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28th October 1989



Life’s a bleach and then you dye. Bouncing back into the fray with her current hit single ‘I Want That Man’ DEBORAH aka DEBBIE HARRY sprays our own BARBARA ELLEN with tales of Bunny Girls, beauty, Blondie and Warhol. Did Debbie ever want to be a nun? Read on. Pictures: DEREK RIDGERS

Back in the late ’70s, when I was so young my mother still dressed me up in Elephant cords and tank-tops, I used to spend every Thursday night cross-legged in front of the box shouting encouragement at Top Of The Pops.
On one such fine evening Blondie appeared to perform ‘Denis’ for the first time on British TV. My father took one look and fainted into the coal scuttle. Dressed in a leatherette sexsuit and thigh boots (natty dresser, your dad then? – Ed), tossing a wreck of blonde hair over one shoulder, Debbie Harry looked like a Thunderbird puppet that had tasted the blood of Dracula and lived.
This, I reasoned, was surely a girl with Everything. A stare as sexy as death. A smile like a new Tomorrow. And a voice that seemed warm enough at first but could transform itself into a pillar of ice at will.
British pop kids had simply never seen anything like it before. The country became a hotbed of sexually repressed hysteria. Virile young men spend entire days bent double over their aching manhoods. Older folk found relief through incontinence. Girls went green like traffic lights.
To her supporters, Debbie Harry represents the poetry of the red light district: sex gear; the freedom to soar; delicious despair; lust; and that gorgeous, lifeless hair. Many dyed their hair blonde. Mine went orange. Debbie Harry is not easy to emulate. She just makes it look easy.
Blondie enjoyed tremendous chart success in the group’s short span (they disbanded in ’82), managing to encapsulate the hot and cold duality of their rock/pop persona in every one of their early singles.
Debbie was by now role model and Anti-Christ rolled into one. One minute the lovelorn suffering WASP. The next a sexual strategist radiant with the moment. A hothead vindicated by beauty and rage.

Blondie’s split was a blow. As were Debbie’s rather insipid solo albums that followed. As films go, her appearance in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (playing a human ashtray) can be forgiven and her portrayal of a pushy mother in John Waters’ Hairspray is a delight.
Now Debbie has a new solo album out called ‘Def, Dumb And Blonde’. The first single – ‘I Want That Man’ – is co-written by The Thompson Twins, which seems to be only worrying me today. Chris Stein – who’s illness effectively broke up Blondie – is present throughout and is so laid-back I swear you can see some of his actions on Slo Mo and Replay.
Debbie is more watchful and earnest. As she curls up on the sofa with a coffee you realise she looks ten times better than a woman half her age. In this case me. Part of me is thrilled for her. The other part looks for signs of face scrapes and tucks (Hey, my honour’s at stake here). No dice. She’s just plain beautiful…

BL: What dreams did you have as an adolescent?
DH: “Probably to be doing this… I knew I wanted to be some kind of actor or performer…”

Did you ever want to be a nurse or a nun?

Are you religious at all?
“I have very strong beliefs but I haven’t belonged to an organised religious group since I was living at home with my parents.”

You didn’t go through the obligatory ‘Pop Star As Buddhist’ trip?
“HA!… No.”

Strange, I thought it was compulsory. Do you agree that – ‘If life is not intoxicating it is nothing’?
“There should be moments like that but to be intoxicated constantly would be destructive. I like reading, that’s terrifically intoxicating in itself. Just not in the same way as a really wild show… or landing a part in a film… “I get called up by directors nowadays. Okay, the parts go to more famous people but at least I’m getting interviews. That’s a great step in the right direction.”

I bet working with John Waters on Hairspray was a riot.
“John’s terrific. A Very strange person… He gets really involved with serial killers and people like that… I think it’s an interesting phenomenon and I have a bit of natural curiosity but it’s not like you ever really want to meet those people…”
“What about Billy Goodwin?,” says Stein. “We knew him… He killed his girlfriend,” he explains to me. “He boiled her on top of a stove, boiled all the skin off her then put her skulls and bones in a bucket…”
“Oh yeah,” Debbie continues, “then he put them in a locker at the bus station. He was like, real ordinary. He’d wander around with a smile like blueberry pie… He came on to me so many times. He used to come on to all the girls and tell them he was Jesus. He was actually sort of handsome looking.
“Then, after he’d done it, he became really ravaged. He used to come to all our gigs…”

You’ve had your fair share of psycho superfans then?
Chris: “Yeah, like Jeffrey Lee Pierce. He used to run Debbie’s fan club. He even dyed his hair blond. The way he idolized her was hilarious. Now he has his own group, his own fan club. He has this crazy kid just like him doing one for him. This kid is just fascinated. He spend all his time chronicling Jeffrey’s decline.
“It’s just funny… I remember the days we used to have to drag him out of our hotel room and throw him into the hall. He was very… er… attentive towards Debbie and a bit much sometimes, but he was cute.”

