Barry L. Kramer Meets Debbie Harry and Chris Stein

taken from Fan Mail #11 (December 1990), pages 37-44.

Here's what I wrote about it.

U.S. Tour Report -- 28 June 1990

June 28 was the first day of the Escape From New York tour. I had been fortunate enough to learn about when and where all the shows in this series were going to be held enough in advance (for a change!) to get tickets to all the ones I could drive to in a reasonable amount of time. I drove to the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia MD early, arriving around 3:30 pm in an attempt to hear Debbie's soundcheck. I apparently got there too late for it, unless there wasn't one. I did hear the Ramones do one though. Not long after I got there, I was approached by two young guys who asked me if I needed tickets for the show (I was wearing an Australian "Deborah Harry" shirt!) to which I responded no. When they told me they were in the front row, I quickly changed my mind, and I bought the two he had for $30 each after I verified with an employee that they truly were at the front. Oddly enough, they were at the center too (seat A1)! I couldn't believe the luck.

Next I went over to investigate the soundcheck. I had been to this venue in August, 1982 to see Blondie, and I remembered driving all around South Entrance Road and the Columbia Mall one day for hours (centered at four in the morning) when Gunter Ahrendt flew in from Australia last year. Fortunately I got directions from a friend this time. The reason we couldn't find the place last November is that you can't see it from the road. You have to walk through a woods first! Another funny coincidence was that the ticket I originally had for this show was in row NN, which was the same row I had in 1982! So anyway I went through one of about five unguarded gates but was quickly agitated by several employees wanting to know what I was doing here ("Can I help you?"). I quickly responded that I wanted a schedule, and when I finally found someone who gave me one (she seemed reasonable enough), I mentioned to her how I was told to leave because people weren't allowed to stay for the soundcheck ("that is correct"). When I asked her if there was anyone around with the authority to let me stay, she called over a manager who was conveniently located nearby. I spoke to him about this, and he also said I had to leave, but he was considerate enough to tell me that if what I said about knowing the crew was true, that I should write a note and give it to the guy at the right side of the stage when the gates were opened. He even told me what time they expected to let people in, but it was a little while later. The show time stated on the ticket was 5:30 but no one was on stage until 6:00.

So I left then and sold my two extra tickets (at a loss, since the show didn't sell out) after some difficulty. At 5:30 or so I was sitting in the front row, with only four closely spaced rows of folding chairs in the "orchestra pit" located between me and the stage, which was about 3 feet high and had a fence in front of it. I had carefully packaged up Fan Mail #10 with a note to Jules (Debbie's sound man who was very considerate to me at all three shows I went to).

I clipped the note over the letterhead, sealed everything up in a plastic bag, and covered his note with another that said, "Please forward to JULES (sound engineer for Miss Harry's band) Thank you" and I gave it to the guy at the stage entrance after explaining that the manager (whose name was Matt) told me I needed to speak to you.

Next, I gave my card to a guy at the front row in the Pit who had on a T-shirt from the Hunter tour. The Ramones came on shortly. They had a really nice cloth backdrop behind them and were quite amusing. They dedicated a song to Gary Kurfirst, and toward the end of their hour, said that "One of the most serious problems in America today is censorship, and we say to that FUCK THE PMRC... I Wanna Live" and they did "I Wanna Live", a great track from the Halfway To Sanity album. I also thought it was rather funny that a guy in front of me had a shirt on that said "SCHOOL FREE DRUG ZONE".

After the Ramones were done, there was about a half hour of setup for the Tom Tom Club, during which time I talked to the guy in the front row and some other people who had on Debbie shirts. I also talked to a guy who worked at the venue who said that he met Debbie backstage and someone asked him to get her autograph which he did (he said she seemed a little annoyed). Jerry Harrison (who I thought looked a bit like Nigel!) and the Tom Tom Club then played for about an hour. By this time my left ear was not unlike what Chris Roberts felt when he wrote in Melody Maker that there was blood coming out of it. It turned out that I was pretty deaf for about two days, which was slightly inconvenient backstage later on.

