The excitement was palpable at this Live Talks Los Angeles event neat Little Toyko. Lines outside the Aratani Theatre for the snaked through the courtyard, past the steps and onto the sidewalk, in anticipation of seeing Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, co-founders of Blondie, interviewed by artist/director Bob Roth for Debbie’s new memoir “Face It.” on Friday, October 4, 2019, at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) in Los Angeles.
Inside the Aratani, I headed to the back of the theatre. The space was quiet. Then the doors opened as the sound of chatter and people and hustling to find seats escalated to a significant din. I saw my friend, Dawn Laureen, heading to the Orchestra area near the front. I called out and we chatted for a few minutes as the remaining time was filled with people negotiating for their spots. The ebullient mood lasted for about a half-hour before the cheers and applause greeted the guests of honor.
Bob Roth was first to slip through the shadows and then was quickly followed by Harry and then Stein, just one after the other. It was immediately obvious they had been a couple, and even now are still very close by the way they walked and tended to one another. They’d walk and then hesitate, with Harry looking back at Stein, him giving him eye contact, with him responding to her gestures. It was quite lovely to watch the synchronicity between the two before they settled in their respective chairs.
Once they had settled in and shared pleasantries, Roth broke the ice and started the Q & A with a bang by sharing a story of his own about the previous night in San Francisco, knowing that people wanted to know.
“I think you’re in for a treat,” Roth said. “Every city they go to, they start with these kinds of amazing stories from that city. I think there’s quite a few from Los Angeles. Last night we found out that the cocaine that Debbie bought was from San Francisco that led to David Bowie showing her his dick.”
With that, it was on for the rest of the evening. The crowd laughed and cheered in response to the stories that continued unabated, offering a pretty extensive overview of the book.
Roth offered up the themes, and Harry and Stein both responded with their perspectives on the various topics. When Harry and Stein got deep into a particular subject and the discussion became intense while recalling a particular instance, or they started riffing on the theme, Roth would phrase those responses as “TED Talks.” Roth brought the audience “in” and let us know that we were on “The Tour Bus,” indicating that this moment was the real deal–the good stuff!
There were a couple of dozen subjects that were touched upon during the hour and a half interview. There was David Bowie of course, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, Cherie Currie and the Runaways, Johnny Ramone, Malcolm McLaren, Divine, John Waters, Old Hollywood, Fan Art, the New York music scene, Blondie songs, “Heart of Glass” and “Rapture,” their influence on rock fashion, Harry’s favorite photo of herself with Stein, and a host of other topics.
The take away from the Q & A was that these two had a long, successful musical career that did some considerable genre-bending, mixing in art and a good helping of subculture. Harry and Stein as Blondie incorporated cultural innovation, moved fashion, and defined, if not a generation, then most definitely a new genre of music.
The energy was high throughout the evening. The stories proved glorious and enlightening, humorous, and most importantly–they were very Rock and Roll! Bob did a great job as a moderator, and Harry and Stein were fun and relatable. They were lucid and hip in ways your parents aren’t. They were very present. You could read the New York edge all over them, and it was delightful. Like the lyrics from Rapture say: “Punk Rock, you stop!” It was an amazing evening at the Aratani Theatre and you all will have to read the book to dig into all those juicy details. Purchase “Face It” here.