The Sunday Times – Page 3
Plastic surgery is just like having a flu jab, says Blondie
Debbie Harry has likened cosmetic surgery to “a flu shot” as she admitted she has always exploited her looks.
The Blondie singer, 74, who has previously claimed she had a facelift for “business reasons”, said that the ageing process had been “hard” on her appearance.
In her new memoir, Face It, published on Tuesday and serialised in today’s Magazine, she writes: “I have never hidden the face that I’ve had plastic surgery. I think it’s the same as having a flu shot basically, another way of looking after yourself. If it makes you feel better and look better and work better, that’s what it’s all about.”
Harry, who bleached her hair from the age of 14 to look like Marilyn Monroe, added: “Getting older is hard on your looks. Like everybody else, I have good days, bad days and those ‘Shit, I hope nobody sees me today’ days.”
She said the focus on her appearance during her 50-year career made her worry her only achievement was the image she created. “It’s sometimes made me wonder if I’ve ever accomplished anything beyond my image.”
She supports the #MeToo movement, saying it has enabled women’s voices to be heard about abuse. “This has been happening to women all the time. And everybody is very demeaned by this.”
During the early years of Blondie, a man stole the band’s equipment before raping Harry at knifepoint in New York. She writes bluntly of the ordeal: “In the end, the stolen guitars hurt me more than the rape.” She also believes that she escaped the serial killer Ted Bundy.
WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT
Debbie Harry’s new memoir contains shocking scenes of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll madness. Fasten your seatbelts for a…
HOW IGGY AND DAVID MEASURED UP
Blondie’s first real tour was with Iggy Pop and David Bowie. We played more than 20 shows with them and there was so much to learn. Chris [Stein, Blondie’s guitarist and co-founder, and Harry’s boyfriend] remembers them saying to me, “Use more of the stage, go back and forth.”
At first, not being used to such a big stage, I usually stood in one area. Later, I got into the idea of prancing and dancing around. But there was nobody who could use a stage better than Iggy – except maybe David, who was a superstar at that point but still happy to play the role of the sideman. Iggy would climb on the speakers and sing and flaunt his amazing, muscular body – and the girls in the audience would take off their underwear and fling it on stage and sit there with their legs open, flashing beaver.
One time David and Iggy were looking for some blow. Their connection in New York had suddenly died and they were out. A friend had given me a gram, but I had barely touched it. I didn’t care for coke too much – it made me jittery and wired and it affected my throat. So I went upstairs with my vast quantity of cocaine and they just sucked it right up in one swoop. After they did the blow, David pulled out his cock – as if I were the official cock checker or something. Since I was in an all-male band, maybe they figured I really was the cock check lady. David’s size was notorious, and he loved to pull it out with both men and women. It was so funny, adorable and sexy.
I had to wonder why Iggy didn’t let me have a closer look at his dick…
ATTACKED IN NEW YORK
There first seven years of Blondie felt insane. It was always a trip to play at CBGBs. One night, we strolled the two blocks back to the rent-controlled apartment that Chris had. As we reached the front door that night, a dude came up from behind us with a knife. He looked a lot like Jimi Hendrix, very stylish and cool, dressed in a full-length leather coat.
His pinned, hard eyes looked very serious. He wanted money; what else? Of course, we were broke.
“Jimi” wanted more than what we had on us and insisted on coming in with us. He asked us for drugs and Chris said there was some acid in the freezer. But this “Jimi” was no acid freak and ignored that particular offer. “Jimi” used a pair of old pantyhose to tie Chris to the post that held up the loft bed – and used a scarf to tie my wrists behind my back. Told me to lie down on the mattress. Then he poked around searching for anything worth anything. He piled up the guitars and Chris’s camera and then he untied my hands and told me to take off my pants. He f***** me. And then he said, “Go clean yourself,” and left.
And we were feeling so good after our show that night. A delicious feeling of satisfaction mixed with flirtation. Then, whack! An adrenaline rush with a knife at the end of it. I can’t say that I felt a lot of fear. I’m very glad this happened pre-Aids or I might have freaked.
In the end, the stolen guitars hurt me more than the rape. I mean, we had no equipment. Chris had this tiny little amp that picked up the police radio signal and a bunch of white noise. Then other bands kept stealing our musicians too.
Looking back, it seems absurd that we ever made it.
