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Rock Hall gives Blondie newfound credibility

Induction proving to be ‘symbol of credibility’ with music fans, Harry says
/ Source: The Associated Press

Between the Sex Pistols and Ozzy Osbourne, there’s an air of malice associated with this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class.

Blondie is doing its part, too.

The band being inducted Monday includes two members, Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante, who unsuccessfully sued their former colleagues for being left out when Blondie reformed in 1999.

Deborah Harry’s voice turns hard when she’s asked if the two men will be invited to perform again with Blondie for old time’s sake at the Waldorf-Astoria ceremony. Even the Police and Talking Heads managed to set aside bad feelings for a few songs upon their inductions.

“Absolutely not,” she snapped. “There was no excuse for them suing us. That ended it.”

Ah, a good, old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll feud! Something to add a little spice to the night.

'Totally irrelevant'
Osbourne’s appearance is highly anticipated. He’s been a longtime critic of the rock hall because it took several years for his band Black Sabbath to be inducted. In 1999, he dismissed the annual vote as “totally irrelevant” to him and asked that Black Sabbath not be considered in the future.

Now that Sabbath has made it, he and the band are expected to be at the Waldorf. They won’t perform, but Metallica will induct Sabbath and rattle the walls of the high-class ballroom with a tribute.

The Sex Pistols, who compared the rock hall to “urine in wine,” will be a no-show. Perhaps they were upset by being beaten to the hall by peers like the Clash, Talking Heads and Elvis Costello.

“We’re not coming,” Johnny Rotten and his bandmates sneered in a letter posted on the band’s Web site last month. “We’re not your monkeys and so what?”

Jazz great Miles Davis and Lynyrd Skynyrd will also be inducted. Herbie Hancock will induct Davis and Kid Rock will honor the Southern rockers.

Highlights of the induction ceremony will be presented on VH1 on March 21.

Shirley Manson of Garbage, another woman who fronts an otherwise all-male band, will pay tribute to Blondie. Even before the ceremony, Harry said she noticed a difference in people’s attitudes toward the band simply because it was voted in.

“It gives us a symbol of credibility that they had not really given us,” she told The Associated Press. “It pushed us up a notch in a lot of people’s thinking.”

The platinum-tressed Harry, 60, gave Blondie its name when she formed the act with longtime partner Chris Stein in the mid-1970s. Harry, now a brunette, still works with Stein and drummer Clem Burke in the reconstituted Blondie. Longtime member Jimmy Destri still writes songs but has otherwise quit the rock ’n’ roll life.

Stylistic diversityBlondie’s energetic rock, topped with breathy vocals from Harry that recalled the girl groups of the early 1960s, fit in with other bands from New York’s CBGB scene. But stylistic diversity became its signature. “Heart of Glass” was a pop hit with a sharp disco beat, “Rapture” was among the first Top 40 songs to incorporate rap and “The Tide is High” was a reggae remake.

Harry said she and Stein were true city creatures and were influenced by the different forms of music they heard around them.

“It’s the old art school mentality, the idea of experimenting or doing conceptual pieces,” she said. “We weren’t really married to one particular kind of style.”

She takes pride that the form of musical cross-dressing was influential. It’s now commonplace, but Blondie took heat from fans and critics at the time. Even some band members weren’t fully on board, she said.

“There is no accounting for taste,” she said. “It took awhile for some of the guys to become a little more sophisticated. Eventually, they did, because times change and styles change.”

Blondie fell apart in the mid-1980s, which Harry blames on band tension ratcheted up by inept management. She also took time off from music to help Stein, then a romantic partner as well, recover from a debilitating illness. They broke up, but never stopped working together.

Harry, who’s long forged a parallel acting career, needed some coaxing to reform Blondie. They’re caught in a trap similar to many acts their age: maturity and experience have made them better musicians than when Blondie topped the charts, but few people — except for the nostalgic — notice.

Like at the start of their career, Blondie is more popular overseas, particularly in England. The greatest hits package that is being released in the U.S. to coincide with their induction, “Sound and Vision,” was available in Europe months ago.

“In a way, we never really finished our mission,” she said. “But I think getting back together and writing new music was a really good thing for us. To have everyone still pretty much with it and alive was kind of a miracle in itself.”