Chris Stein - The Legend of Nick Detroit

Chris Stein – The Legend of Nick Detroit

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Chris Stein, guitarist and songwriter, was born in Brooklyn. In the early 70s, Stein joined the glam-rock group the Stilettos, which featured Deborah Harry as its lead singer. After the Stilettos fell apart, Stein and Harry formed the hugely popular and successful punk/New Wave band Blondie. Stein wrote the hit song “Sunday Girl,” and co-wrote, with his onetime-girlfriend Harry, Blondie hit songs including “Heart of Glass,” “Dreaming,” “Rapture,” “Picture This,” “Rip Her to Shreds,” and “Island of Lost Souls.” He ran the label Animal Records from 1982 to 1984, and also did the album cover for “Exposure,” Robert Fripp’s solo album, the first record cover done will all color Xeroxes. Stein not only composed the scores for the films “Union City” and “Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story,” but also was a co-composer on the scores for the movie “Wild Style” and the TV special “When Disco Ruled the World.” In the late 90s Chris and Harry relaunched Blondie; since then the group has recorded two albums and continues to perform in concert all over the world. Stein, also a longtime photographer, has done album artwork for Lydia Lunch and Dramarama.

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Stein discusses his works collaborations with John Holmstrom for PUNK magazine, Richard Hell and Debbie Harry, Seventeenth Street, New York City, “The Legend of Nick Detroit,” and Anya Phillips and Debbie Harry,” selected for publication in Who Shot Rock & Roll by Gail Buckland (Knopf, October 2009, $40).

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 You are a musician as well as a photographer, which gives you a unique insight into the relationship between photography and music. How do you feel the image impacts the listener’s understanding of the music?

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Chris Stein: I have never figured out or decided if image was a plus or a minus when it comes to defining one’s musical style. I often say in interviews that when I was a teenager “most of my heroes were 60 year old black men.” This of course is a reference to trends that embrace only youth and fancy fashion as the mark of success. Recently much was made of the dowdy matron who appeared on some TV talent show and was endowed with a terrific singing voice. But there the context was all about her unattractiveness, which then became her selling point thereby negating the whole argument. Very weird! 

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Your photographs in Who Shot Rock & Roll feature the distinctive graphics of John Holmstrom. They are unlike any other image in the book, as they show your willingness to collaborate with yet another artist in the creation of the image. How did you come to create these images—clearly they were staged, but did you have the end product in mind when you set out to shoot, or was this something that came about through the process of creation itself?

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Going into the various PUNK magazine projects with John, I was already familiar with the form: that of the Fumetti, a photo story that was laid out like a comic strip, often with speech balloons for the characters. Fumettis began, I think, in the early 60s and are currently more popular in Latin America and Europe than in the U.S. John Holmstrom was a source of many terrific ideas and working with a large number of our peers from the rock scene in NYC was great fun! In many of the photos I left room for the speech balloons when composing the shot.

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What advantages do you see in shooting your own band and artistic coterie instead of having someone from the outside doing it?

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Just the familiarity between us makes it easier to shoot candid moments.

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In the days before the Internet and digital photography, when content was seemingly limited to those with access, the creation of images played a massive role in the music. How does your work contribute to this archive?

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Because Debbie was so photogenic and appealing in pictures it was easy to disseminate shots of her to the media early on. Many people saw her image before hearing the bands music. During the 70s in the UK the weekly national music press didn’t have an equivalent in the U.S. and because of this many bands were visually available to British music fans prior to those bands music being heard or played on radio. This phenomenon certainly contributed to the popularity of “punk,” which relied heavily on elements of fashion to define itself.

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Chris Stein - Staten Island Ferry

Chris Stein – Staten Island Ferry

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