Last week I wrote about two carefully chosen words – Weather Report. This time I want to write about a single, carefully chosen word.
Blondie is the name of an American rock band fronted by Deborah Harry. According to Rolling Stone magazine, Blondie has sold in excess of forty million records over the course of a career starting in 1974.
For a single word, Blondie has a lot to say. First, there is the biographical background it reveals. After graduating with an arts degree in 1965, Deborah Ann Harry worked at BBC offices in New York, then as a waitress, a go-go dancer and as a Playboy Bunny. I don’t know if young Deborah found herself called Blondie at the BBC, but in her waitressing and dancing jobs, this was how men often refered to her.
The first thing to note about the name Blondie is the “ie” ending. This sound often denotes something small, insignificant, playful, charming, as in cutie or sweetie. The linguist Otto Jespersen has suggested that the effect of ie is to convey a childlike quality. Children tend to add an ie sound – one of the easiest to produce – at the end of words as they begin to learn language. As a child struggles to master the tricky business of talking, there seems to be a natural tendency to return to the security of something easily managed. In this way, the ie sound is associated with children.
So Blondie has this suggestion of something cute and childlike. Those characteristics then collide with the reality of Blondie as a hard-hitting rock band. Blondie now takes on a different nature. There is something tough in the name, a denial of intimacy and individuality. It’s a generic nickname for fair-haired young women, which while starting all cutesy in the nursery, has now taken us into seedy bars and clubs where superficial adult relationships are playing out.
The music Blondie made is like a novel based on the short story of their name. Listening to my favourite Blondie album Parallel Lines, we meet Sunday Girl, “as cold as ice cream but still as sweet.” Heart of Glass, portrays a similar character. A glass heart suggests someone tough and unemotional, but also fragile and vulnerable . In One Way or Another, a cold hearted girl is both a stalker making dark threats, and a playful little thing, giving you the slip in a game of hide and seek. There’s Pretty Baby – that ie sound again – about a young girl trying to separate the fantasies of romance from reality. Picture This, apparently a love song, is actually a celebration of the vision of a loved one rather than an acceptance of their reality. Fade Away and Radiate , similarly, paints a picture of someone watching a film, who feels a deeper connection with a silvery screen goddess than with real people who mock her in daily life. Finally, there’s a line in I Know But I Don’t Know, about how “I’m your dog but not your pet.” Blondie is a pet, a bunny, a cutie, the vision of a perfect, undemanding companion; but you’d be wrong to think that this pet isn’t an animal with teeth.
So there you are – Blondie, an album of songs in itself.