Blondie is one of those bands that seems to punctuate my life's timeline with their music. Certain songs and albums are a date-stamp for different eras or periods in my past. Although they're not my favorite band, I have quite a lot of sentiment tied up with Blondie and the band's lead singer, Deborah Harry.
When I was in high school, Blondie's first album (still my favorite) was the main soundtrack to the first teen party I attended where illicit drinks were served. My friends and I would always demand that the song "Rip Her to Shreds" be played at regular intervals.
I think of that era as "pre-gay." Many of my male high school friends would later become gay adults, but in high school we shuffled along in romantic indeterminacy. My male friends worshipped Bowie and Abba; I was enthralled by Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal. We paired up in intense but platonic mindmelds based on our shared sensibilities.
At a certain point in my teenage years I became more entwined with L.A.'s rock culture. Those were my punk years. I met Deborah Harry then, at a party for a local radio personality. We stood next to each other at a meager refreshment table, sharing Triscuits from a box. It was one of my first experiences of the dream-like ennui that results from hanging out with celebrities.
Another dating memory comes from the debut of Eat to the Beat. Blondie released the album along with an unusual cable TV special consisting of videos that went with each song. At the time, cable TV was a luxury so finding a place to watch the Blondie videos was a challenge for me and my teenage friends. We watched and found the whole "music video" concept a bit arty and avant-garde.
Parallel Lines was unforgettable because it spun off a mainstream hit, "Heart of Glass." The song rose steadily higher on the charts, eventually reaching the point of painful ubiquity that only the biggest, fattest megahits can achieve. Songs like "You Light Up My Life" or "I Will Always Love You." They soon become unbearable to listen to.
How strange and gratifying then, that so many years later, while seeing Deborah Harry perform at the L.A. Pride festival, I felt an almost transcendent joy when I heard the opening beats of "Heart of Glass" boom over the outdoor speakers. It was by far my favorite song out of a short but fantastic set that included "Rapture" and "In the Flesh."
I really wasn't expecting such an amazing performance. But the songs, the attitude and the choreography were just right for the occasion. Debbie came out in a costume similar to the black short shorts and halter worn by Liza Minelli in Cabaret. Behind her, dancers in similar Cabaret-inspired outfits provided performance accompaniment.
During the opening song, one of the male dancers twirled twin fire batons while Debbie sang. Throughout the set, the dancers unfurled a giant rainbow flag behind Debbie. Sometimes, they would tuck the flag in the back of Debbie's shorts and she would stomp around the stage with the flag fanning behind her, like some demented psychedelic peacock. It was very punk and very gay. The whole thing drove the audience wild.
The second blonde alluded to in my title was introduced to the crowd as a special surprise guest just before Deborah Harry came on. I was standing near the stage, close to a metal barrier at the time. Suddenly, a fast-moving gang of faux-Secret Security types went rushing by me, dressed in black suits and shouting into walkie talkies. Peering into the middle of these self-important bouncers, I realized who was less than 5 feet in front of me. It was Paris Fucking Hilton.
A wave of horror mixed with fascination seemed to sweep over the crowd as people recognized her. I imagine this is the standard reaction to seeing Paris Hilton. We were told by the emcee that Paris Hilton would be introducing Deborah Harry and were reminded that she was this year's Parade Grand Marshall (along with her mother, Mrs. Hilton). Around me, people began to ask, "Why is she the Grand Marshall?" It was a question I overheard strangers repeat throughout the weekend.
Paris Hilton took the stage wearing a fringed sheaf dress in the gay rainbow colors and began gushing to the crowd about how much she loved gay people. I suppose it's a good thing that there are pro-gay millionaire heiresses out there. Perhaps gay people should encourage it; perhaps the world would be a better place if only there were more pro-gay millionaire heiresses. Maybe it's even a tipping point of sorts: if only enough millionaire heiresses were for us, the whole country would then rush to embrace gay civil rights. Still, I find it hard not to interpret the stark fact of Paris Hilton acting as Parade Grand Marshall as a slap in the face.