Have you ever acted like fans?
Debbie: “In Andy Warhol’s diaries it mentions that one time we were going down to a book store on Long Island to sign copies of Interview (Warhol’s magazine)… Andy wrote how I was being so nice to not complain… and all the time I was just sitting there thinking – ‘Wow gee, I’m driving in a car with Andy Warhol’. He was worried that I was bored. I felt just the opposite. I felt like I was riding with the gods…”

Instead of telling Debbie what I really think of Debbie Harry’s favourite man. (Warhol had the look and personality of tree bark) I instead confess my male friends’ lurid tales of top-speed masturbation and poster-fondling in her name. Debbie’s face creases in humour.
I don’t know why I half-expected her to be cross. The prismatic shape, the lidded, formidable eyes were made for such outpourings. Debbie Harry can’t be shocked. (She once worked as a Playboy Bunny waitress for chrissakes).
But when she quits being hypnotized by what looks like a secret joke in her head she’ll probably get a bit bored. After all, how many men have self combusted – just because she walks into a room? I wait for La Harry to be dismissive. Instead, Debbie whistles softly, blowing her hair away from her face: “Sounds like it’s their problem not mine… In a way I suppose it’s quite flattering.”

Is there a downside to being so beautiful?
“No, I think I’m really spoiled, really lucky. It’s nice to be pretty. What could possibly be bad about it?”

Many attractive women in the public eye find they have a fight on their hands to be taken seriously.
“Things have changed a lot. In the early days I was totally run down for being sexual. I was attacked vehemently by everybody. They said I was cheap, that I was exploiting my sexuality. It was quite the reverse of Madonna. I was ten years too soon…”
“Pah,” exclaims Stein, freeze/framing over the teapot. “I first knew Madonna was gonna make it when I saw some dirty remarks about her scrawled on the subway. But Debbie was the first female to go out there and face all that shit. They crucified her… for nothing, for showing her underwear onstage. They all thought it was calculated. They were wrong, they were hypocrites… This is an old quote of mine – but I always said if Debbie had come out onstage siting on a giant cock critics would have been horrified. But Jagger actually did that. He rode out onstage on top of a giant cock. And it was all nudge, nudge and ‘ohhh, how cute’…”

Two pricks for the price of one, I’d say…
“Well, yeah… and that double standard was there.”

Despite all that, are you glad Blondie broke through when they did and not now in the cynical ’80s?
“Yeah, because it was the last pure scene. Anything like that now would get immediate media attention unless it’s really out in the sticks… Like in Liverpool around the time of The Beatles, our scene got a chance to develop a little before everybody jumped on it…
“Now New York – America – is so jaded nobody gets anything off the ground.”

Whenever I’ve flicked through American ‘Culture’ magazines I’m reminded of early ’80s editions of The Face. All those style warriors wearing felt bananas and tinfoil hats trying to out-pillock Leigh Bowery…
“Yeah, well you see stuff in magazines like Details and they only take pictures of people who dress like that. It’s all they focus on… New York just gets worse and worse,” Stein holds his palms up in the air in gesture of incredulity, “there’s nothing happening… I’d live in Britain if I could afford to move my studio and shit…”
Debbie isn’t so dismissive: “I don’t know… There’s no other place I’d rather live. There’s a great spirit there. And it’s great that all those different people from all different parts of the world live in the same country. You get so used to the… energy, when you go to places that don’t have that element it feels kinda weird… y’know… kinda stiff… I don’t enjoy it as much…?

Did you enjoy being a Playboy Bunny?
“Yeah, it was fun…”

Did the clip-on Bunny ears hurt?
“HA!… No, not very much.”

What did the actual job entail? A friend of mine was once a club hostess. She didn’t have to screw anybody. She just had to con them into buying 80 quid glasses of champagne…
“It wasn’t really like that. The club itself had surprisingly high standards. It wasn’t at all blatant. The Playboy Bunny waitresses never made guys sit down and buy them drinks. It was nothing to do with that.”

Did Hefner get to paw all the pretty girls?
“Oh no… He wouldn’t do that with the waitresses. He was only ever interested in the Playboy Playmates. It was an Inner Circle thing.”

So you never got the summons to don your sunday best Bunny Ears and romp about on Emperor-sized waterbeds?
“Oh no, HAHAHA!… I never even met Hefner. Basically it was just regular waitress work. I’d just get dressed up in a little outfit and go do it. And the money was great.
“People with no skills could go in and make a lot of cash. It was great for them, great for me too.”

Would you pose nude for a centrefold?
“Sure I would. They asked a little while ago in the first Blondie wave… I didn’t do it but I think I would now. Only I don’t think they would ask me…”
“You never know,” beams Stein gallantly, “If this record’s successful…”
“Right,” laughs Debbie, “… but the money would have to be great.”

The most influential woman in pop has a sudden, sharp giggle that must have often been labelled ‘infectious’. She doesn’t know Tracey, she doesn’t know Andrea but she guessed that Wendy James was “in The Primitive…”
Before I say goodbye, she tells me: “The trick is to pursue what makes you happy and not lie down feeling miserable.”
Suddenly! I felt the bone-crushing boredom of music criticism. What a life sitting around grumbling all day, arranging your face into its prettiest sneer. Debbie Harry deals in no such trivialities. She is an icon and icons have parties to go to, well exclusive gigs to perform…

Where is it tonight, then Chris?
“The Thompson Twins party.”
I love my job.

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