Debbie Harry, George Clinton, and Devo Get the Full Book Treatment
A trio of wildly different new books lifts the curtain on Rock’n’Roll Mayhem.
CHRIS STEIN / NEGATIVE
by Chris Stein
In the introduction to Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk, singer Debbie Harry defines voyeur: “an obsessive observer of sordid or sensational subjects.” Stein, cofounder of the ’70sNew Wave band Blondie, acclaimed photographer, and (not for nothing) former boyfriend of Harry’s, is the best kind of voyeur—one with bona fide insider access. This collection of grimy images, some previously unpublished, captures rock’n’roll extremists, including the Ramones, the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, and a disarmingly baby-faced Joan Jett, in unguarded moments. And Stein’s wry commentary adds context to his view of the gritty, cheap, and often dangerous Lower East Side scene where punk was born squealing. Published on the occasion of Blondie’s 40th anniversary, Chris Stein/Negative is a treasure trove of cool that defies the passing of time.
BROTHAS BE, YO LIKE GEORGE, AIN’T THAT FUNKIN’ KINDA HARD ON YOU? A MEMOIR
by George Clinton with Ben Greenman
Before George Clinton became the godfather of funk, his specialty as a barber in Plainfield, New Jersey, was the “quo vadis” hairstyle—close, high, and tight. In this riotous memoir, Clinton displays equal amounts of enthusiasm for all his talents, whether he’s wielding a pair of shears or landing a spaceship onstage. As maestro of two formative acts, Parliament and Funkadelic, he created a new musical movement in the ’70s that combined the soul of James Brown, the R&B of Motown, and a huge dose of psychedelic rock. “We were too white for black folks and too black for white folks,” he writes. “We were a source of confusion.” On his journey out of Jersey, he used a suitcase of counterfeit money to buy studio time, took a lot of LSD, and watched George H.W. Bush’s helicopter fly past his hotel room as he snorted cocaine. Forty hit singles later, he’s one of the most sampled musicians of all time. Pretty impressive for a guy who can’t play an instrument and admits he doesn’t sing well.
MARK MOTHERSBAUGH: MYOPIA
by Adam Lerner
Mark Mothersbaugh is best known as a cofounder of postpunk band Devo, an art project conceived while he was a student at Kent State University. The band’s music video for “Whip It” helped define the medium and made them early MTV stars. Behind the weird costumes and deadpan sense of humor, Devo was also a work of “radical theater,” based on the idea that the world had begun to devolve. That concept has also informed much of Mothersbaugh’spost-Devo work, as a prolific visual artist and sound-track composer for films including the The Royal Tenenbaums and children’s shows like Rugrats. Myopia, a lavishly illustrated catalog set to accompany a six-city retrospective of his artwork, features a career’s worth of paintings, photos, and sculpture, and rightly positions Mothersbaugh—that guy from the band with the funny hats—as a central figure of contemporary pop surrealism.
Photos by Chris Stein / Negative, Rizzoli New York 2014