Sunday Independent

(Irish newspaper)

29th April 1990

DECLAN LYNCH profiles Debbie Harry, ‘one of the more interesting female pop icome’, who performs at the National Stadium next month.

Debbie Harry… a million-dollar face.
Illustration by Jim Cogan

No dumb blonde

NORMAL people tend not to bother themselves with such intricacies, but to those who maintain an ongoing interest in the aesthetics of pop music, its merit can be determined by reference to two broad general categories: that which is played by idiots and that which is played by intelligent people who only pretend to be idiots if the circumstances call for it.

I suppose it implies an element of snobbery, but it’s nice to know that someone has enough sense to realise that there is a strong element of the ridiculous in their chosen medium while still keeping a straight enough face to be true to its best qualities.

Blondie, who dominated the early part of the pop decade, not only thrashed all-comers in the vulgar marketplace, they also figured in all the ‘right’ record collections. The aficionados could see how artfully they had matched pieces together, and the kids also gave a unanimous vote to its irresistible three-minute perfection.

Debbie Harry, or Deborah as she now prefers to be known, who plays the National Stadium next month is one of the more interesting female pop icons, particularly when you consider that she must have been thirtysomething when Blondie were at their peak, but could still do a convincing impression of jailbait.

Female singing stars are often only regarded as serious human beings when they consciously disdain an ‘image’, let their hair grow as God vaguely intended it to, and take to wailing heavy blues numbers about how awful life is, and how that lyin’, cheatin’ lover-man just upped and left them. Many a crime has been committed in the name of credibility, thus the wide devotion to the very overrated Janis Joplin, in whom so many mistook soul for overwrought indulgence. As a dissenting commentator put it: “Aretha Franklin is Soul. Janis Joplin is just emotion”.

Many diehard rock fans don’t seem to see the contradiction in Janis Joplin and all the lesser lights who followed her non-style being regarded as symbols of liberation while still proclaiming themselves as victims, wallowing in their pain, alternating between well-lubricated raunch and a strong impulse to throw themselves in the river when things are looking black.

Debbie Harry, meanwhile, would be considered a trivial glamour-puss because she was savvy enough not to overdo the histrionics. ‘Once I had a love, and it was a gas, soon turned out to be a pain in the ass.’ This seems a bit more liberated than reaching for the Parazone at the end of an affair.

Deborah, who must now be on the troublesome side of fortysomething, had a static kind of presence which tended to focus attention all the more on that million-dollar face. This could either be put down to good acting or the stage-fright which crippled her to such an extent that in earlier days, she would sometimes hide behind the speakers in shame. But certainly, next to someone like Madonna, her actual movements were non-existent. A raised eyebrow, a curled lip, a conspiratorial wink were all that was required.

The voice, which mightn’t have got past the first test of many school choirs, was ideal for the high pop aesthetics of Blondie, who knew that pop can be at its most beguiling when it sounds like it’s coming from a bored 16-year-old with an attitude.

Depending on who you’re listening to, Deborah Harry is either a groupie who got lucky around the New York new wave scene on 1976/77, or a highly intelligent and sophisticated New York arty-type.

Blondie ceased operations when her paramour and the main architect of the group’s sound, Chris Stein, fell ill with one of those mysterious debilitating ailments which are almost too rare to have a name. Deborah retired for a time to nurse him back to health.

She’s acted in a few films, getting good reviews for her part in Videodrome, and had a regular role in the TV series Wiseguy. She wrote and sang on the soundtracks of Scarface and American Gigolo and recently release the solo album, Deaf, Dumb and Blonde.

As Blondie, thought, she was in her element, strangely insubstantial, but leaving just the right amount of gaps which the world was delighted to fill in.

A dumb blonde? I think not, unless you choose to be deaf and blind.

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