Interview: Chris Stein of Blondie
Blondie plays the Nokia Theatre in Times Square on Sunday, June 22. Tickets still available here.
"I was waiting for Debbie to come home, and across the street is a bunch of the neighborhood guys kicking this shit out of this black guy, right, for whatever reason. You know, just for the hell of it. Because he was in the neighborhood probably. And I'm just observing this and I hear a voice going, 'No, no. Stop. Call the police.' And it's fucking Debbie who has just arrived on the scene from visiting her parents, and after that we were like ostracized."
Brooklyn-born Chris Stein moved to Manhattan shortly before his 20th birthday. By the age of 30 he was a founding member of Blondie, the most commercially successful act to spring from the city's CBGB's heyday.
This year the band's best-selling album, the multi-platinum Parallel Lines, turns 30. And to celebrate--kind of--a retrospective disc will be issued later this month and all summer long the band will perform the record, start to finish, on dates that stretch from New Jersey to St. Petersburg (Russia).
We talked to Stein about the fiction of Cormac McCarthy, the writing of "Heart of Glass," New York City real estate and why Parallel Lines isn't even his favorite Blondie album.
Tell me one thing that you've never ever done before in your life.
Never any sort of military altercation. I never got shot at or shot at anybody.
Well, that's good that you've managed to avoid gunplay. Tell me something that you've done once and one time only.
Jesus Christ. Well, the first stuff that comes to my mind is all related to sexual activity, and we don't want to go into that.
[laughs] No, your daughters may read this.
Yeah. What the fuck? Oh Jesus. Being as like I probably have lots of obsessive habits, I find myself getting into patterns of repetition. Probably I've been somewhere. We've only been to St. Petersburg once. We're going back so that'll be twice, but thus far it's only once.
We can take that.
Yeah, but that's not . . . You know, I have to think about that. Maybe I'll come back to that.
Okay. Tell me the name of a book you've read at least twice.
Oh, Lolita is one of my favorite books. Every few years I read Lolita. I've read it ten times.
Are you a fan of Nabokov all over or just Lolita?
Yeah, no I've been reading a lot of his other stuff. I've just read the chess one. The Defense I've just read. Now I'm dived into fucking Cormac McCarthy really deeply. Because I was curious about . . . you know, the fucking movie [No Country for Old Men], you know, just gave me a lot of filmmaking questions. And I had to see what gave them [the Coen Brothers], you know, what they were so interested in, so I got the book, and the book is fucking awesome. I just wish they had the balls to have made a two and a half hour movie out of it.
But that's the problem. All the holes in the film are not in the book. And the book is very close to the film. They did a great job of capturing, you know, some of the ambiance and the scenes from the book, but there's big fucking gaps in the storyline. Like, Where did the money go? All that shit is in the book, you know. It's in the film, but after you read the book you understand. But it's not enough of a clue in the film, you know. So it's kind of fascinating. So then I talked to Richard Hell and he's a big Cormac McCarthy fan and he said, 'Oh yeah, you're going to love all his shit. I've read all his shit.' And now I'm deep into the trilogy stuff and I read Blood Meridian, and The Road is fucking awesome. I mean, that's the most accessible one, and the most horrifying one.
So you've still got the early stuff to go? Like Outer Dark and Child of God?
Right. Child of God I have. I'm just going to do that next after I finish the trilogy [All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing and Cities of the Plain]. I'm just on the last book of the trilogy.
I think Child of God's probably my favorite.
Yeah? Is it more macabre?
Well, it's pretty fucked up.
I love that aspect of him, you know.
I like small, tightly wound books. Like really good novellas. You know, fiction that in a way operates like poetry in its preciseness.
That's what I like about Lolita, because the whole thing is like a big tone poem, you know.
Well then, I think you'll like Child of God.
That's the next one I'm going to read right after I, I'm almost finished with Cities of the Plain.
I think it's probably the tightest of McCarthy's early work.
Did you read The Road, though?
It's so heavy. And it just stays with you. And it's so awful. It's awful but it's so compelling at the same time. You should read it. I recommend it. In the fucking blurb in the book it says it's his most accessible book and in a way it kind of is because it's different than the other ones, but it's not, you know. But it's very, very tight.
I'll put it on the summer reading list.
Yeah, I recommend it highly, but it really stays with you. It's about this guy traveling after some sort of unspecified nuclear event, you know. And there's nothing. There's just nothing. He's just traveling through this world of nothingness with his kid. It's gruesome, but fascinating.
Would it make a good movie?
No, it's so mental in a way. I don't know. I don't think you could capture the same thing that reading it does to your brain. I don't know. I think the trilogy would make a great . . . Didn't they make Pretty Horses into a film?
Yeah, Billy Bob Thornton directed that one. And I think maybe even Penelope Cruz was in it. I think she was the . . .
The girl, yeah. Huh. I was thinking that those three might work, and then I kept seeing Blood Meridian as some sort of a Jodorowsky/Fellini fucking fever dream type film, you know. Because that's a great thing. Because his fucking writing is like so hypnotic it pulls you in. It lulls you. And some of them are these long spaces where nothing happens except for imagery and scenery and this visceral shit, and then these little bursts of action and violence. It's terrific shit. I'm really enjoying it. I'm a big reader, as you can see.
I can definitely can tell. So here's kind of a segue. Tell me the name of a movie you've seen at least three times.
Shit. Any of those Fellini . . . 8 1/2 is one of my favorite movies of all time. I watch that repeatedly. And I was watching fucking No Country for Old Men several times because there's something about it and that's what drew me into the reading of all his stuff.
Was that your favorite movie of last year?
Yeah. No, I liked the Sinclair Lewis thing [There Will Be Blood, adapted from Lewis' Oil!]. I liked that too. I've got to read that yet too. I have that on my . . . I buy all these fucking books and I don't have enough time to read them. I've got to read that yet. I read The Jungle which is kind of cool.