The scene was starting to change. Patti Smith and the Ramones both had record deals. Blondie had become a recognisable name in some small way, but nobody in the music business was looking at us. Chris was on welfare, I was a bikini bartender in the financial district, and we occasionally sold some pot to make a few bucks. At this point Blondie was an underdog, way down at the bottom of the heap. There were times I felt, what’s the point, it’s just too hopeless.
ESCAPING A SERIAL KILLER
One night, I heard there was some kind of party on West Houston Street. I was at my friends’ apartment, and since they didn’t want to come with me I started walking from their place alone – all the way across town – in my very highest platforms. It was around two in the morning. Walking maybe a mile or more in those shoes was quickly becoming impossible, so I started looking for a cab. But in those days taxis never cruised Alphabet City. It was too dangerous.
While I had been trying to find a cab, there had been a small white car circling me. Finally, it pulled alongside of me and the driver asked quietly, “Do you need a ride?” I was never a hitchhiker, not once in my life, even during the hippie years when it was the thing to do. It never appealed to me to get into a stranger’s car. I said, “No, thanks,” and kept trying to tiptoe across Houston. The driver didn’t give up. He circled a few more times, stopping each time to see if I’d changed my mind about that ride. I finally realised that I wasn’t getting anywhere, so on his next circuit, I took him up on his offer and got into the car.
My first impression of the driver was that he was not bad looking. Short, dark hair with a bit of a wave or a curl – in fact, good-looking – and wearing dark pants and a white business shirt open at the neck. After I thanked him for picking me up, there was no conversation, he just kept driving in silence.
Right away, though, his stench started to reach me. A fierce body odour that almost burnt my eyes. It was very, very hot in the car, but the windows were barely cracked open. So I reached for the crank to roll down my window. But there was no window crank. And no handle to open the door from the inside. That’s when I saw the dashboard was just a metal frame with holes for the radio and glove box, and the whole car had been stripped of everything. A sensation hit me then that I will never forget. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Every instinct was on full alert. Somehow I squeezed my arm through the crack in the window and sort of jumped up in my seat and managed to open the car door from the outside.
When he saw what I was doing, he stepped on it and swung a fast left turn, which threw me out of the open door and onto my ass in the middle of the road. But I wasn’t really hurt and luckily he didn’t come back. I picked myself up and hurried the last two and a half blocks to the party. I had not thought about that night for maybe 15 years until one day, on a flight to LA, I read a story about Ted Bundy, the serial killer. He had just been executed in Florida in the electric chair. There was a photo of him. He gave the journalist a description of his car and of his modus operandi and how he got his victims, and it matched exactly what had happened to me. My story has been debunked since, because Bundy is said to have been in Florida at that time and not NYC. But it was him.
EVERYBODY DID DRUGS
The very first time I did heroin was with Gil Fields, a strange-looking guy with a great big Afro and startling blue eyes. I remember him tapping out this tiny little line of grey powder. And we snorted it up. And I felt a kind of rush I’d never felt before. And I thought, Oh, this is so nice, so relaxing, aah, I don’t have to think about things. For those times when I wanted to blank out parts of my life or when I was dealing with some depression, there was nothing better than heroin. Nothing.
Everybody on the scene did drugs. That’s how it was back then, part of your social life, part of the creative process, chic and fun and really just there. No one thought about the consequences; I can’t remember if any of us even knew the consequences. It may sound strange when you’re talking about drugs, but it was a more innocent time. They weren’t doing scientific studies and setting up methadone clinics; if you wanted to do drugs you did drugs and if you got hung up or got sick, you were on your own.
PHIL SPECTOR TAKES AIM
Backstage at the Whisky a Go Go in LA: a man came upstairs dressed entirely in black, including his hair, his beard and his moustache. He wore a cape, aviator shades, a huge cross on a chain and an “In the Flesh” button on his lapel. Phil Spector. He was flanked by two tall, good-looking, impeccably dressed twins who were his entourage that night. They ushered the Ramones and everyone except us out of the room. While the twins stood by the door, keeping everyone out – or maybe keeping us in – Phil kept up a long monologue into the early hours of the morning.
Buried somewhere within the endless ramble was an invitation to his mansion. Phil’s walled mansion was really quite close to the Strip. Chris remembers Phil greeting us with a Colt 45 in one hand and a bottle of Manischewitz [sweet kosher wine] in the other.
