbing a lot of things and then it all comes out sounding like Blondie. We were always using technology, even way back when with Heart of Glass". He says about a third of the material in the upcoming live shows is sequenced and programmed.

Rapture saw Debbie Harry experimental with the rap style she was hearing on the streets, which gave the form its first mainstream success in 1981. She recently joked that she was Eminem's "trailer trash mommy". Burke agrees the song was influential, saying: "you meet a lot of rap artists now who say it was the first rap song they heard. We were going against the grain of our contemporaries with that whole disco sucks movement. Now there's a bit of a contrivance in dance music trying to have a rock edge, which I don't really buy." he adds.

"When we had that hit, In the Flesh in Australia it was a big surprise. It's like a fifties ballad. It was the B-Side of the single X Offender." Countdown viewers were knocked out by the teasingly alluring singer and the band named after her bottle-dyed hair. Burke comments on that sex appeal: "Well basically with the Blondie band, it really is representative of what we are as people and as musicians. It's not really about anything particularly contrived and I think that honesty comes across in Debbie's persona on stage. You could say she's in the character of Blondie but it's really herself she's putting into her lyrics and performance and that's the same with all of us."

Citing his early influences as "The Beatles, The Who, Hal Blaine who did all the drumming on the Phil Spector stuff, just anyone who had a bit of spirit" he recalls: "What brought Debbie, Chris & I together, the genesis of the band, was the musical common ground of liking the Velvets, Iggy & the Stooges and The Ronettes and things like that. That's the bond we shared. New York Dolls and Velvet Underground were the big inspiration for the New York Bands."

Getting their first gigs supporting the Ramones at the now legendary CBGBs venue, the band evolved, taking strength from the punk ethos. Burke remembers: "There's definitely an aesthetic there that comes from the DIY punk attitude that kept us honest, not cow-towing to popular demand."

He has fond memories of those CBGBs days. "When you see someone now who's still alive from that era, it's like the feeling most people probably have when they see somebody they went to school with. It was a different kind of school - a rock'n'roll school. We knew things were taking off when more women started showing up. To start off with there was just Patti Smith, Debbie, Tina Weymouth and Nancy Spungeon and mostly just guys. There was definitely a feeling that something was happening, not necessarily that there was going be any great success, but there was a "right time, right place" type of feeling. It was inspiring to be around Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine and Johnny Thunders. Everyone was feeding off one another. It was part of the chain of contemporary pop culture, which still has an impact. Punk rock in general changed a lot. It was interesting for us being in New York and seeing the Sex Pistols evolve out of the thing that was happening here. I suppose that and grunge were the two contemporary musical forms that furthered the cause of rock'n'roll. Punk rock really helped the Rolling Stones to continue and evolve and I think that's good."

Burke agreed to play drums with the Ramones after Blondie had broken up and he'd been on the road with Eurythmics but is quick to point out: "I was never Clemmy Ramone, I was Elvis Ramone. It was the second time I was asked to join them and I was glad to fill in but when it became obvious that Marky had cleaned himself up and wanted to be back in the band I think it was best thing for those guys. I'm sorry two of them are not around anymore. It was a very hard job. They didn't want to rehearse so it was kinda trial by fire. It's common knowledge now that Johnny and Joey didn't speak to one another for seventeen years and all that acrimonious stuff was going on when I joined. Also Dee Dee was particularly out of his mind at the time in another way. Tommy Ramone's one of my all time favourite drummers. It's ironic because he wasn't even really a drummer but his minimalism and his style of playing was very inspirational for a lot of people. Marky is a good rock'n'roll drummer but to me the original Ramones were the best."

When Blondie plays here, we may not see the original line-up. Guitarist, Chris Stein, whose wife has recently given birth to their first baby, posted news on the internet that he's "split up about the timing because the band is part of my personal identity" but that he can't be absent from baby Akira's "first few weeks on earth." Although he may join the tour in Japan, a stand in, Jimmy Bones has been rehearsing for the Australian leg.

Blondie plays Thebarton Theatre on Friday August 15.

[This interview was played in Australia on the Three D Radio show "Late for Breakfast" on July 10, 2003. An edited version of the article was published in dB magazine, August 6-19, 2003.]