After they left, Debbie's crew came out to set up. After a minute or so, Jules came to the front and I yelled out to him, and he seemed to recognize me (I don't really know how since although I saw him at many shows, we hadn't actually met). He said he got my package and gave the newsletter to Debbie! I asked him about getting back and he said I'd have to talk to her road manager, and he gave me his name (Garrett). I wrote his name down and went over to the guy at the right again but was stopped by another girl who worked here. She actually proved to be very helpful and friendly. I explained to her what was going on and that I needed to talk to this guy and I showed her the card, so she suggested I write a note (great idea!) which I did and which she took back. I talked to some more randoms and then found her again. She said my note was delivered and that I should leave my name and seat number, and that if no one came out and located me that I was to inquire over there after the show. I found out from the other guy there that passes are only good for the intermission after the band they are for, and luckily Debbie was on last. They played "Invocation To Papa Legba" during the break, and the Escape From New York movie theme music once. Debbie came on at 8:58. I got hold of a set list later, which needs no explanation except to say that they chose to do "French Kissin'". It reads exactly:

Brite Side or Cal Marie [both crossed out]
X Offend [crossed out] Dreaming
Want That Man
End Of Run
Kiss It or [crossed out] One Way
Bug Eye
Bike Boy
Sweet & Low or French Kiss
See No Evil
Call Me

I noticed that on this list, "Cal Marie" was two words, but not knowing who wrote the list, didn't know if it was just coincidence or not. I'm not sure, but I think that "Dreaming" was written on the list by Debbie. Debbie introduced "See No Evil", which is a Television song they covered at many of these shows.

Debbie wore a red outfit with tassels that flew outward in a dazzling display when she spun around and danced. Behind the band was an incredible backdrop. It was a rectangular black cloth, about 7 feet high and 12 feet wide. On it was painted a revolver, pointing to the right. Out of the end of the barrel, a green stem springs forth, branching twice and also continuing straight. At the end of each stem is a flower, and at least one flower contains a peace sign. The grip of the gun had a circular emblem on it, containing, in the highest level of good taste, the letters DH. Above the image, in large white letters, is the phrase "MAKE MY DAY". It was stunning, and a miniature version would have become the ultimate Deborah Harry promotional object. In front of the backdrop, behind the band, was a tall chair containing Minkie. It was affectionately labelled with his name.

During the show, Debbie had a round, shaker-like thing which she rattled during "The Tide Is High". At one point, Chris held his guitar over Debbie as she leaned way back and played it!

After they had finished the set, I quickly went over and began a long process of trying to find out what was going on. I had given my card to the nice girl and to the guy guarding the backstage area. You had to go through about 6 different guards to get back I found out. The girl went back to try to find out what was going on, and I saw my card go from the guard to her and go back. I was then threatened to be evicted in five minutes, as were two others waiting for a friend who was back with Chris. Well next thing I know, Jules comes out, points at me and says "YOU!" so I ran up to him and he got me through the first guard's station! I said something to him about how he liked Australia, he said he did and that Gunter was a nuisance or something like that (jokingly of course) and he explained that he couldn't get me in earlier but now he could. So then as we approached the door to a building where everyone was inside, he put his arm around my neck and dragged me through a door, past this rude girl (this venue had about 80 employees) who he said in response to her "Where's your pass?" something like "he's ok" and in a moment we were in this hallway with two rooms on each side. We passed Carla in the hall and a brief conversation went on between Jules and her about her dress (it was a muted sort of brown-green and I think she said that Debbie had bought it!) After we moved on, I saw Debbie and waved at her, and she smiled and waved back at me! Jules introduced me to Garrett who was only about 30 and wore a Dio shirt. I have since learned that he had been with them in Australia, and that he is hired temporarily by a number of bands. He was leaving Debbie's crew at the end of the summer. Garrett was truly one of the most professional and considerate people that I've met, and more so when one realizes the big-name nature of the groups he works with. I thanked him for letting me in, and I stood around for a minute. Jules gave me a Pepsi and then took me into the room where Debbie was sitting on a couch next to a guy I didn't recognize. He told her I was the one who sent back that thing, and he left. She was just jubilant about that and thanked me for it! She said it was really nice so I told her I was so glad she liked it and I said there were nine others. She was holding a mostly empty bottle of 80 proof Absolut vodka and said to her friend that she wanted a drink (he got up and went for it). After some more conversation, I then went across the room and greeted Leigh Foxx so as to avoid the possibility of annoying Debbie, and I talked to him for a while. He recited the whole schedule (it surprised me that he could remember all the dates and venues), which I said I printed in the newsletter. I pointed out that I really liked Toronto (he agreed). I said that I heard Chris likes London very much and he responded "so do I", and if my memory serves, added that he lived there for a time. I told him that I was located in front of him in Philadelphia last year and how much I enjoyed all the shows I've seen. He was really nice and invited me to come watch anytime I wanted. During this time, Debbie had left and I didn't see her for a while because she was blow drying her hair. I picked up the set list from the floor (an original, which has the complete schedule of arrangements for June 25 on the back, plus one copy) and right about then, Chris came in with a friend whose name is Michelle. I don't know who it was, but someone then introduced me to Chris ("this is Chris") and I said "Oh yes, I know him!" His friend introduced herself to me (she was very outgoing and I came to like her very quickly). Chris said something about not knowing my name so I told him. He had a stupid white marker in his hand (I still don't know what use anyone could have for a white marker). He wanted to write on the spotless wall so I gave him my pen. Right then someone gave him a red marker, and as he asked "where are we?" (I responded "Columbia Maryland"), he wrote on the wall "There is a zodiac in Colombia MD" and then changed the "o" to a "u". I told him how funny I thought it was that he wrote on the walls in Perth, and it reminded him of a story about being the first to write on the walls in San Francisco. He asked me if I had ever been to San Francisco, I said I hadn't, and he told me when they were in Mabuhay Gardens, he put up the first graffiti and now the place is falling down with graffiti. I told him that was March 2nd and 3rd of 1977!