Everyone had to sit down; Phil didn’t want anyone walking around. Then he sat at his piano and started playing. He wanted me to sit on the bench next to him and sing Be My Baby and some Ronettes songs with him. He kept making me sing and sing. I really didn’t want to, but Phil was not to be denied. Then, a little later, when we were sitting on the couch, Phil took out his gun, stuck it into the top of my thigh-high leather boot and said, “Bang, bang!”
Phil was working with Leonard Cohen at that time and he took us into the music room, wanting to play us something, but he played it at top volume so it just sounded distorted.
He was a genius, he had a gun and his paranoia was enormous – and that doesn’t always end well. I do find it sad he’s in prison – sadder still for the poor woman he lured to his mansion then shot and killed.
POSING FOR WARHOL
Fame was a sensual sort of feeling, initially. It felt like having sex, a wash of electricity coursing through your fingers and up your legs, sometimes a flushed feeling at the base of your throat. It was exciting, but strangely anticlimactic. There was no time to really take it in.
Andy Warhol would ask us to dinner sometimes. He didn’t eat much; he’d often cover up his plate with a napkin and take it with him and leave it on a ledge somewhere for a hungry street person. Later on, he invited us to his parties at the Factory on Union Square and threw a party for us at Studio 54 when Heart of Glass went to No 1 in America. The idea of Andy doing my portrait came up; at some point, he had remarked that if he could have anyone else’s face, it would be mine.
How it worked was that first Andy took some photos of you. After taking the Polaroids, he would show them to us and ask quietly – Andy was very soft-spoken – “Well, which one would you like?” But I said, “That’s really up to you.” He’s the artist; it seemed to be the safest thing to have him choose. The portrait has taken on a life of its own – reproduced countless times and exhibited in numerous galleries worldwide. I still have that original Warhol.
I can’t imagine parting with it.
ON BEING A SEX SYMBOL
When I was a baby, my doctor gave me a lingering look. And then he turned in his white coat, grinned at my parents, and said, “Watch out for that one, she has bedroom eyes.” Even as a little girl, I always attracted sexual attention.
By the time I was 14, I was dyeing my hair. I wanted to be platinum blonde. In my time, Marilyn Monroe was the biggest platinum blonde on the silver screen. I identified with her strongly in ways I couldn’t easily articulate. So much of what has been written about me has been about how I look. It’s sometimes made me wonder if I’ve ever accomplished anything beyond my image. Getting older is hard on your looks. Like everybody else, I have good days, bad days and those “Shit, I hope nobody sees me today” days. I have never hidden the fact that I’ve had plastic surgery. I think it’s the same as having a flu shot basically, another way of looking after yourself. If it makes you feel better and look better and work better, that’s what it’s all about, so you take advantage of the new possibilities that come into your life. I think I have finally figured out a way of understanding myself. Some days I’m happy with the way I look and sometimes I’m not, and it’s always been that way. But I’m not blind and I’m not stupid: I take advantage of my looks and I use them.
AND THEN IT FELL APART
1982. Chris was sick. Very sick. I have pictures of him where he was emaciated and weighed 110lb. He was unable to eat. He was having a terrible time swallowing anything. Chris thought he had Aids, or that he had cancer, or he was dying, and none of the doctors could give him an answer.
We went back to our new home on the Upper East Side. It was a huge townhouse with five floors. A symbol of our success. Money had started coming in at last and it was our accountant’s idea that we should buy this place. He was the one who set up the deal. The house was so big it had an elevator.
All Chris and I did at that point was to go from doctor to doctor, all of them saying, “We don’t know what it is.” I would try to make something he could eat. I would take a whole chicken and pulverise it, making it as much of a purée as I could, but he couldn’t even swallow that. The only thing he could swallow was Tofutti, an ice cream made from tofu that was cool and soothing and would just slide down his blistered throat. We felt so desperate and so isolated from hiding his strange illness from the world. We were terrified.
Then, one morning, I woke up and Chris looked horrific; his legs were swollen. I said: “Ive had it, that’s it!” And called up a doctor. One look at Chris and he got us into the emergency room. After a couple of weeks, another doctor was able to correctly diagnose the disease. During those two weeks, Chris had been put in isolation and no one could go into the room unless they were masked and gowned. All the nurses thought that he had Aids and many of them refused even to go into his room.
What Chris had was pemphigus vulgaris, a rare and complex disorder of the autoimmune system. Until not so long ago, it would kill more than 90% of its victims.
Chris stayed in hospital for three months. I stayed with him most of the time. The press were trying to portray me as the second coming of Mother Teresa, but that’s ridiculous. We were partners. Of course I would look after him.
