- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

When the original members of Blondie decided to reunite a few years ago, it was not exactly a sure thing. After all, they hadn't played together in roughly 16 years, and no one was quite sure what would happen until they sat down together and jammed.

"It just instantly came back," lead singer Deborah Harry says of the results. "It was kind of a thrill to sound like Blondie instantly."

More than 20 years after Miss Harry first put the country in "rapture," the new wave pioneers are out on the road again with fellow '80s icons, the B-52's. They play Merriweather Post Pavilion Wednesday.

"I think everyone's sort of kept up with their playing in various ways so that it wasn't too difficult," Miss Harry says from a hotel room in Minneapolis, her voice still sounding as husky and clear as it did in her early recordings. She recently celebrated her 57th birthday, but doesn't appear to be considering retirement anytime soon.

Focus has shifted to Blondie in the past year because of the 25th anniversary of the beginnings of punk rock, or at least the New York City version of it. While Britain spawned the controversial Sex Pistols, the New York punk scene, especially the club CBGB produced artists as varied as the Ramones, Television, Patti Smith and the Talking Heads.

Not to forget the most successful of the CBGB groups: Blondie. It was formed in 1974, with Miss Harry (singing), guitarist Chris Stein, drummer Clement Burke, bassist Gary Valentine and keyboard player James Destri. This same lineup, minus Mr. Valentine, is the one currently on tour.

"Well, we were just a part of it," Miss Harry says simply of the anniversary. "We were one of the seminal bands that was part of that movement. In some ways we typified that style of music, in other ways we ventured in different directions."

Blondie released its self-titled debut in 1976 and a follow-up, "Plastic Letters" in 1977, before gaining widespread acclaim with its third album, "Parallel Lines," in 1978.

It featured the disco-pop of "Heart of Glass" (which hit number one in the United States and Britain), the hard-charging rock number "One Way or Another" and "Hanging on the Telephone." The record is often touted as the height of "new wave," the more pop-oriented music that followed on the heels of punk, which is said by some critics to encompass everything from early Elvis Costello and the Cars to Duran Duran and the Police.

"I think a lot of people confused [punk]," she says. "They equate it with a certain style of music, when there was a wide variety of music that was being played in that really early sort of punk time."

The band's fourth album "Eat to the Beat" came in 1979, and featured popular songs "Dreaming" and "Atomic," both of which continued to meld a disco-pop vibe with the band's own rock background. It was really the next album "Autoamerican" that showed the band's ability to branch out to new territory via the Caribbean-influenced "The Tide is High" and the rap breakdown in "Rapture." It was the first time a major mainstream rock act had a hit with hip-hop.

"It's terrifically energetic and interesting," Miss Harry says of rap. "Kind of the vox pop approach it was really taking the words and thoughts and voices of black kids and putting it into music, expressing problems and situations in their lives."

The result is more touching for effort than its actual result. What begins as a rather dreamy piece of disco pop soon mutates into a rap that opens with "Fab Five Freddy told me everybody's fly/DJ spinning, I said 'My, My'/Flash is fast, flash is cool/Francois, c'est pas flashe non due." From there it becomes an odd tale of a "man from Mars" who eats cars, people and eventually, guitars.

"We appreciated the style and we wanted to pay homage to it," she says. "So we did our own hip-hop version and we put it into a song."

The band broke up in 1982 after releasing a rather unremarkable final album, "The Hunter," which shows Miss Harry on the cover in full-blown, '80s-hair mode. During the intervening years, she pursued a solo career, releasing a handful of albums, none of which brought the same degree of attention as her work with Blondie.

She also had several film roles, playing parts in "Deuces Wild," "Cop Land," "Hairspray" plus a notable guest spot in the TV show "Wiseguy."

So what finally brought the band back together again?

"I think it was mostly Chris Stein's desire, his dream initiative," Miss Harry says of her fellow band mate and long-term boyfriend. "He just sort of realized that if we didn't do it now, we weren't going to do it."

A new album of material, "No Exit" followed the 1999 reunion. It continues the genre-hopping that Blondie embraced (including more forays into reggae beats and hip-hop rhymes), while showing a bit of a harder rock edge.

"I think [recording new songs] is probably the icing on the cake when you come right down to it," Miss Harry asserts. "Creativity and expressing yourself that's kind of the real payoff."

A new collection of material has been finished, but the band is not sure when and how it will be released. Some of the new tunes are likely to make it into Wednesday's live set, along with a few surprises.

"I think we've taken out one or two of the more obvious songs," Miss Harry says. "But I think we have a real good balance of new material and old material from the early days. We also pay tribute to our fellow New York bands and play some of their songs."

Such as?

"Well, the Ramones, of course. And Richard Hell," she adds.

While she does not rule out future solo work, Miss Harry says she's fully committed to Blondie for the time being.

"We had quite a bit of fan feedback [on the new material]," she says. "I think if you still have people asking about you and talking on the Internet about it, it's worth doing."

WHAT: Blondie with the B-52s

WHERE: Merriweather Post Pavilion, off Route 29, Columbia.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday

TICKETS: $23.50 to $41

PHONE: 703/218-6500

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