Chris was now sitting on the couch where Debbie was earlier, wearing black leather pants which had a safety pin holding together a tear in the leg! He had a number of pentagram necklaces which were very interesting. I chatted with him for quite a while; he said he really liked the newsletter, because it was so funny. Later on, he again emphasized that he liked the humor. Both he and Debbie seem to hold a sense of humor in high regard. Then I talked to his friend for a while (Chris was sort of laying way back in the couch, looking tired and as though he might have had some of that Absolut!) and she noticed my one eye was funny. I told her why it was that way and about the laser procedures my doctor has been doing on it. She mentioned she was from Northern California and that Chris had called her up and said she should come in.

After a while we talked about the email thing and then about the newsletters and how I steal computer time to do them because the administrators of the systems I use hate me because I wrote a book once. Michelle asked about the book (which is a Dungeons & Dragons module) and I found out she's really into the game, and that many of the drawings she does are of monsters. I offered her a copy and she accepted. It was right about now that Chris told me specifically, "we don't have a fan club right now".

Jules had come in and was sitting down, I went over to talk to him and asked him if he saw the newsletter, since while I was talking to Chris, several people had come in and said "Did you read that piece about Suzi!". Everyone seemed to just love that! Jules or someone else said I spelled her name wrong and I said about running a correction and they said it was just perfect. It really went over big. Apparently they had a lot of trouble with her. Well anyway when I said this, Chris interrupted and said it was already on the tour bus and that he was going to make copies and distribute it to everyone! I was plucked! While I was talking to Michelle, Chris asked me for that pen because someone had come in and he needed to write down something for them. He grabbed a tea bag to write on and I said, "here Chris I'll give you an index card" and pulled one out of my pocket! Carla eventually came in and I talked to her for a while.

Debbie came in looking for Leigh, and I told her he left. When he returned, I told him that Debbie was looking for him and he held up the hair dryer (she was returning it).

