February 04, 2012

Teenage Scribbles: Debbie Harry

Debbie Harry of Blondie, June 16, 1979
Color pencil on 3-hole punch paper

For every serious music fan, there is that one song, that one moment that completely changes their life. It’s such a dramatic, cinematic scene, that in regards to that event, to classify one’s life as B.C. or A.D. is the only way to convey the religious weight of it.

My personal Jesus appeared before me the first time I heard Debbie Harry sing, “Yeah, riding high on love’s true blueish light/Ew ew oh oh.”

At the time, I was a Casey Kasem Top 40 junkie. From the first moment I heard “Heart of Glass” the very first week it hit the Top 40 chart, my antennae started quivering. I knew the song was trying to be disco but it certainly wasn’t; there was a lot more going on under the covers. And I suddenly remembered all the little bits about Blondie that I’d run across previously in magazines, and I could literally feel pieces falling into place.

Debbie Harry, September 16, 1979
Color pencil on letter bond

I rushed out and bought the single, and actually liked the flip side ten times more. “11:59” was urgent and pleading while the singer’s voice was cool and detached and the dichotomy sucked me under. Plus, the label said “Produced by Mike Chapman.” Oh, man, count me in!

I then rushed out to buy the album, Parallel Lines, and there was no going back. Despite the prejudice of my religious conversion, the cover to that album is still one of the most striking examples of album artwork, simple yet effective, able to convey layers of meaning and style with just a few broad strokes.


Deborah Harry, November 18, 1979
Color pencil on ledger paper

That album sounded like a jukebox full of promise, sounds that I’d heard in various forms before, but were now brought together under one umbrella. I heard “Sunday Girl,” and “Pretty Baby” and thought them just as yummy and hook-filled as any of my childhood AM pop favorites, and they did a cover of a Buddy Holly tune! But I also heard hard, chaotic, frantic sounds that riled me up, like “One Way Or Another,” “Hanging On the Telephone” and “Will Anything Happen?” and I asked myself, “Is this punk rock?” Plus there was a slow, eerie tune with this dead and hollow drum beat (“Fade Away & Radiate”), a song that mentioned watching someone shower, and the very last song on the album telling someone to piss up a rope. “Heart Of Glass” was the lamest thing on the album, and I was ecstatic!

I tapped my alien powers of information gathering for a crash course on Blondie. I found new magazines like Circus and Hit Parader, but it was blast to find Blondie popping up in staples such as People, US and Dynamite. I very quickly learned as much of the Blondie M.O. as possible, had a broad overview of what they were about, what they represented and how they were popular all over the world save for America, where they were deemed too odd, too different, too “punk.” When “Heart Of Glass” hit #1, I was as shocked as I was pleased.

Deborah Harry, March 23, 1980
Color pencil on 3-hole punch paper

Blondie were a new and different world of music, a stranger, more varied world, where not all songs were love songs, where there was subtext and layers of meaning behind every lyric, every riff, and every artistic decision. Blondie was the tree trunk that sent me out onto a thousand branches, where I finally learned about punk (checked out dozens of albums from the library; the Sex Pistols’ debut album didn’t sound like Blondie, so I didn’t care for it, but the Ramones were intriguing), Andy Warhol, CBGB’s, underground art and films, early 60s girl group pop, and that there was a lively, exotic world thriving outside the Billboard Top 40. I learned more about the world of culture within a couple months than I had in my previous 13.5 years. It was heady and addictive.

“Blondie is a group,” and then there was Debbie Harry. Say it again, my bruthas and sistahs: Debbie Harry! Amen.

Deborah Harry, May 1980
Water color on bond paper

She was (and is) a goddess! Aside from Cher, I’d never experienced anyone like her. She was absolutely gorgeous, cooler than shit and had the most glamorous clothes, shoes and hair imaginable. In print, she was intelligent and insightful, but very coy about her past, her private life and her age, which gave her an air of mystery. She and her boyfriend, Chris Stein, created and ran the band, and she was an equal partner in songwriting, presentation and direction. Again, I repeat, I’d never experienced anyone like her; she was so beautiful and powerful and talented that she seemed more like a comic book hero.

Everything I needed to know about life, sex, fashion and music, I looked to Debbie. And because American media was now as infatuated with her as I was, it was easy to get all the advice I needed.

Blondie Was a Group, January 1983
Charcoal on sketch paper

Blondie profoundly altered my viewpoint of the world, and I had the utopian belief that it affected everyone else, too. I’m sure it did in many quarters across the nation, but at Kirby Junior High in north St. Louis County, there was no change at all. When I dared speak to someone else about Blondie, it was a bad topic. If someone wasn’t talking trash about them being a disco band, they were thinking they were too punk, too fucking strange, uncool.

