Kelly! We did it! You thought that there wasn’t any more room for repeats on our lists but look what I did! I ranked a common track higher than you did! I love this because it’s the solid intersection of Kelly Stitzel and Donna Jo Tanner music. I owe you a high-ten for this.
I have mentioned a few times how as a teenager, I had a hard time with the whole “punk” thing. In the 90s--at least in many localities*--if you were going to call yourself punk, there was this complex criteria you needed to live up to in order to defend the assertion. At the risk of repeating myself, because I’m pretty sure I’ve already told this story, I recall specifically hearing a member of Scene Leadership proclaim that you could come to shows and be a casual follower but couldn’t really call yourself a punk unless you were straight edge, vegan (probably), and only bought music on vinyl or cassette**. This shit was EXHAUSTING and despite the powerful draw that was uptempo, fuck-you music, I kind of wanted no part of it.
*This was in Hawaii, which had a nice little punk scene. Mainlanders at the time assumed that it was all bubblegummy surfy stuff, but it was pretty diverse and there was a very devoted hardcore sub-sect which was probably responsible for all of the strict guidelines. There was also an attitude which I want to say in retrospect was reflective of Southern California punk culture, where everyone had to out-punk everyone else and all this resulted in a very unhappy bunch of people. That’s what it was like. You wonder why you even bothered.
**Getting my revenge still by only releasing Electric Grandmother music on compact disc.
In college I started getting into older stuff, put out before I was born, and was surprised and delighted to find out that Blondie--that borderline cheesy 70s/80s pop outfit--were actually punk pioneers. I’d no idea where the connection would be, but decided then and there to start liking Blondie. I mainly knew them for “The Tide Is High” from, well, *life* and “Call Me,” the theme from the 1980 major motion picture American Gigolo* starring Sir Richard Gere. In my efforts to Get Into Blondie after learning of their legitimacy, I picked up a copy of The Best of Blondie which is an A+, very solid compilation.
*I think long before I decided I loved Blondie, I sat down one Saturday afternoon and watched all of this cinematic triumph on basic cable and recommend it to everyone. Every living human.
Their pedigree gave me permission to love them. Blondie appealed for all the opposite reasons why I found punk rock exhausting. It was amazing to me that something so likeable and beautiful was on the safe list. In an era when Green Day was excommunicated for not shying away from success, it seemed hard to believe that a band like Blondie, fronted by an unabashedly sexy and adorable woman sporting a messy, flirty platinum blonde bob would be among the founding parents of a genre that seemed defined by austere authenticity.* Blondie was defined by an intentionally performative pop lean-in.
*Again, this was in an era when Fugazi basically defined the below-the-surface punk rock mentality. Fugazi is great of course but trying to live up to even a sketchy version of that standard is a big bummer.
Because my initial impression of Blondie was formed on sight and and the sound of their most overplayed singles a decade or more before they were released, you can hardly blame me for assuming that Blondie wasn’t much more than a silly pop band. You could also hardly blame me for presuming that Debbie Harry was the pixiesque princess she sounds like and appears to be. Her voice sounds like a fairy’s, she’s flashy and fashionable as hell, so tiny and delicate-looking, I assumed even after knowing about the band’s history that Debbie Harry kind of found herself in the CBGBs scene, defying the stereotypes of that time and place, but that’s absolutely wrong*. I recently Audible’d Face It, Debbie’s memoir read, by the woman herself. She is absolutely a bad bitch. Her stories are about as crazy and mortifying as you can imagine. Also, though I realize she’s like 80 years old now, but her speaking voice was much lower than I expected and her heavy New York/New Jersey accent was so heavy, it was almost akin to hearing Lunch Lady Doris read about life on the Lower East Side in the 1970s.
*This would be fine either way. I think the stereotypes of the CBGBs scene especially in the very beginning reflect the Ramones and little else, considering that the big four bands from that era could really not be more distinct from each other.
It was literally decades before I landed on “Dreaming” as my favorite. It really is the perfect Blondie song. I have read that the band expected it to be a big hit when they released it as the lead single on Eat to the Beat and it underperformed. I think its disappointing chart performance in its time probably resulted in its extreme likability 40 years later. The better-known songs that define Blondie’s catalog are barely songs anymore because they’re so overplayed. They’re wallpaper. There’s currently a commercial that features a chopped up version of “Heart of Glass,” once my favorite Blondie track, and I barely noticed it. It coincidentally played while I sat here typing this. I’m not being grumpy, at a certain point, I can’t help but no longer think of certain songs as actual songs. For whatever cosmic reason, “Dreaming” was spared this treatment and still belongs to us and not the general atmosphere.
And really I’m so grateful because it’s a beautiful song. It begins drums-only like a clean, gentle explosion. Then the guitar takes us straight to the melody in the chorus before Debbie’s vocals come in on the verses. The tone struck is perfect for her. She’s tough, world-weary, but hopeful. Dreaming. The chorus has three words: Dreaming is free. The melody sounds exactly like a gentle breeze. It’s simple, pretty, poppy. It’s perfect.
It’s almost painfully romantic. Evidently the inspiration for the song came from Chris Stein’s inventing that chorus, “dreaming is free,” and Debbie wrote the rest of it around that concept. It’s very gritty-couple cool. There’s scenes of coffee shops and subways and film and fantasy. A couple of lyrical highlights: “people stop and stare at me. We just walk on by, we just keep on dreaming.” I’ve always, always loved this idea, of being so involved with another person that the rest of the world is just noise. The best is the entire last verse, starting with:
I sit by and watch the river flow
I sit by and watch the traffic go
So New York, so romantic. Again, the world is just carrying on, but I only care about our little world.
Imagine something of your very own, something you can have and hold
I'd build a road in gold just to have some dreamin'
I actually get emotional when she draws out “imaaaaaaagine something of your very own.” Ugh, I keep describing this song as “pretty,” but it really, really is. So pretty.
At just about the right time for me, Blondie had a very serious comeback and released No Exit in 1999 and an impressively well-performing single, “Maria,” a song I still like a lot. No Exit was their first studio album since they released the Hunter* 1982. Since then, they haven’t really stopped putting out albums, most recently in 2017. I don’t really have the energy to keep up with their recent releases, but I’m glad it keeps them touring. I finally got to see them at the 9:30 Club in 2013, an experience for which I’d really like a mulligan. It was AMATEUR HOUR such that every breathing human within five feet of us were the most irritating human with whom I’d ever had the displeasure of sharing space. If I were less tired and cranky, they may have not gotten on my nerves quite so much. There was the woman standing next to Pete who didn’t want to be touched in a standing-room-only, jam-packed concert hall. The kid at his first concert who clearly wanted to *be* Debbie Harry, doing all the hand motions and facial affectations from the music videos (picture “raaaaaaptuuuuure”). There was the trashy motorcycle couple in front of us. It was just a bad experience. Blondie was great. They played like a band that had been playing together on and off for 40 years. I’m eager for another chance.
*I’ve never heard The Hunter, but do clearly recall seeing it in a record store and laughing out loud at the record cover and the fact that it was actually called The Hunter. 1982 was a different time.