The heroin was a great consolation. Desperate times, desperate measures, as the cliché goes. I would head out in the middle of the night and score by myself. Fortunately, at that time in downtown New York City, it was a chic drug, so my connections were more like colleagues rather than some stereotype lurking in a back alley.
It took Chris two or three years to recover fully. We had lost our band. We had lost our record deal. And we were about to lose our home. We were broke. What else could you be but broke when you’ve sold more than 40m records, you’re at the top of your career, and you’ve worked nonstop for seven years with no vacation? Because: that’s the music biz. Musicians are often notoriously shambolic at taking care of business, which leaves the window wide open for the wolves to come loping in. We had terrible contracts and the people we paid to look after us were naturally more concerned with what was in it for them.
It turned out that we had huge tax problems. Unbeknown to us, our accountant hadn’t paid our taxes for two years – the two years when we were making the most money. I suppose he just kept getting extensions, trying to look for loopholes and tax shelters, which might be one reason for the big townhouse on East 72nd Street.
We didn’t just lose our house. The IRS [Internal Revenue service] took away everything they could lay their claws on. They took my car. They even took my coats – which was bizarre. They kept looking for things that were valuable, but we really didn’t have that much. They couldn’t get their greedy little hands on my Warhol because I’d already taken it to a usurer, who had his own claim on it. The sickest thing of all was that the IRS took away our health insurance while Chris was in the hospital.
Debbie Harry 2019. Extracted from Face It: A Memoir by Debbie Harry (HarperCollins £20), published on Tuesday
I was adopted and renamed Deborah
My parents must have met around 1930, in high school, I figure. Childhood sweethearts. She was a middle-class girl, Scots-Irish, and he was a farm boy, French, living somewhere in New Jersey.
Her mom ruled that he was the wrong kind for her daughter. She nixed the relationship and their love was axed. To further kill any contact, they banished her to music school, and from there she supposedly began touring concert halls in Europe and North America.
Many years go by. He’s married now, with lots of children. He works at a fuel company, repairing oil burners. One day, he heads our on a service call and, boom, there she is. She’s leaning against the doorframe, hair down, and she’s looking at him with that look.
All those years, maybe they never stopped loving each other. Well, it must have been a wonderful reunion. She gets pregnant. He finally tells her he’s married with kids. She’s heartbroken and she ends it, but she wants to keep the baby. On Sunday, July 1, 1945, little Angela Trimble forced her way into the world.
She and the baby made their way back to New Jersey, where her mother was dying from breast cancer. She nursed them both. But her mom persuaded her to put Angela up for adoption. And so she did. Six months later, her mother was dead and her baby daughter was living with a childless couple also from New Jersey. Richard and Cathy Harry, from Paterson, had met socially after high school. Angela’s new parents, also known as Caggie and Dick, gave her a new name: Deborah.
I would fantasise about who my birth parents were. Around the late Eighties, I decided to try to find out. I hired a detective and sent him to find my mother. He tracked down her address and drove to her house. He rang the bell and my mother came to the door.
When the detective said why he had come, she came outside and closed the door behind her. According to the detective, she said, “Please don’t ever bother me again.” She wanted no contact. She must have been quite old at that time. I found out who my father was too, and that he had died at the age of 74.
Recently, I called up the agency from which I was adopted. The laws had changed, things were more open now, and the woman who worked there said she would do a search for me. She was successful. I have found out some things, though the results are not particularly exotic. Just grounding. It seems that I come from a long line of plumbers on my father’s side and amateur musicians on my mother’s side. I found out that I have siblings, half brothers and sisters, and even a disturbed, incarcerated nephew. The agency finally reached one of my half brothers. And, according to the agency’s representative, he just said that I had ruined his family. I was a home-wrecker, heartbreaker. Me, this innocent little baby, a home-wrecker, a heartbreaker.
“I guess I’m just an animal”
Some of Debbie Harry’s exploits sound less like living the dream and more like a nightmare. Now 75, in an exclusive interview she says that’s not how it was
When I heard that Debbie Harry was publishing her memoir, I felt a bit sorry for her ghost writer. I had interviewed the Blondie singer a few years ago, and every time I’d asked anything about her 50-year career she’d look madly bored and kept saying, “Let’s not dwell on the past.” Magnificently languid, maddeningly vague, she was far too cool to remember a thing. The mind boggled to think how anyone was going to get Harry’s full life story out of her.
