Blondie’s Clem Burke and the tragedy of Trump Face | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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Blondie’s Clem Burke and the tragedy of Trump Face

Our terrible president doesn’t deserve to be compared to the best journeyman drummer in rock—but just look at them.


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Clem Burke (left) and America’s most famous unindicted coconspirator - PHOTOS BY PHILIP TOSCANO/GETTY IMAGES AND MARK WILSON/GETTY IMAGES
  • Photos by Philip Toscano/Getty Images and Mark Wilson/Getty Images
  • Clem Burke (left) and America’s most famous unindicted coconspirator

I miss the old Kanye, who wasn't pro-choice in regard to slavery. I wish I could still binge The Cosby Show without contemplating real-life violations of consent. But in this era of MAGA meatheads and #MeToo reckonings, as famous and powerful men trash their own legacies left and right, the only celebrity I have sympathy for is Clem Burke. Rock's best journeyman drummer became a Hall of Famer in 2006 for his decades in Blondie, with an awesome asterisk for his cup of coffee with the Ramones and a skinny tie full of midwest power-pop merit badges for his service with the Romantics. But I get a sinking feeling with every new photo he posts of his triumphant world travels: through no fault of his own, Clem Burke has Trump Face.

Sunday 5:45 PM, Roots Stage

I understand that time and gravity loosen everyone's skin, add jowl weight, and turn sexy pouts into alter kacher puckers. But Burke looks too goddamn much like our terrible president! It's a cruel prank of nature for such a national treasure to resemble a racist, baby-caging, pussy-grabbing international embarrassment. I suppose Burke always favored Trump in appearance—as younger men, they shared frat-boy good looks and similar hints of arrogance in their squints. And to be fair, Trump's orange mug has broadened to have the kind of chipmunk cheeks that have always been charming on the veteran drummer. Burke still looks cooler, smarter, trimmer, and sexier than even Home Alone 2–era Donald—only his face has tragically Trumped. His puffed, groovy shag isn't exactly the same as whatever Trump's hair is, either. But it's too fucking close!

This hurts, because Blondie is as important to me as any band. Debbie Harry's siren voice, sly genius, and devastating beauty made her an adolescent obsession (to paraphrase Steve Martin on Farrah Fawcett: "The hours I spent holding up her poster with one hand . . . "). My proudest literary accomplishment is working with 70s scenester Paul Zone to coauthor his coffee-table memoir, Playground, which is chock-full of Blondie stories and photographs. And my favorite two hours from Chicago's 21st-century festival explosion were at Riot Fest 2013, camping out in front of Blondie's stage—first I watched the best of the faux-Black Flags on the next stage over, and then I got to experience Burke's and Harry's brilliance from 20 feet away.

But now, every time I scroll through Twitter on my phone, I'm not just risking exposure to the horrors of Trump's latest car-wreck tweet. Burke is also active on Twitter, and following his account—one of my favorites—can be like playing Russian roulette. He may share a magnificent vintage photo, drop a big piece of Blondie news, or circulate an anti-Trump story (he retweeted Tony Visconti posting last week's anonymous New York Times editorial from an alleged White House source). But he also might have a new head shot in which he's being unjustly defamed by God and his stylist.

Burke has also used Twitter to announce that UK television channel Sky Arts has made a new documentary about his life and career, My View, scheduled to premiere the weekend of Riot Fest. It should be fascinating, but I hope the cinematographer used a bit of soft focus and avoided lighting from below—and for God's sake, Burke had better not show up wearing a red tie.  v

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