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Sunday Herald

May 9th 2004

Written by: Jane Wright

PICTURE this. February ’78 and a whirling dervish of an American blonde bombshell hits Britain’s pop charts with a bunch of almost identical Frankenstein-y looking guys. Who can forget Blondie in those early days?
Perfectly post-punk, the glamorous singer Debbie Harry was something else. With her skunky-striped blonde hair, her dirty, laughing, sneer that out-Elvised Elvis and those paint-on-perfect cupid-bow lips, she soon secured her place in pop history as the ultimate rock chick, and no one has come near since. Certainly not Madonna, and compared with the Britneys, Christinas and even Pinks of today, Harry was always effortlessly sexy and cool. She never had to try hard, to fake it, to live up to some plastic princess ideal of a record company’s marketing department. Which made her all the more real and wonderful.
You could never imagine Harry lip-synching so she could concentrate on her carefully choreographed moves. Harry was anything but choreographed. Funny, spontaneous and unselfconscious, she threw herself and her mic stand around with wild abandon. She was the business.
This month, more than quarter of a century later, Mick Rock’s photographs of Harry and Blondie are published in a book called Picture This, and we’ve asked Texan Sharleen Spiteri to take us through her favourite pics of her Blondie pal, still looking good, sounding good, making records and touring. Illuminating and perceptive, Spiteri manages not to be blinded by the fact that Harry is a friend and it makes fascinating reading, so tune in on page 12.

Parallel quines
Written by: Sharleen Spiteri
Photography by: Mick Rock
Sharleen Spiteri has been a fan from a young age, but since she met Debbie Harry in the late Nineties, her respect for the original rock chick has grown and grown. To coincide with the publication of a new book of photographs by Mick Rock, the Texas singer explains what made Blondie so great and why she finds her famous friend inspirational.
“I’ll be 37 this year, so when I was growing up Blondie were one of the biggest bands. They really stood out and didn’t sound like anyone else, especially with Debbie Harry singing. She’s such a great singer, which is rarely talked about. To this day, if she stands up and sings in front of you, she’s amazing.
“She’s one of the most stunning women I have ever seen, but she was never awkward about it, which sometimes beautiful women are. When I was a teenager, I felt closer to Patti Smith because of the way she looked – dark hair and androgynous. But although Debbie was really beautiful and womanly, she was really androgynous at the same time as well. Look at the photograph (left) of her against the blue background where she’s holding the scarf in front of her. It’s very Kim Wilde, but sometimes it makes me think of David Sylvian. You can look at it and think it is either a boy or a girl.
“If Debbie was just some blonde, nobody would think she was the epitome of sex. It’s because she is androgynous that they do think that. She’s tough and sexy and beautiful. When you’re a woman in a band of men, working with men every day of the week, there’s a certain persona you take on. I don’t know if I’d call it a toughness, you just have to be a member of the band; you’ve got to be a person before you’re a woman. I think Debbie had that, and I think that’s probably why men find her very sexy. She’s not playing on being a woman. She never showed a lot of flesh. There’s no tits and ass with Debbie Harry.
“She says that a good photo-shoot is sometimes as good as sex, and I think that’s true. If there’s no sexual tension between you and the photographer, whether it’s a man or a woman, then you’re not going to get a good session. That’s because when you’ve got something sexual going on, you’re at your least guarded, you’re at your most natural. It’s the part of you that people don’t often get to see, so to make a great photograph that’s got to be there. I see that in a lot of these photographs.
“I always feel very comfortable around Debbie. I met her through one of my best friends, who said ‘You should meet Debbie, she’d love you, let’s go for dinner.’ That was in the late Nineties. When I first met her I was amazed by how much that smile and those eyes sparkled. It was exactly the way I remembered her from being a kid and watching her on TV. Those really sparkly eyes and that really gummy smile. You can see it in the other blue photograph, where she’s holding the scarf out. I’ve got that scarf now, by the way. She also gave me the black-and-white striped outfit from the Heart Of Glass video, a little thigh-length black dress and one of her one-shoulder dresses.
“To me, Debbie Harry’s smile was as iconic as Elvis’s sneer. I remember as a kid trying to do that smile, trying to get my lip up, so it was amazing to meet her and see her smiling that smile. You know that sense where you meet someone who has grown a bit older, and all that youth and innocence is mixed in with knowledge? It’s quite an amazing thing to see. Her whole personality just shines.
“Debbie knows how much I love what she does now and has done in the past. She knows how much of an influence she has been on me, but in no way am I sycophantic around her. She knows I have so much respect for her, but she also knows that it goes past her being a blonde woman with a nice dress on. She can tell from the kind of woman I am how she has influenced me.
“Her whole presence on stage is very important to me. I loved her arrogance. She was 100 per cent sure of what she was doing. For me, Debbie Harry used a mic stand like no one else. She seemed to be saying ‘I really love my mic stand; annoy me and I’ll hit you with it.’ If you look at any footage of Debbie playing live, she worked that stage like you could not believe – throwing herself around, dancing, singing, putting her whole everything into it. She really sang those songs. There was real passion and belief there. She would play off of everything her band was doing. She would screw up her face and sing. She was a real musician and a real performer.
“The contact sheet of Debbie and the rest of Blondie makes me smile. I’ve done a million shoots like this, and I know the closeness and the friendship that’s there. They are very much a band, very much a complete unit there, yet the focus was so often on Debbie. They were massive and really influential, but if you were to ask the public what the rest of Blondie looked like, 90 per cent of them would find it very difficult.
“In Texas, it’s an unwritten rule that that’s the way it is, and if you don’t like it, tough f**king luck. My band accepts that the focus is going to be on me. They are secure in themselves as human beings, and nobody in the band is trying to be anything else but a guitar player, a drummer or whatever.
“This picture of Debbie in the blue leather jacket (above) shows how amazing she is. A lot of women are scared of growing old, scared of looking bad, scared of suddenly being three sizes bigger than they were. We’re obsessed by those things nowadays, but Debbie isn’t scared of any of that. She isn’t trying to hide who she is or be what’s expected of her, which is anorexic and looking 35 when she’s not 35. I find Debbie Harry an absolute inspiration, 100 per cent. To me, she’s a true woman.”
Sharleen Spiteri was talking to Peter Ross
Picture This: Debbie Harry And Blondie is published by Sanctuary, £29.99. For more information on Mick Rock, visit Blondie play the Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow, June 22 and the Playhouse, Edinburgh, June 23. The Texas album Careful What You Wish For is out now.

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