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[Photo caption: Debbie Harry at Whisky A Go-Go, Los Angeles, 1977. Photo by Jenny Lens.] [Extract from the Introduction]
Here we are, the second installation of SWINDLE’s Annual Icons Issue. The first time around, we brought you Slash and Twiggy on the cover. This year the imagery is more iconic than ever. We have the triple-whammy cover image: an iconic photo of the iconic Debbie Harry by the iconic photographer Mick Rock. On our second cover we have a shot of Steve Buscemi’s stoic Buster Keaton expression. Inside, we juxtapose famous vintage shots of our icons with new imagery – destined to become classics – of the way they are now.
TIMELESS SEXPOT, VOCALIST, ACTOR
BY CLAW MONEY – PHOTO BY JOE GAFFNEY
Boasting one of the most iconic faces and voices in the world, Debbie Harry was the hallmark of punk style – with those haunting vocals, piercing eyes and ethereal presence. She was there before Madonna and Gwen Stefani, part feline, part chanteuse, part beauty queen, and 100% punk goddess.
Born in Florida in 1945 and adopted by a family from New Jersey, she says she had a typical suburban upbringing. She graduated from Hawthorne High School, and New York City called from across the river. Harry moved to the Lower East Side and worked as a secretary, waitress and Playboy Bunny, all while floating in and out of different bands. After meeting her future band mate and boyfriend Chris Stein, Blondie was formed in 1975 and dropped its self-titled album a year later. That record, and its follow up, Plastic Letters, barely made a mark in the U.S. and found moderate success, mostly in Australia and Europe.
But Blondie’s third album, Parallel Lines, jetted the band into the new wave pop stratosphere in 1978. Utilizing the new medium of the music video, Debbie Harry’s knockout looks and amazing fashion sense – which she credits to stylist Stephen Sprouse – Blondie set the music charts on fire with their crossover hit “Heart of Glass.” Parallel Lines mixed new wave with disco, and was the first of several albums that used this multi-genre style. There was Eat to the Beat in 1979, then the infectious 1980 single “Call Me,” released on the American Gigolo movie soundtrack, followed by the most influential album of this writer’s childhood, Autoamerican – a record that introduced rap and reggae to a whole new audience.
Throughout all this, all eyes were on Debbie. She was the voice and face of the band. Her role as Blondie’s focal point created serious tension.
So in 1982, after the release of Blondie’s sixth studio album, The Hunter, to lukewarm reception, the group disbanded and Debbie went underground to take care of Chris Stein, who was diagnosed with Pemphigus, a potentially fatal autoimmune disorder.
The press went rabid, constantly photographing her coming and going from the hospital as she cared for her beloved. The American public could not believe that a celebrity of her caliber would leave pop stardom behind to be a nurse and a girlfriend. But Harry continued to work, acting in small roles in movies and plays, including Videodrome and Hairspray, while tending to her man.
But the public never forgot her, or her band’s music, and in 1997, Blondie reunited, performing together after 15 years apart. They released “Maria,” which went to number one in Britain, and put the group back in the eyes and ears of their fans.
Of Blondie’s 1997 reunion, Harry says: “It was, in a lot of ways – it was very moving. I had a lot of reservations about it initially, and then when we started playing together, it was as if we hadn’t really stopped. We still had that sound, and that was very exciting. The idea that we were getting together to create new music in the present, and not just dwell on our past and play the hits, it was pretty exciting.”
Blondie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. And Debbie Harry released her sixth solo album, Necessary Evil this year – much to her own surprise. She says, “I actually didn’t start out to make a record. I started out to work out some ideas that I had. I found some people that I really loved working with and it was just fun, really. It ended up that after a couple months I had a whole pile of tunes. I played them for my manager and he said, ‘Oh, lets do something with this.’ That’s how it evolved. It wasn’t some kind of cathartic – it ended up being cathartic, but it didn’t start up with that intention.”
Debbie Harry is now back with Blondie, and she is currently touring to support her solo project. She has a few indie movies in the works – Anamorph, Elegy and House of Boys. She is also one of the featured vocalists on an upcoming album by the Jazz Passengers called, In Love.
Harry is a timeless sexpot who just can’t slow down. When asked if she still enjoys touring, she says, “It’s really tiring, really hard work. I guess you get into the swing of it. I know what to expect now, I know what the routine is. The stress level is a lot less when you know what’s around the bend.”