Friday, 20 May 2011

She's Atomic!

Recently, I wrote about my brother’s Godfather, Les. I wrote about him because he was one of my heroes while I was growing up. Among other things, he instilled a love of music in me, usually from behind a set of turntables; it was a love of music in general. Funny enough, it was his step-son, Tony, who instilled in me a love of a certain genre of music.

Or, to be even more specific, a love of one artist in particular; her name was Debbie Harry, better known at the time as the lead singer of Blondie, a new wave/punk band of the late 1970’s.

Apart from the fact that I loved their music, Ms Harry also happened to be incredibly easy on the eye (although you might argue that, as a boy who was barely into double figures age-wise, most females are easy on the eye). I would rebuke this argument however – how dare you chuck about your sweeping generalisations willy nilly!


Over the course of the following years, as the 70’s were consigned to the history bin and the 80’s gathered pace, my vinyl collection for the group expanded at a fairly rapid rate (as did my audio cassette collection, but let’s not go there!), although not as rapidly as did my wall poster collection. I was immensely proud of the fact that one could see very little of my actual wallpaper (blue and patterned if you’re interested), due to the fact that I lined up A4 and A3 posters as close to one another as I possibly could. My bedroom was a substantial size for an eleven-year-old boy, so covering every last inch with pictures gleaned from Smash Hits, and the like, was no mean feat.

Of course, the years pass, and teenage hormones allow you to broaden your horizons from an untouchable, older, American punk singer, to more realistic goals; someone a little younger, slightly nearer, a tad less famous, perhaps. And although I began to enjoy other groups, other genres of music, and even though I eventually took down my posters (which by now were slightly yellowed by the sun, a bit torn and dog-eared at the corners), I always had a soft spot in my heart for The Blonde One and her band, even as they faded, lit briefly again, released a couple of stinkers before, pfffftt, they fizzled out completely.

(note; I should probably pay homage to Clem Burke here, who made playing the drums look so damn good, I just had to take them up, albeit in the school band, which didn’t have quite the same feel to it!!)

Of course, fate dealt a funny hand when, as a fresh faced 21 year old on an internal flight from New York to Los Angeles, I walked from my seat to get a drink and pass, who I think is, Debbie Harry herself. Impossible! Or not? I go back to my seat, pretend to look for something and head back again, looking more closely this time.

It’s her and I am a bag of nerves!

The mega-star whom I adored for years is sat several rows back from me, heading from the same place to the same place. And what does one do in such a situation?

Naturally, you don’t do anything and spend the next ten years regretting not going up to her and asking for an autograph, a picture, anything! In my defence, I did try to take a picture of her without approaching her at baggage reclaim in LAX airport (which I still have to this day), but I was trying to be too covert for it to have come out successfully. I put it down to experience and promise myself I would never be too afraid to go up to someone, anyone, in the future.

Time passes and we’re up to the late 90’s, almost 20 years have passed, and I’m standing in the Docklands Arena with a friend of a friend who also had a ‘thing’ for Blondie, watching their glorious return together, in the shape of the ‘No Exit’ tour, leaping about all over the place to the riotous Screaming Skin. They’re back, they sound terrific, she still looks damn good and I am thrilled.

A few months later and fate deals me an even quirkier hand than my previous one.

The lovely M and I are shopping down Portobello Road market in West London (pre-parenthood, we could afford to do lots of things, all the time), when I see a familiar couple walking past us in the opposite direction.

I stop and say to M, “I think that was Blondie!” She looks back and asks if I’m sure.

I’m not sure, so I walk after who I think are they, overtake them without looking back, get a sensible distance past them, before turning back again and walking in my original direction.

It’s them!!

In a fraction of a second, the posters on my wall, the records I have bought, the missed opportunity in Los Angeles all come flooding back, I relive a huge chunk of my life as Debbie Harry and Chris Stein go to pass me for the second time in as many minutes. They are both wearing dark glasses, which have done nothing to disguise them.

I can’t let it happen again.

I am suddenly aware that I am wearing a grubby red coat (bought in Chicago on the same trip to the U.S. all those years ago), as well as a small grey beanie hat – hey, it was freezing, what can I say? – so I snatch my hat off, now aware that my hair must look ridiculous, and step in front of the couple, blocking their path.

I then proceed to babble some semi-incoherent nonsense, trying to explain in seconds how I almost said hello to her before, how I’ve been a lifelong fan, all the usual nonsense that they must hear every time someone recognises them, and, as if to put me out of my misery, Debbie Harry unlinks her arm from Mr Stein’s arm, takes off her glove and extends it towards me and says “hello”.

I stop babbling immediately and look from her face, to her hand, then back to her face, before slowly putting my hand in hers and shaking it gently. "Nice to meet you", she continued before I managed an answer. I can tell you that (with back up from M), that we spoke a little more, although very briefly. I can not, however, tell you anything that was said, such a mess was I.

As they walked away, probably to be accosted by some other nut further up the street, M gave me a big hug and tried to snap me out of the trance I found myself in.

I could NOT believe it!

Fate had rewarded me for having missed my big chance a decade earlier, all the way across the pond, by having Debbie Harry walk along a London street. And not just Harry but Stein too, just for good measure.

To top it all, she's back, in what seems like another comeback, interviews, albums releases and, as you can see below, cover shoots.

Remember, just when you think all is lost, when you think you’ve blown your chance forever, take a deep breath; it’ll come.

It just wasn’t meant to happen right then, when you wanted it to.

But it will.

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