A Place That Can't Exist Again: Blondie's New York Chris Stein's photos in Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk Rock document a city that is barely recognizable today.
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A Place That Can't Exist Again: Blondie's New York

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A Place That Can't Exist Again: Blondie's New York

Review

Book Reviews

A Place That Can't Exist Again: Blondie's New York

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

One of our music reviewers has been captivated by a book. It features many previously unpublished photos from Chris Stein, better known as the guitarist and cofounder of Blondie. Stein is a lifelong New Yorker. He studied photography at the School of Visual Arts, training his camera on Manhattan's burgeoning punk rock and new wave revolution. Our reviewer Meredith Ochs says his new book titled "Negative" chronicles that scene and his band's assent to global stardom.

MEREDITH OCHS, BYLINE: Chris Stein's photos document a New York that is barely recognizable today. It was the days of boom boxes, Xeroxes and smoking indoors, rents that were cheap enough for artists to afford - a city in decline that was fertile ground for phenomenal artistic ferment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEART OF GLASS")

BLONDIE: (Singing) Once I had love and it was a gas. Soon turned out, had a heart of glass.

OCHS: It's a fairly well-documented era, but Stein's vantage point is unique. He landed in Andy Warhol's world when his high school band opened up for The Velvet Underground and later found himself at the epicenter of the downtown music scene, which spawned bands like the Ramones, Talking Heads and his own group, Blondie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEART OF GLASS")

BLONDIE: (Singing) I fear I'm losing you. It's just no good, you teasing like you do.

OCHS: Chris Stein also happened to be partners - both in music and in life - with Debbie Harry, Blondie's lead singer, one of the world's most iconic beauties. Much of the book is centered on their relationship. Her astounding looks and shocking style are unavoidable, but Stein also captures everything that makes her one of rock's coolest front-persons, including the keen ironic sensibility she and Stein shared. Many of the photos subvert female stereotypes - Harry in a fire-singed gown in her kitchen, holding a frying pan full of leaping flames. Or, reading a newspaper with the headline "Women Are Just Slaves."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAYLA")

BLONDIE: (Singing) Shayla worked in a factory. She wasn't history, she's just a number.

OCHS: In his book, Chris Stein makes the connection between well-known performers and those who deserved more attention. Not just musicians, but filmmakers, painters, fashion designers, even nightclub impresarios. It's a joy to see them all in context and understand the way they influence one another. It's also a touching elegy to those who are gone, like Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat, who had a cameo in the video for Blondie's pioneering rap crossover hit, "Rapture."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAPTURE")

BLONDIE: (Singing) And you hip-hop and you don't stop. Just blast off, sure shot. 'Cause the man from Mars stopped eating cars and eating bars, and now he only eats guitars. Get up.

OCHS: Alongside his photographs, Chris Stein provides an easy personable narrative, but never so much that it detracts from the art itself. As musically adventurous as Stein is, these images reflect his eclectic influences in greater depth. His use of shadow, space and place are wildly creative, and his ability to capture friends at unguarded moments speaks to his understated nature. Stein's book is not a comprehensive look at the time it chronicles - it can't be. But it takes you on a tour of places that will never exist again and illuminates the people who made them so magical.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMING")

BLONDIE: (Singing) Imagine something of your very own, something you can have and hold. I'd build a road in gold just to have some dreaming.

SIEGEL: The book of photographs by Chris Stein is called "Negative: Me, Blondie And The Advent Of Punk." Our reviewer Meredith Ochs is a talk-show host and DJ at SiriusXM radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMING")

BLONDIE: (Singing) Dreaming is free. Dreaming is free.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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