The rooftop of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was bathed in crimson light, the neon glow lending glam nostalgia to a cocktail party that could only be described as a whirring bubble of ‘80s pop. Boy George, in his stiff-brimmed hat and copious eyeliner, huddled by the DJ table with a posse of friends. A dapper-looking Harry Dean Stanton, 88, surveyed the scene from a nearby bench. Beside him, large-scale black-and-white photographs from the ‘70s and ‘80s depicted young Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry with fellow punk figures Iggy Pop and Chrissie Hynde, among others.
Harry and Blondie guitarist Chris Stein were in town for the opening of an exhibition showcasing prints from Stein’s fall coffee table book, “Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk,” at the Paul Smith store on Melrose Avenue.
A sampling of the photographs were on display at the party Friday night. In one image, Harry poses with a bare-chested Iggy Pop during his 1977 The Idiot tour; in another she crouches, pouty-mouthed, in a tight zebra-print dress and backed by zebra-print wallpaper.
“I like that one a lot,” Stein said, pointing to an image of Harry and Blondie drummer Clem Burke strolling near 14th Street and 3rd Avenue in New York City, circa 1976, as passersby gawked at the rockers. “It’s just great because everyone in the shot is reacting to them because nobody looked like that at that time,” Stein said.
He also favors an image of Richard Hell being passed a beer bottle in a nightclub.
“It’s very noir,” Stein said. “We were upstairs at Max’s Kansas City, and it was his last gig with the Heartbreakers, and he was kind of morose.”
Harry doesn’t have a favorite image. “I like them all,” she said, clad in black and still platinum blond, her expression stoic and steely. “Chris is a really good photographer. These images, people have seen them over the years and never completely associated them with Chris; he’s brilliant.”
Only when asked to pose for a selfie with a reporter who admitted she had lost her journalistic cool, did Harry break into a toothy, girlish grin. “Oh, I’ll help you find it, then!” she squealed, laughing.
Stein, who studied photography at New York’s School of Visual Arts in the ‘60s before co-founding Blondie, shot the book's photographs over several decades using mostly Nikons and Hasselblads, he said. They pre-date Blondie, going back to 1973, when Stein and Harry formed the band the Stilettos.
The images capture everyday moments in Harry and Stein’s musical lives, including shots of Blondie performing, band members unwinding over greasy diner food after shows, parties at CBGB and jaunts through the East Village. Other faces in this panoply of punk: the Ramones, Sting, Joan Jett and Andy Warhol. The photographs are an intimate, visual diary and a chronicle from the front lines of an emerging scene.
“I wasn’t aware of a movement, I was just doing it to do it. I enjoyed the process,” Stein said. “I say to kids now: ‘You guys who are shooting your friends, you never know where it’s gonna go. Archive all your stuff!’ You never know what’s gonna happen.”
At the Roosevelt party, Harry, 69, slid under a velvet rope and began posing for cameras -- in front of shots of her posing for cameras 40 years earlier. Stein, now 65, joined her, and they clicked right into rock star mode, both in dark sunglasses in the dead of night. Stein faced the cameras head on, wearing a nonchalant expression, his white hair blurring into the flashbulb bath. Harry tossed her head back and pursed her lips, pointing her chin downward, just so.
For its 40th anniversary last year, Blondie released “Blondie 4(0) Ever,” composed of new studio recordings of its biggest hits (“Deluxe Redux: Greatest Hits”) and a new album (“Ghosts of Download”). This summer the band will go on tour, with stops including Madison Square Garden in New York with Morrissey in June and the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles with Melissa Etheridge in July.
Stein continues to shoot art photographs on his iPhone these days. He said the band also is working on new music. “Something a little low-fi this time,” he said. “We’re figuring it out.”
With Susan Sarandon, Donovan Leitch, record producer Giorgio Moroder, artist Shepard Fairey and Rain Phoenix in attendance, the cocktails and music flowed until midnight. Montgomery Clift and Marilyn Monroe are said to haunt the Hollywood hotel, but it was the ghosts of ‘80s pop who were circling the party.
The Chris Stein photos will be up at Paul Smith through May 22.