Luckily, I was half wrong. Face It is a riot of jaw-dropping rock’n’roll anecdotes, packed with sex, drugs and pretty much everyone who was anyone in the 1970s and 1980s – Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Miles Davis, Muhammad Ali. We get Patti Smith gate-crashing Blondie’s auditions for a new drummer and Hells Angels setting fire to her apartment block. Lots of the stories are funny, but many will make post-#MeToo readers’ hair stand on end – indecent exposure, stalking, abduction and rape, among them. What the book neglects to mention, though, is how Harry felt, or what she thought, about anything. We meet after the photoshoot at the Savoy hotel, not a famously rock’n’roll venue, but Harry’s outfit – sheer blouse, platinum locks, bovver boots – suggests she didn’t get that memo. At 74, her feline sultriness remains as unmistakable as her astonishing cheekbones, and she carried herself with the effortless certainty of someone who knows she is always the coolest person in the room. Less laconic that the last time we met, she’s more disposed to try and engage, but self-examination doesn’t come naturally. She seems puzzled by the idea that her book leaves any questions unanswered.
“I thought I did explain.” She shrugs. “What can I say?”
Born Angela Trimble in 1945, she was adopted at three months by a God-fearing middle-American couple, and grew up in a small-town New Jersey with a profound sense that this was not where she belonged. As a teenager she would sneak off to go dancing and make out with guys, and at 20 she hightailed it to New York and a world of Janis Joplin gigs, beatnik loft parties and a job in a head shop, “an ideal place to meet people looking to break some rules”. After rattling around in underground bands for years, working as a waitress and a Playboy bunny whole playing everything from hippie folk to punk rock, Harry and her boyfriend, the guitarist Chris Stein, formed Blondie. By 1979 they were at No 1 with Heart of Glass, one of a string of hits from their platinum-selling album Parallel Lines, and Harry’s face was plastered across bedroom walls all over the world.
By then, the traditional rock star pitfalls – bickering band members, rows with the record label, rampant drug use – were already threatening to undo them. It was Stein’s collapse from a rare autoimmune disease that signalled the beginning of the end. Blondie broke up, and for a while the couple struggled on. But in 1987 – on the day Andy Warhol died – she and Stein split. The party was over.
Only, it wasn’t. Stein and Harry remain tight friends and collaborators to this day; she is close to his wife, and godmother to their two daughters. In 1997 Blondie re-formed, hit No 1 with Maria, and are still releasing albums. Harry never married but has dated me and women, and lives in Chelsea, New York, with her dogs.
To be both a sex symbol and a feminist icon is a complicated identity. Sexual norms that sound extraordinary today still seem unremarkable to Harry. On a family vacation when she was 11, she and her cousin dolled themselves up in stolen make-up and giggled off into town, where they soon attracted the attention of two men in their late thirties who asked them out. The girls didn’t realise the men had followed them home, until 11pm that night, when the men knocked at their front door. Harry’s parents “just thought it was hilarious” – not least as one of the men happened to be the famous jazz drummer Buddy Rich. Her parents were so tickled, in face, they led the men to their bedroom to show them the girls, now tucked up in bed, faces scrubbed clean and clearly children. Everyone fell about laughing, and a few weeks later a signed photo of Rich dropped through their letterbox.
“The whole situation was kind of funny, really,” Harry chuckles fondly. Looking back now, doesn’t her parents’ hilarity strike her as at all irresponsible? “No, I don’t think so.” She considers this novel perspective for a moment. “No. I must have felt very loved and protected, because that was never a thought in my mind – never, until you just mentioned it.”
She starts laughing again when I bring up the time in her early twenties when Joey, a young man she was seeing, invited her over to his place, tore off her clothes, threw her onto the bed – and “there I was, naked”, she writes. When Joey stood back, a total stranger holding a movie camera appeared by the bed, filming her. “Yeah, that was so funny!” she exclaims.
Was it? “Well, I guess. I could see the ridiculousness of the situation.” She had felt angry and betrayed, too, she recalls, but at the same time “very turned on. And feeling all this stuff at once – maybe that’s my genius. That I can sort of see it, feel it, and know it’s all happening at once, and it just goes through me.”
