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SXSW Interview: Blondie

CBGB survivors take on the hipster zombie apocalypse

By Richard Whittaker, 7:40PM, Wed. Mar. 12

SXSW Interview: Blondie
photo by Gary Miller

Age hasn’t tempered the snide wit of Blondie guitarist Chris Stein. From behind shades and alongside bandmates Debbie Harry and Clem Burke, the aging New York punk-disco-rap fusion pioneer dismissed South by Southwest as “World War Z for hipsters.”

The trio are preparing to celebrate their fifth decade with a combo best-of/new album, Blondie 4(0) Ever. Plus, in a sign that they’re shifting from music legend to full-blown cultural institution, they previewed their own Smithsonian Channel special, Blondie’s New York. So what was happening in the Big Apple 40 years ago?

“Not much,” said Harry.

Burke: “We were working in a void, and there wasn’t anything like South by Southwest, so the only way to get yourself known was playing your local club.”

For Blondie, that club was CBGB. Stein described the punk institution as “a rebellion against MOR,” while Burke dubbed it “an anomaly” because of its self-sustaining ecosystem of bands.

“Television would influence the Ramones, the Ramones would influence Blondie, Blondie would influence the Dictators,” said the guitarist, adding, “‘Heart of Glass’ was a way to piss off people in our circle.”

It was like Glengarry Glen Ross: ABC, always be clubbing. “We never saw Saturday Night Live,” said Burke, “because we were always out on Saturday night.”

Unlike many of those peers, “we survived,” said Harry, and a fourth act looms as Stein extracted the promise of a Burning Man roadtrip from her. If he thinks SXSW is the hipster zombie apocalypse, the Black Rock Desert gathering is in for some pointed critiques.

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