Eventually people were thinning out, and I wanted to see Debbie off, so I asked someone if she left; I think it was Garrett who said she went out but was coming back. I went out on the porch to see if she was there but I couldn't find her so I went back in and was stopped again at the door by the rude girl ("Where's your pass?") I told her that Jules said I could be in and she said "That was then, you left. You need a pass every time." and just then, luck had it that Chris came out of the room we were in so I quickly yelled over "Chris, can I come in?" He said "Yes" so I walked right past that girl and said to her that maybe that was sufficient to let me in from now on, and Chris agreed immediately! It was great! Later then, Debbie did in fact return; she got some sodas (Sprite) and left with that guy. Out on the porch I shook hands with her and said how wonderful it was to meet her and that I would see her in Philadelphia. I wished her a good trip and said goodbye. There were a lot of people outside on the porch, and almost none were interested in her leaving, I couldn't believe it. I thanked Jules again and said I'd see him in Philadelphia. Garrett then said I'd be let in there but he wasn't sure about New Jersey since it was so close to where her family lives. The next show I got to was at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia.

09 July 1990

This show, although not my favorite, certainly had some exciting moments. Everything began when I arrived and went to the box office to inquire about whether there were passes there for me as promised. I was leveled when they handed me two tickets that were better than those I bought in advance, and two backstage passes. I have neither the skill nor an adequate command of language to describe what it was like to experience that. I just couldn't believe it, and I was set up in a state of mind for the show that I'd do anything to reproduce.

The Tower Theater was the only enclosed venue I attended (both the others were outdoor amphitheater-type facilities). It looks very much like a standard movie theater inside, except with a stage instead of a screen. The similarities didn't end with that, though, for the entire show was very dark. There we no lights at all at the edge of the stage -- it was so poorly lit that I was concerned that Debbie might fall off! It was funny that many of Debbie's followers (who I'd known only through letters and phone calls) who had flown or driven here for the show also thought the same thing!

The theme from Escape From New York was played for a time, and then they did the following set: "Dreaming", "Rapture", "I Want That Man", "Heart Of Glass", "End Of The Run", "Comic Books", "Detroit 442", "Bike Boy", and "Cautious Lip".

This show was very short (about 40 minutes, beginning around 7:30), and there was no encore. Although it wasn't in general a very remarkable performance compared to the others I'd seen, there was no mistaking its greatness. Not since the Chestnut Cabaret show when I stood at the front center six inches from Debbie had I experienced such magic as they captured today during "End Of The Run." "Heart Of Glass" set you up, and "End Of The Run" finished you off. There never has been, nor likely shall there ever be, anything so powerful.

Debbie wore a tight, high-cut dress (I have a note about her outfit being purple, but I can't actually remember that), and I was told her white underwear were visible after she danced around a while. I hadn't actually noticed this, but it was funny how she kept pulling the dress down. She also had on orange shoes, large earrings, and huge bracelets on her right wrist. Her most notable activities as I remember them involved playing with the instruments. She was twanging Carla's guitar (she responded by grabbing Debbie's microphone even as she held it); once she hit Carla's guitar hard. Chris took his guitar off, and Debbie struck the last note which persisted until the roadies came out and shut it off. She was also playing with the pedals. Everyone was amused how she was seemingly having a competition with Carla and then with Chris to see who could press it last. She got Chris's at least four times.

After the show, I was disappointed that even with a pass, I couldn't get backstage. Apparently, someone with a laminate pass had to come out and get each person individually, which in my case didn't work because Jules was busy and Garrett didn't arrive until very, very late. I was literally the last one of a hundred people to get back. Garrett said it wouldn't happen in New Jersey because I was already on the guest list and that he was going to come out himself and escort people back.

Fortunately, in the short time backstage, I did manage to pass a copy of my dungeon via a venue employee to Chris and Michelle who were already on the tour bus (both of them and several others waved at me in recognition and acknowledgement). There was a maze of passageways backstage (the door between there and the alley was open, and people, including several of the Ramones, were wandering around the halls and going in and out of the building). Debbie came out and went back in four times! Each time, I managed to speak to her briefly.

At one point, I asked her about why the set was so short, and she responded that it was 50 minutes, and the reason was because of the other performers who were sharing the billing. I asked Chris about why this show seemed hurried when I saw him in New Jersey three days later, and he said they left Philadelphia in a hurry to pack in New York. He said something about Debbie being in a bad mood, but declined to elaborate. I have heard some unconfirmed rumors that Debbie was somewhat agitated about having to go first since it hadn't been planned that way, but I have no evidence to back this up.

