Platinum Blondie

Page 4 of 5

On paper, Leeds is still Blondie's manager. They are now engaged in the legal process of dissolving their relationship. Leeds' office on Madison Avenue is perched way up, on a corner, with a terrific view. The walls are covered with Blondie's gold records, posters for European Blondie concerts, miscellaneous Blondie promotional junk. Peter is tall and thin, with floppy, shoulder-length salt-and-pepper hair styled in an effete, sort of Italian Renaissance look. He is a very energetic fellow. When he talks to you, he fixes you with these intense, unwavering puppy-dog eyes. And when I ask Leeds about Chrysalis, he hops on the topic like a hound on a bone. "You know I made a little history when I made the Blondie deal," he says. "When in the history of rock & roll music did somebody lay down $500,000 to buy the recording rights to a group that had sold fourteen records?"

Under Leeds' tutelage, Blondie embarked on a five-month, low-budget world tour. They had already toured England in May of 1977, and this globe-trotting trip, including Europe, Australia, Thailand and Japan, confirmed them as international artists. Thailand made the deepest impression.

Almost as important as the defection to Chrysalis was the hiring of Mike Chapman to produce Parallel Lines. According to Leeds, this was how it happened: "The guy who was doing Blondie's press at the time, Toby Mamis, brought Mike Chapman to hear Blondie at the Whisky. Mike loved them, came back every night. And I wrote him a note on a napkin. The note said, 'If I ever get out of this thing and there's a possibility of a new producer, I promise you the first shot.'

"Now I had forgotten that I had written this note. In July of 1977, I was at Mike's house in Beverly Hills, and he went to his desk drawer and showed it to me. And last week in Los Angeles, we talked about the note, and he said to me, 'I'm going to frame that note someday.'"

Chapman was Terry Ellis' first choice as well. It wasn't a question of getting Gottehrer out of the picture; he and the group have continuously maintained cordial relations, but he had wanted to concentrate on his latest discovery, Robert Gordon.

The rest of the story is, as they say, history: enough gold and platinum Blondie records to tile the bathroom, the awards reflecting their popularity not only in Europe, Australia and practically everywhere else, but also, finally, in America. One big question mark for them now is their management. The group presently relies on a combination of lawyers, booking agent, publicist, business manager and, above all, Mike Chapman to provide the direction they lack.

No one seems to be too crazy about Leeds; he's about as popular with Blondie as Martin Bormann would be at a B'nai B'rith convention. Mentioning Leeds' name in the middle of a talk with Debbie and Chris and Jimmy nearly causes total meltdown. Neither side is willing to discuss the split while litigation is still in progress, but it is clearly an extremely acrimonious affair. The members of Blondie are emphatic in their belief that Leeds contributed nothing to their careers. Both sides hint at deep, dark revelations, monstrous acts on the other side that will make the blood run cold when all is laid bare.

Blondie appears to suffer from an acute case of world-weariness. Debbie puts it succinctly: "Success is harder to handle than no success at all." Jimmy Destri offers the adage: "Money will never make you happy, and happy will never make you money."

Chris Stein is more specific. "The hard part about success is that all your friends, all these people that you like, turn against you. It's amazing. Everything in this whole fucking scene is like a Grade B novel. Here's the band: they starve, they have no money. You sign bad deals, sign your life away to various deals, right? You spend all your money getting out of bad deals, then all the people you respect turn around and say, 'You sold out. You suck. I don't like you anymore.'"

"It's horrendous. It's just like the fucking shit you see in the movies. It's like all die stuff your old grandmother told you. Shep Gordon, a friend of ours [and manager of Alice Cooper] told us, 'You shouldn't spend all your money on a real expensive straightjacket,' which I think is a great truth of this business."

Punk Pioneers

One gets the feeling that Stein is afraid that this is just what they have done. And to them it is the press, above all, that is this straightjacket. In both of the conversations I had with him, he was on the press within minutes: in general, how horrible it is; specifically, the effect it has had on Debbie. "Debbie used to talk very freely," he says. "Just as a result of being abused and misquoted, she cut herself off. She isn't really interested in it anymore. The people that suffer are the fans and the artists. The fucking press gets to sell their newspapers, but the fans don't get to hear what the artists have to say, and the artists can't communicate to their public."

It was always Stein's avowed purpose to manipulate the media in the manner of Andy Warhol. It worked well in the beginning; Jody Uttal believes that it was Blondie's close relationship with the press that contributed more than anything else to the band's initial success. They were very cozy with such New York music fanzines as Trouser Press and New York Rocker, but Blondie can't seem to take the heat of the mainstream press.

If Stein is articulate about his negative feelings toward the Fourth Estate, Debbie's reaction is a muttered admission of terror. When you ask her a question, no matter how innocuous, she reacts like a deer to the smell of gunmetal. The people around her talk in this memorized-sounding monotone about how much pressure there is on her, but when you ask if the pressure is too much for Debbie, you don't get an answer.

What has happened to the calm, good-natured beauty queen from New Jersey? When you swim with piranhas, either you become a piranha or you get chomped. Some people are born piranhas; other people are by nature so unsuited for piranhahood that they never get the hang of it. Instead of getting devoured, they end up devouring themselves.

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