Blondie's Chris Stein Talks New Photo Book, Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk

Blondie's Chris Stein Talks New Photo Book, Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk
Photo by Alex Thompson

You know Chris Stein as the guitarist for Blondie and co-songwriter of the immortal "Heart of Glass."

But in the four decades of Blondie's existence, the New Yorker has been just as likely to have a camera strapped around his neck. So, to celebrate Blondie's 40th anniversary, Rizzoli is publishing a book of Stein's color and black-and-white photography, titled Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk.

"I did a book once in the early '80s," the soft-spoken Stein says. "But now there's a lot of interest in the time period, so I wanted to get these pictures out there."

See also: Five Signs You Might Be a Shitty Guitarist

Blondie's Debbie Harry, enjoying some literature.
Blondie's Debbie Harry, enjoying some literature.
© Chris Stein,Chris Stein/Negative, Rizzoli New York, 2014

The 208-page book stands in direct opposition to the typical tell-all rock memoirs, as Stein is always behind the lens and rarely seen in any of the spreads.

Negative does not dwell on Stein's inner life. Rather, it is filled with anecdotes of what was happening in each photo.

"Every picture was heavily locked into my memory. The images make me remember what exactly was going on back then."

Blondie's Chris Stein Talks New Photo Book, Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk
© Chris Stein,Chris Stein/Negative, Rizzoli New York, 2014

The book chronicles a veritable who's who of the '70's punk, glam, and new-wave scene, featuring pictures of the Ramones, the Runaways, and Iggy Pop. But the real star of the book and most of its photographs is, of course, Debbie Harry, the singer of Blondie who was also once Stein's love interest.

However, Chris and Debbie's was a romance that lacked any possessiveness.

"I was always proud and identified with her," Stein explains when asked if there were ever any difficulties sharing the attention of his then-girlfriend with audiences. "It was like any other relationship, except in the midst of all this crazy stuff."

See also: Ten Best Female Punks Ever

 

Blondie's Chris Stein Talks New Photo Book, Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk
© Chris Stein,Chris Stein/Negative, Rizzoli New York, 2014

Most of Negative's photos are set in Stein and Blondie's home base of New York City. But there is one picture with a South Florida connection, taken in a pre-renovation 1970s-era Fountainbleau Hotel.

"It was back when the city was a lot grimier," he recalls. "Much different than the Miami we played for a New Year's Eve some years back."

The only photo that Stein regrets not including in the book was one of the rock critic Lester Bangs on the beach. "There was a girl we couldn't identify in the photo," he says, "and the publisher was strict on clearances."

Never one to be intimidated by celebrity, as evidenced by the book including pictures of Andy Warhol and William Burroughs, Stein wishes he could be more fearless around the common person. "I would have liked to have taken more street photography like Diane Arbus."

Blondie's Chris Stein Talks New Photo Book, Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk
© Chris Stein,Chris Stein/Negative, Rizzoli New York, 2014

In the book's foreword, Stein quotes filmmaker Jean Cocteau that film will become art only when its materials are as inexpensive as pens and paper. With digital photography, he thinks we have reached that point, and he also sees such parallels in the ease with which we can now record music.

"It used to cost you 20 to 100 grand to make a record. Now you can make one for $2,000 or the cost of a laptop."

But even with the immediacy and accessibility of the internet age, Stein doesn't think if he were 20 today that he would strive to center his life around rock 'n' roll -- though not because of the quality of the music being produced in 2014.

"I'm always amazed when people say there's no good music. There is always 50-percent crap, even in the '60s. I like EDM. Last bunch of years, I've been influenced by modern electronic Latin bands. I find it sexy."

Instead, Stein doubts he'd be a musician because "one of the things that attracted me to rock was an outsider form. It was dangerous. Now parents drive their kids to rock 'n' roll camps."

So what would qualify as a rebel career choice in 2014? "I'd probably be a hacker or a police detective."

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