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Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk 

Chris loves Debbie.

If you got to spend your youth with the most beautiful woman in the world, wouldn’t you take a lot of pictures of her?

While Chris Stein is well known as the driving musical force behind Blondie, most people don’t know that his artistic CV is quite varied and that, since the late 60s, he’s never been far from a camera. Working and living with someone as photogenic as Deborah Harry, it only seems right that most of the photos are of her.

In his recent book Chris Stein/Negative – Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk (Amazon, Powell’s), Stein not only chronicles the ascent of Blondie but the New York punk scene of the ’70s.

Other musicians of the day show up in Stein’s images; DEVO, The Ramones, Joan Jett and even David Bowie in a rare backstage shot from the show Blondie did with Iggy Pop in 1977. The collection ranges from shots of performances at venues such as CBGBs to obviously posed shots of Harry and other band members and a great number of candid shots taken on the street, in Stein and Harry’s various apartments, and in hotel rooms, planes and dressing rooms around the world.

Most of the photos are from the late 1970s and early 1980s and reflect the grittiness of the New York punk scene at the time. Stein captures the emotion of each shot, whether it’s the exhaustion of Harry in a bland hotel room while on tour, Harry bungee-jumping topless, or the excitement of their musical journey in a series of photos of Harry with her contemporary female musical greats such as Siouxsie Sioux, Chrissie Hynde, Viv Albertine and Poly Styrene during a UK tour.

stein3While Stein and Harry have not been a couple in decades, in the early days of Blondie, she was obviously his muse. Not only did he write songs about her, but he took photos of her every chance he could. Harry in her underwear, Harry in a fur coat and a beret (topless underneath), Harry in a window in an uncharacteristically demure fuzzy sweater, the sun shining across her face, Harry in a dress that supposedly belonged to Marilyn Monroe, standing in the burnt out kitchen of their apartment after a fire, pretending to be cooking something in a frying pan (which brings to mind that ad Harry did in the 80s for Sara Lee bread).

The best part of the book is that Stein has written commentary to go with each image or series of images. Some of these are short, identifying the location and person, while other photos come with pages of story or back-story, so it feels as if you’re just sitting around with Chris Stein, drinking some tea and going through a box of his old photographs. These are funny, charming and informative and make the images that much more real.

Chris Stein/Negative is a must-have for any Blondie fan, but it’s also a great chronicle of the New York punk scene that offers a backstage, real-life perspective. It’s not just an homage to Debbie Harry, but to punk, New York and weirdos everywhere.

 

Sheryl Kirby

is a writer, editor and event organizer living in Toronto, Canada. Her writing about food has been featured in a number of publications. She is the author of Kitchen Party – Food Stories From Nova Scotia and Beyond and the editor of Beer and Butter Tarts – A Canadian Literary Food Journal.

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