But I knew they were all dead wrong, and the “Us & Them” mind set took firm root in my psyche. I’d unwittingly found a way to further ostracize myself from the peer group, but this time it left me with a whole other – and better – world to explore, football fields of things to think about, which made ignoring everyone so much easier to do. 

D.H. a.k.a. B, April 1983
Charcoal on bond paper

February 03, 2012

Teenage Scribbles: Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow, November 17, 1979
Ballpoint pen & color pencil on ledger paper

8th grade was turning out to be an even bigger abscess than 7th grade, so I needed new distractions. One of them was an obsession with black & white Hollywood movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

I took a quick break from reading every old Hollywood biography I could buy with allowance money or borrow from the library to commemorate my new favorite fellow-Missourian, Jean Harlow.

(Teenage Scribbles = finding a large stash of drawings I did between the ages of 14 - 20, with the vast majority happening before too many drugs, boys & bold misadventures preoccupied my time.)

February 02, 2012

Teenage Scribbles: Suzanne Somers

Suzanne Somers, August 14, 1979
Color pencil on sketch paper

The 4th season of Three's Company would start the following month, so the advance publicity was in gear. Miss Somer's debuted a new hairstyle in all the gossip magazines lying around our home. I felt this was truly noteworthy.

(Teenage Scribbles = finding a large stash of drawings I did between the ages of 14 - 20, with the vast majority happening before too many drugs, boys & bold misadventures preoccupied my time.)

February 01, 2012

Teenage Scribbles: Vogue Magazine

Beads, July 30, 1979
Crayola crayon on 3-hole punch paper

Bored on a summer vacation day, leafing through the July edition of Vogue, getting upset that my puberty-ravaged body had nothing in common with anything on any page.

Profile, July 30, 1979
Crayola crayon on 3-hole punch paper

I used to raid my mother's makeup drawer to try and approximate these looks. Paper was more cooperative than my face, thus I went for the higher success rate.

Special note must be made that the skin tone in this drawing, and the one above, was done with the Indian Red crayon. Political correctness was several years in the future.

Hand, July 30, 1979
Pencil and nail polish on 3-hole punch paper

After a half hour with the crayons, I went high concept by filling in the fingertips with my mother's Avon nail polish. To this day, it still gleams all frosty orange.

Jerry Hall, July 30, 1979
Watercolor on 3-hole punch paper

By the afternoon, I graduated to watercolor. And I was not going to pass up an opportunity to draw Jerry Hall, who - even though she had it made by hooking up with Mick Jagger - was still actively modeling at this time.

Oh, how I loved me the Some Girls album from the summer before. Anything to do with it was glamorous - 'cept for maybe Jerry's nose? Can't help but note that I took some artistic license - the junior high version of rhinoplasty.

(Teenage Scribbles = finding a large stash of drawings I did between the ages of 14 - 20, with the vast majority happening before too many drugs, boys & bold misadventures preoccupied my time.)

January 31, 2012

Teenage Scribbles: Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart, July 24, 1979
Color pencil on 3-hole punch paper

The summer before starting 8th grade, I loved disco. So I was not bothered by "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" I even thought that most of the album it came from - Blondes Have More Fun - was pretty damn great.

Later on, I went backwards through Rod Stewart's music catalog and quickly realized why so many were upset. But not before thinking large chunks of Foolish Behaviour was pretty damn great.

RELATED A fictional imagining about THE decisive moment in the downturn of Rod Stewart’s career.

(Teenage Scribbles = finding a large stash of drawings I did between the ages of 14 - 20, with the vast majority happening before too many drugs, boys & bold misadventures preoccupied my time.)

January 30, 2012

Teenage Scribbles: Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton-John, May 6, 1979
Color pencil on 3-hole punch paper

I was a hardcore Livvy fan, joining her fan club during the 1976 Don't Stop Believin' era. Things were looking pretty bleak for her - both artistically and chart-wise - come 1977's Making a Good Thing Better. Grease saved her career and gave us all something to obsess over during those last innocent moments before junior high began.

Olivia's Bad Sandy and her (still amazing) album Totally Hot inspired me to makeup my face and hair in an endlessly bittersweet parade of 15th-rate imitations (she always had the best hair, didn't she?). Growing weary of the uphill battle, I finally gave that all up and just drew her, instead.

(Teenage Scribbles = finding a large stash of drawings I did between the ages of 14 - 20, with the vast majority happening before too many drugs, boys & bold misadventures preoccupied my time.)