Valerie was also outside after the show, in an alley alongside the venue (everyone else was apparently on the bus except Debbie and some of the crew). Although the alley was long, the only access was from inside or near where the tour bus was parked (where there were guards). Someone said that Jimmy was outside the bus, but it was dark and I was too far away to recognize him. A friend of mine who is much more musically literate than I am said that Valerie is talented and did a good job. After a while, everyone sort of got ready and left on the bus.

A friend who was backstage for the first time and asked to remain unnamed said to me that "Debbie's head is as big as a basketball." Well I was already cross-circuited worse than the aliens in the Star Trek episode "By Any Other Name," and hadn't noticed, but I paid attention at the next show, and sure enough, her head was proportionately larger than I expected. It was fascinating, and in retrospect, I am sure it is partially contributory to why she has such an incredible impact on everybody she encounters, even though they don't notice it! But that's not all. The true magnitude of this observation didn't hit me until several months later when the author of the UK Penthouse article came out with the following quote: "I spoke to her after the gig and the first thing I noticed was how small her body is and how big her head is. Weird." I don't agree that her body was small, or that it was weird, but certainly there is some credibility in the observation itself. I also noticed that Debbie is an inch or two taller than the 5'3 I've seen printed everywhere. My best estimate is 64.5 inches, with a tolerance of plus one, minus nothing.

12 July 1990

I arrived at the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey, somewhat early. I asked a few venue employees where they would have passes; they directed me to an administration building where a whole bunch of people, most of which must have been reporters, were in line getting photo passes. Of course, when I finally made my way to the front, I wasn't on the list. Later on when I told Garrett this, he got sort of mad at them! Apparently, this happened to quite a few people he promised to let in since the incompetents had lost the entire guest list he gave them the day before. He arrived at the security gate shortly after the show with passes, and took me back then. At least the security man at the gate was very well informed, professional, and considerate. Surprisingly few people hung around the gate after the show -- about a third as many as in Philadelphia. The rain that was falling might have been involved. The show was started when it was still light out, with the playing of the now familiar Escape From New York theme. This time, though, the Ramones joined in! I thought that was great because I always liked the song (as well as the movie). Joey Ramone again pointed out to the audience that censorship is a disease, and that always brought on a big cheer.

Debbie was on second. I went backstage after that and stayed there for the entire Tom Tom Club set. As I was leaving, I actually crossed the stage, out of the view of most of the audience, as they were finishing up.

Today's set was almost standard: "Dreaming", "Rapture", "The Tide Is High", "I Want That Man", "Heart Of Glass", "Comic Books", "Detroit 442", "Bike Boy", and "Cautious Lip". "End Of The Run" was unfortunately excluded, but they added "See No Evil" and "Call Me" as an encore.

During "Heart Of Glass", Debbie had some kind of a rattle she used to make some sounds. Sometime during the set, she yelled "New Jersey Rules!" For some reason, Carla's guitar had to be replaced; later on she slammed the replacement into something (twice!).

One of the most powerful moments during the set was at the beginning of "I Want That Man". Valerie played only ONE note of the opening when Debbie stopped her to say something to the audience. That was fabulous in itself, but when Valerie started again, Debbie stopped her a second time after only a few notes and said something else! It was grand. We were also treated to a demonstration of the strobelight effects during "Bike Boy" which they had in Australia. It was the first time I had seen this.

Before "Comic Books", Debbie said "Let's Fuck" to the audience. She actually said that at the other shows, but I could not understand what else she was saying then. Robert Robbins correctly printed the quote she used in Philadelphia in his Blondie Fanzine as "Let's Fuck! I'll fuck anything that moves!"

When I got backstage, I was escorted into a relatively small room that was apparently Debbie's dressing room. There were about 20 or 25 people in there at any given time. Among them, I recognized some of Debbie's family, and got to talk briefly with Bob Gruen (who was taking photographs and said that selling them isn't as easy as you might think). Debbie was usually in the room, but was very busy today, so I unfortunately didn't get to talk to her very long. At the opposite extreme was Chris, who talked forever about everything! He is very interesting, highly informative, and quite compelling to speak with. I am definitely looking forward to doing it again in the future!

