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Deborah Harry still in sync with punk spirit

reuters.com – 24th October 2008

By Kerri Mason

NEW YORK (Billboard) – With three decades in the business and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you’d think the outlaw spirit that once guided Debbie Harry’s life and career might have faded by now, replaced by the pragmatic conservatism of a career artist.

But get the eternally young 63-year-old talking about the past, and she still revels in her iconoclastic moments.

“Probably one of the first people to be outrageously inventive in crossing over was (Bob) Dylan,” says Harry. “He took electronic instruments into folk. People were completely outraged; they were furious. Really, this was hell. This was committing complete sacrilege. That’s the same response we got when we did ‘Heart of Glass.’ We had committed sacrilege. Rock ‘n’ roll people were completely offended and wouldn’t even talk to us. It was great. We thought, ‘My God, we did what Dylan did. That’s outstanding. What could be more punk than that?'”

The creative flame still burns bright for Harry, who inspired a generation of frontwomen as lead singer of Blondie, the band that revolutionized music and fashion in the late ’70s. And “the most beautiful girl in any room, in any city, on any planet” — as Shirley Manson introduced her at the 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony — didn’t stop there, extending her career into solo work, jazz collaborations and acting.


When Harry moved to a chaotic, poor and artistically explosive New York in the late ’60s, she worked tables at Max’s Kansas City and picked clothes out of the trash. She formed Blondie with guitarist Chris Stein in 1975, when she was 30. Combining new wave and punk sensibilities with a varied palette of sounds — from disco to reggae to rock — Blondie defiantly pioneered the idea of organic crossover. Harry’s commanding alto and sly glam-punk style provided the perfect representation of the ideal.

“Because I was young and cute, I got away with a lot,” she says. “Or youngish and cute, I should say.”

Seminal songs like “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me” and “Rapture” — the first song involving a rap to go No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — changed the idea of what a pop song could be.

“By the time we got to ‘Rapture’ we kind of knew what was going on,” says Harry, who co-wrote the song with Stein. “We were both so urban and so influenced by so many different things and embracing so many different things. Chris is a very ingenious guy, and I have to really give him credit for a lot of his insights about how we would combine things. I think that’s probably what drew us together. We really loved doing that kind of crossover.”


When Blondie disbanded in 1982, Harry embarked on a solo career, which has yielded five albums. The band reunited in 1997 and continues to tour and record. Harry is also a member of jazz collective the Jazz Passengers and an accomplished actress, appearing in adventurous independent films like “Spun” and “Heavy” and on the small screen in such shows as “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Absolutely Fabulous.”

Harry says she doesn’t think there is a music business anymore, but she does find old-school inspiration in the new tools available to artists.

“A lot of people who would quite possibly never venture into becoming a professional musician or entertainer can exercise a moment of feeling, through music, by putting it out on YouTube. They can actually participate,” she says. “One of the great aspects about music is performance. Concerts in the ’60s were like tribal events. Everybody was there, and it was all about peace and love and the music. There was this embodiment of this sort of vibe that took over the whole thing. It wasn’t just people going to a concert. I think separating everyone, and bringing them back together through the Internet, is coming almost full circle, in a very odd way. It’s like a sharing of a mind, an electronic version of the mind. It’s very, I don’t know the right word … metaphysical, I guess.”

Ever busy, Harry is working with Stein on new Blondie material. “We are trying to put together a new package of music, and we’re debating about how we want to release this stuff, how we want to expose it to the public,” she says. “It’s a new dilemma. But I’m really excited about it.”



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