Pages 34 & 35
During last year Debbie Harry ran into a storm of controversy, but insists that she had a great year. Her only problem: wanting to be known as an actress and knowing how to be billed so – “Don’t believe those things you’ve read about me,” she tells Ken Ferguson.
She’s been called ‘The Sex Goddess Of Rock And Roll’ – ‘The Rock Garbo’ – ‘The New Wave’s Sex Queen’. Has been labelled as being ‘Provocative’ and ‘Aggressive’, but when I shared tea with Debbie Harry in her suite at London’s Ritz Hotel the all-in-black Miss Harry was as gentle as a purring kitten.
Nobody was more surprised than Debbie when she recently flew into London to help promote her movie Videodrome only to run into a storm of controversy surrounding the Cronenberg film.
The Beeb thought it was too hot for Ms. Harry to talk about on some of its chat shows, while Debbie herself found the going ‘hot’ on the shows in which she was allowed to talk.
“Well, we’ve been reading that you owe a lot of tax, that the last year has gone badly for you, that Videodrome flopped in the States; and then there was the flop on Broadway of ‘Trafford Tanzi’…”
She wriggled deeper into a soft settee.
“The picture of me has been painted black and very negative,” she said. “But on the contrary I’ve had a great year. I’m working on my new album which will be the first since we broke up ‘Blondie’, and I’ve worked on a cartoon feature in Canada which started out with the title Drats, but I think they’re going to call it Rock And Rule. It’s about these little creatures called Drats which are part dog and part rat. I do part of the soundtrack, three or four songs for a little blonde drat called Angel. Lou Reed ‘voices’ The Evil rock star, and the Demon he calls up is Iggy Pop; the guy from AC/DC plays my boyfriend, and ‘Earth Wind And Fire’ also have some great music in it. I think it’s going to be great. I’ve also recorded a single that’s on the soundtrack of Al Pacino’s new movie Scarface. Giorgio Moroder wrote the music and I did the lyrics. So I’ve been kept very busy.”
“We’ve also read that you keep some kind of horror museum at your home in Manhattan with exhibits like Goering’s sword, machine guns, Nazi uniforms, stuff like that. That you also have a mansion in the Deep South – and that you…”
She broke me off in full cry. “You mustn’t believe all those things. It’s all false – just more of that trash they put out about me, just gossipy crap. It’s all such gross exaggeration. We don’t have a mansion in the Deep South. We don’t own four cars. I don’t know how these stories get out. Maybe someone has a wild imagination. Perhaps they think I should have all these things, I guess.”
What Ms. Harry does have is a very sexy persona, and a very happy relationship with her former ‘Blondie’ star, Chris Stein.
“Yeah, we’ve been together for eleven years. We started working together before ‘Blondie’ when I was in another band called ‘The Stilettos’, and then Chris came with me when we started ‘Blondie’ in 1973.”
The group ‘Blondie’ split up a year ago after tremendous success which had turned Debbie Harry not only into a major star but also into a spokeswoman for all young American women.
“I found it pretty scary when we decided to break up,” she said. “Blondie herself had become a part of me, and a part of now, part of a lot of girls. I think I really intended that she speak for other girls. I’m not exactly an ardent woman’s libber but I certainly feel that girls should stand up for themselves and have more of a life, and an independence, than they formally had in an earlier time.”
“So why did ‘Blondie’ break up?” I asked.
“It was a gradual thing to end ‘Blondie’. It wasn’t totally my decision. We had all outgrown it and wanted to do different things. So we stopped. I wanted people to know there was more to me, as a person, than the sort of cartoon character we had created. It wasn’t enough for me to be treated any more like I was Blondie. I had to let people know there was something else happening there. I wanted to be an actress, and that’s what I want more than anything now – to be recognised as an actress. It’s important to let people know I’m not Blondie, I’m Debbie Harry.”
“Or Deborah Harry – as you’re credited on Videodrome,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, well everybody thought that Deborah would be a better billing for the film. What do you think? Shall I call myself Debbie or Deborah? Tell me, what do you think I should do? Which name suits me best?”
Was she putting me on the spot? It was her dilemma, not mine.
“Maybe Deborah sounds kinda more sophisticated, more serious for an actress”, she answered herself. “I guess Debbie sounds more frivolous, don’t you think.”
“What do you want to be?” I asked. “Serious or frivolous?”
She laughed. She has a loud and genuine laugh.
“I just wanna act and be good at it. Okay so we did have a failure with ‘Tanzi’, but I was really happy to do it and it was a lot of fun. We ran for three weeks in previews. Came the opening night on Broadway, and then the critics; and then we closed.” She could still laugh at the memory. “That’s the system! That’s the chance you have to take. You can’t win all the time. But I do think it was a mistake not to have run it off-Broadway first.”
Did she take that disappointment to heart?
“Not really. I mean with ‘Blondie’ we started at the bottom and then we worked our way up. We had our losses and we had our wins, that’s how I like it. I much prefer to work my way up, than start at the top. It makes me feel more determined. Listen, if I can’t survive having a play close, I mean what good would I be?”
“Didn’t Videodrome, which is the most important thing you’ve done for the big screen, flop in America?” I asked her.
“Well, it was taken off for one reason or another, but during the time it was being shown it was in the Top Ten. Now I hear they may be putting it out again. I don’t think it was a failure for me by any means. I think it’s kind of confusing, but I thought it was a good part for me to do. Working with David Cronenberg was fun, but hard work towards the end of filming. It gave me the acting challenge I was looking for.”
Was she disturbed by its gruesome imagery?
“Well, I knew how those special-effects were done, and I’m not going to tell you. And no I don’t have a scar where I stubbed out that cigarette,” she laughed. “That was kinda clever the way they did that. It looked so real.”
Was she worried about doing some of those revealing body scenes? Did she feel comfortable at the time?
“Yes, I did as a matter of fact. At first I didn’t. But David (Cronenberg) was always very kind and considerate. He cleared the set of everybody except himself, James Woods, me, and the cameraman. But as I stood there waiting with my robe on I thought, ‘Oh, I can’t go through with this’ but then I thought well I’ve come this far, I’ve just got to get on with it. I was okay once I’d gotten over that little bit of hesitation.”
Whatever Debbie, or Deborah, decides to do in the future she has no wish to alienate herself from the fans who’ve grown up with her.
She was positive on that particular point but not so sure as to what she wants to call herself in the future. I left her to sort out that career dilemma, and to face her next interview……