Friday, 31 August 2012
Episode 8: Snogging to Debbie: French Kissin' in the USA
I became a Blondie fan at age 6 when I bought my first ever 7 inch record: Heart of Glass. It's not that I was overly precocious or understood the lyrics (that same day I also bought a French single by Lio called Banana Split, which turns out is all about blow jobs). I was a tragic-looking fairy child at that age, skinny as hell with long straight hair and bangs that almost hid my haunted get-me-out-of-here eyes. But I already liked the music coming out of the radio (this is way before MTV, I am that old). That purchase was in Paris, in the Fnac music superstore in a neighborhood called Les Halles, which at the time was edgy and bordering on unsafe, although I was way too young to fool myself into believing that was cool. 1979 was a very bad year as they say, maybe Debbie helped a little as her voice erupted from my plastic record player. I thought she was beautiful anyway, a modern princess, more stunning and interesting than my mistreated Barbie dolls. Looking back with adult eyes I don't think it's insignificant that she is the same age as my mother.
The following year we followed my new and wonderful stepfather to the UK. I started the new decade in London's Chelsea and would spend the next 11 years reveling in all its excess, arrogance, and flamboyance. Being a reasonably pretty teenage girl in 80s London was ridiculously fun and self-indulgent. Although similar vibes were happening in all major cities I assume, all us kids probably thought that "our" thing was unique, and well brit was still cool back then (I have my doubts about today, despite the magazine articles). It wasn't until I got to London that I actually bought my Blondie albums, one after the other, worn to a needle-skipping thread. I wasn't entirely faithful, few teenagers are. My best friend in my mid and late teens lived a few blocks away in what I felt to be huge house that just rose into the clouds. His room was on the top floor and overlooked the Brompton Cemetery, a gothic movie set of a place, full of crumbling tombstones under overgrown drooping trees, and cruising gay men who delighted in the privacy given by these nooks and crannies. We used to spy on them, or imagine we were doing so because you couldn't really see in the dark from up there. Blondie would not have been an appropriate soundtrack to these voyeuristic evenings. Oddly enough Dylan and Prince were. But Debbie still kept me company in my teens, like an über-cool doppelgänger of my absent working mother, watching over my homework, discreet locked-bedroom drug intake and careful make-up applications. I hung on to the Blondie vibe long after they had broken up but it would be a lie to say I bypassed the solo albums. I bought Rockbird in '86 and scotchtaped the album sleeve above my bed next to my Bowie in a tux poster. And Def, Dumb and Blonde in '89. Debbie was 44 when the single I want that man was released, and it would have been embarrassing in other circumstances but we didn't know what embarrassment was in the late '80s and, well, it was Debbie.
A few years later when I was first living in New York and working at Squeezebox she would come by a lot. So much so really that it wasn't a thing anymore and maybe I feel a little guilty about that now, that the awe ebbed, replaced by blasé familiarity. But I still sing along to the songs whenever I hear them. I will put on the albums very loud in my big empty house just to hear her voice echo from wall to wall. And the other day, in an A/C blasted dark apartment in NYC, in the middle of the afternoon, I was kissing someone and Debbie whispered in my ear. Because Paris is definitely not calling, but embrasser c'est français.