At first I asked him some questions but as things progressed, he sort of went on without encouragement. There were a number of major topics discussed at length. People around were initially interested in music, of course, and he told us many things about the records. He confirmed that Gary played bass on all of the first album except "X Offender" (someone suspected that he did not even though it was credited that way, because it the bass lines seemed to exceed the abilities of a beginner). Chris was the only guitarist on Def, Dumb, & Blonde except on "I Want That Man". He collects singles, mostly from the first LP (or the first two). He said that he and Mike Chapman decided what went on the albums. He said he was not involved with Rockbird at all.

I asked Chris about the voice at the end of "Follow Me" and he said it was Clem! He told us Clem works for the Romantics and that he saw him just the other day. He eventually went on to tell us some things about the other members of Blondie. He said that Nigel Harrison played bass on the first Runaways LP, and that no one, or almost no one, knows this. Jimmy Destri has apparently gained a lot of weight. Gary Valentine is the only one from Blondie he regularly talks to anymore. He said that they used to argue a lot, attributing it to the fact that Gary was young then. Gary works at an occult bookstore in California. This reminded him of his great interest in the occult, and he went on about that....

Chris said he wants to visit Haiti. When we asked him what was there, he said Voodoo. He said that voodoo is not properly portrayed in movies. He said some relatively normal things ("I want to move to England soon") as well as some really bizarre things (like shrinking cats by taking the runts and continuing to breed them.) He mentioned Rock & Rule briefly, referring to it as a tax write-off just like Debbie did in the interview I transcribed for Fan Mail #8!

He also takes quite an interest in books, which we also discussed at length. He said that William Burroughs lived nearby when they lived on the Bowery, and that his material is hard to read. Chris said it took two years to complete Making Tracks, and one of the most fascinating discoveries was that they would be working on a Making Tracks #2 in possibly as few as six months, and it would have a cover photo taken in Australia.

While we were talking about books, Chris spoke highly of William Gibson, and wrote two lists of books on file cards I was carrying, one for me and one for a girl who was there. Her card reads:

Anne Rice
Interview with a Vampire
The Vampire Le Stat
Queen of the Damned
The Mummy

My card lists four of Gibson's titles (and not in the world's best printing!):

Count Zero
Burning Chrome
Mona Lisa overdrive

He also did some funny things. As people were preparing to leave, he went into the Ladies room (across the hall from the dressing room where everyone was milling around) with his friend for a short time.

As I was leaving, I observed that according to a page from the tour itinerary which had been posted on the door of the dressing room, there was no Debbie Harry soundcheck either here or at the next show in Darien CT. Earlier I had also noticed something funny: the pass that Minkie wore on the tour was actually a photo pass containing his own picture!

Something that occurred to me after all this was how amazing it is that someone who is so inaccessible as Debbie can be so completely approachable! It was fascinating: it took me 4 years of thinking I'd like to meet her and 9 more of trying hard to do that, but only 13 seconds to start a conversation in which I actually felt like I belonged there. Speaking to Debbie is so totally unalienating that I almost cannot comprehend it. It is a wonderful gift she has to come off that way (although I'm glad I'm not a journalist. It would be so easy to be smoothly misled off one topic and onto another or onto none at all, or to forget that to get a true answer and not the one she thinks you want to hear, you have to concentrate hard and word your questions carefully and with complete neutrality). No one I know has that gift, including Chris, but he is interesting and friendly enough to more than compensate for it. I never felt out of place or out of touch even when I was just loitering around not talking to anyone, and I believe Debbie's ability to not only impress this upon you directly, but to project it at a distance as well, is highly contributory to why her music is so emotionally powerful.

In an unrelated but nonetheless interesting note, a day or two after the last show, I drove up to New York for a day and thought while I was there, it might be nice to stop in at Moonstruck and have a bite to eat. What I didn't know, and which was a pleasant surprise since I am a night person, is that it's open 24 hours. So I stopped in at three in the morning and ordered a piece of chocolate layer cake (which was only two dollars!). It wasn't long until this huge triangular slice arrived. It was astounding! There were about 9 layers; it was visually appealing, moist, and very chocolatey. It's very difficult to get me to consider food outstanding because I know so many great cooks, but I was impressed and will make a point to stop in for cake every time I visit New York from now on. [BLK]

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