Guest Blogger Tom Savini: Blondie – Parallel Lines

4 May

Another repeat guest blogger, this time my good friend Tom whose musical tastes have always been as closely aligned with mine as our literary tastes have been mismatched.

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Parallel Lines opens strong, diving head first into “Hanging On The Telephone,” Blondie’s love song to those of us who have stared for hour-long minutes at soundless receivers.  It’s a song paralleled by the next cut, “One Way Or Another,” which takes obsession out of the lonely hallway into the street, until the last verse, when the bloom has faded from the rose, and all the singer wants to do is ‘give you the slip.’  The band drives both songs with grinding guitars, choppy ‘new wave’ rhythms, and pounding drumbeats, especially under Debbie Harry’s rap at the close of “One Way.”

The band relaxes with the relative tranquility of “Picture This,” a song featuring one of my favorite parallel lines penned by Debbie:

I will give you my finest hour,  The one I spent watching you shower…

(My favorite Debbie Harry parallel line is the opening couplet from ‘Dreaming:’

When I met you in the restaurant, You could tell I was no debutante.

Someday I’m having that printed on my business cards.  “Dreaming” is on Eat To The Beat, the 1979 follow-up to this disc.)

These lines sum up Debbie and Blondie: fun, campy, a little trashy, maybe not too deep on the surface, but given some time and repetition, a whole lot more going on than might have been apparent at first glance.  Blondie’s lyrics made me wonder, do these folks have some ironic, sangfroid outlook on life, some wisdom borne of experience, or are they just a bunch of hacks trying to make a line rhyme?

Blondie lives the pretense.  Debbie’s stage persona, ‘The Blondie,’  was born from catcalls, peroxide and her desire to throw the stereotype of the Quaalude-fueled chick singer back in the faces of the audience.  Parallel this façade with the acerbic lyrics and incredible vocal range of the real deal, and you have Blondie in a nutshell – parallel lines of reality.  The cover of the album shows the five musicians in cloned new wave uniforms, black suits, skinny ties, with Debbie clad in white, standing against chiaroscuro stripes, echoed by Debbie’s hair.  Contrasts and contradictions running alongside each other, presenting stereotypes and expectations but then turning them on their ears- these are Blondie’s hallmarks.

Parallel Lines is a series of songs showing parallel paths.  On the one path is the band – Jimmy Destri, Frank Infante and Chris Stein on guitars; Nigel Harrison on bass; and Clem Burke on drums, all showing steady musicianship and wild talent, showcased on songs like “I Know But I Don’t Know,” and “11:59,” particularly, but at other times, stepping to the background and letting the other parallel line, Debbie’s voice, take the spotlight.  Debbie’s got her own parallel course going- on the one hand, “Fade Away and Radiate,” “Pretty Baby” and “Sunday Girl” highlight the beauty and range of her voice; on the other line, “Just Go Away’”and the two opening cuts use her voice as a chainsaw to rip into the song.  “Will Anything Happen?” offers a parallel course where the band and the blonde walk side-by-side through a nice up-tempo piece, a style maximized in the jump rope-polka romp “I’m Gonna Love You Too.”  The band and Debbie course through these songs as perfect accompaniments, parallel lines following the same course, enhancing each other by their distinctness like the black and white lines on the cover.

But the cut that put this album and the band on the map is “Heart of Glass.”  That’s why it’s on this list, folks – the song that made it okay not to hate disco.  ‘Parallel Lines’ dropped in 1978, the same year that I started high school.  A good time of life to start expanding musical frontiers.  In my case, there was a serious “Disco Sucks” fence erected around my 13 year old definition of music – any song with a dance-able beat was suspect, including tunes by the Tramps, Tavares, and those traitors to the cause, the Bee Gees.  “Heart of Glass” opened the door to let teenage boys from Buffalo have the chance to like a disco song without feeling we were being traitors to the rock cause – because, after all, Blondie wasn’t a ‘disco’ band, they were a…what the hell were they?

There’s where the pretense comes in.  They were, if anything, a new wave band, before the term came into being.  They weren’t as punk as the Ramones or the Sex Pistols, and most of America wasn’t aware of the connections among these bands or Blondie’s roots in the NYC punk scene.  Parallel Lines was not a disco album, and the band’s delivery of “Heart of Glass” seemed almost as if they were making fun of disco, and themselves.  It certainly wasn’t a punk album.  Blondie confused their own identity issue so much, that they made it okay to just like a song because it was a damned good song.  Best parallel line from “Heart of Glass,” intentional or mis-heard:

Once I had a love, and it was a gas, Soon turned out to be a pain in the ass.

And listen to the song, because 36 years later, it is still a great song.

Blondie didn’t take itself too seriously, or so it seemed, so why should the audience worry about anything besides whether or not “Heart of Glass” was a good song?  Worked for me.  Parallel Lines opened the door, then Blondie cemented itself in my consciousness a few years later by sound-tracking ‘Last American Virgin,’ and their songs still fit heavily on my soundtrack to the late 70s and early 80s.  For mainstream radio, they made it possible for new wave to happen, to reach a greater audience and to evolve popular music into new directions.

Did Blondie intend to be musical trailblazers, or were they just club kids latching on to the latest fashions, trying to sell records?  Hard to tell, and I never wanted to look too close to find out.  A few years later, they’d open more musical doors to ska (“Tide Is High”) and rap (“Rapture”).  Debbie and Chris Stein would defy the conventions of the music power-couple, leaving the limelight for years as she nursed him through a debilitating illness.  The band would collapse into factions that can’t be on the same stage with each other today.  I’d rather have a parallel reality where Debbie and Chris were still together, living happily ever after, and where the band tours every two years and gets along famously.  But the life and soap opera of the band are secondary to the music, which is just great in itself, and Parallel Lines set the course.

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Tom says:

“I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY, and hope to return there sometime soon.  Currently, I live in Brooklyn, NY.  I studied history in school, and spent my first decade out of college working in human services until I found a job that actually makes use of history degrees.  My favorite band is Fleetwood Mac.”

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One Response to “Guest Blogger Tom Savini: Blondie – Parallel Lines”

  1. callmemabby May 8, 2015 at 11:21 AM #

    Couldn’t agree with your assessment more, here. Nice job!

    By the way, my favorite Blondie lyric is from their self-titled album, and the song, “Look Good in Blue”: “I could give you some head, and shoulders to cry on…”

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