Even funnier for Harry was the time she gave David Bowie some free drugs and he “pulled his cock out” to show her in gratitude. What did he think he was doing? “One can only hope,” she grins. “I guess he was trying to say thank you. It was very funny.” Did he want her to admire it? “That’s what I did. I mean, I didn’t touch it. But I did think, well – very nice,” she giggles. “I don’t know, it’s too bad you can’t ask him.” She didn’t mind? “Noooo,” she purrs. “I guess I was sort of flattered, you know? He’s one of the great men that I admire in the music world, clearly a genius.”
What seems to have annoyed her most about her lucky escape from being abducted by the serial killer Ted Bundy is the dispute over his identity. “People say he was in Florida at the time I was abducted [in New York],” she drawls darkly, “so they say my story’s been debunked. But I don’t really give a damn what they think. I just know what happened.” The funny side of the whole saga sets her off again. “And then when I fell out of the car, I almost got hit by a cab!” When her mirth subsides, she reflects: “That’s part of the success of my relationship with Chris. We always sort of looked at things and thought, ‘Ooh, my God, it’s really horribly funny.’ And horribly funny is accurate, because that’s what so much of life is about. You have to get through it.”
The story about her being raped by an intruder at her and Stein’s apartment is told briskly – even bluntly – in the book, and comes as such a juddering shock that I had to read the words twice to be sure I hadn’t misunderstood. How has the attack affected her life?
“It didn’t, really.” After the rapist had left, “I did cry – quite a bit. And then I felt very angry. And I think that’s where women are frustrated. Because there’s nothing you can do. There’s no revenge. You go to the police and you’re perhaps looked at as being crazy or lying, and then you’re becoming the victim again, in yet another situation. I knew there would be no satisfaction in going to the police. So I didn’t.” She falls silent, uncharacteristically introspective. “I don’t know, I guess I’m a realist. I’m a tough cookie when I have to be.” What about Stein? The rage and humiliation would destroy a lot of men. “Chris was very smart. He was rational. And we just went on.”
I wonder what Harry makes of all the #MeToo anguish about sexual transgressions that look laughably trivial compared with her ordeals. Does she think young women today have confused gratuitous victimhood with feminism? She shakes her head. “What’s happening now is we’re getting a chance to speak about these things, and be heard. Because this has been happening to women all the time. And everybody is very demeaned by this. So it has to do with pride. But my pride is to say, ‘Hah! you can’t hurt me. It’s not going to hurt me. It’s just not.’ That’s it.”
Long before 1960s feminists began championing free love, the teenage Harry was already breaking every rule by making out with random guys. “I guess I’m just an animal,” she grins coquettishly, pawing the air with a throaty tiger roar. Promiscuity was never a political posture for Harry, but a primitive instinct, and it didn’t even occur to her early twentysomething self that being a Playboy bunny and a bohemian punk could be ideologically incompatible. “I liked my naughty bits. What can I say? I feel normal.” She laughs. “For me, feminism was being independent. So I looked at it as independence and taking advantage of what my options were – and [being a Playboy bunny] was one of my options. So that to me just feels like feminism. Today’s feminist focus, I think sometimes it’s not really big enough for survival. It’s a good format, but there is a bigger picture. And OK, being a Playboy bunny might be considered being part of a misogynistic world, but then I got paid very, very well.”
Harry has spent her whole career navigating the elusive line between exploitation and empowerment. She was hopping mad when her record label plastered a poster of her all over Times Square that exposed her nipples, and stormed into the boss’s office to demand, “How would you like it if that was your balls that were exposed?” But she is also philosophical. “Sex sells, that’s all there is to it. Women exploit themselves as well as [do] industries or men. Women want success – and they are aggressive, and they show their bodies. Am I supposed to make a judgment about that?”
What scarred Harry more than sexism was drug addiction and financial disaster in the 1980s. The book doesn’t mention that Harry had to undergo rehab to get clean, and when I ask about these demons she grows vague and changes the subject. I get the impression she is embarrassed that the drugs became a problem.
Being ripped off and losing everything, though, was “very normal”. The record industry at that time was notoriously duplicitous – “I always equated it with the Wild West” – and she and Stein didn’t blame themselves for the terrible deals they signed. “I had somehow no doubt in my mind I would get through it.”
She has said that she never had children because she feared she wouldn’t be a good parent. She wasn’t sure her lifestyle was “cut out for motherhood”, and has made the most of her artistic freedom. Harry’s one guiding principle throughout her life seems to have been pragmatic survival, which I would guess has a lot to do with her adoption. In the early 1990s she hired a private investigator to find her mother, who told him, “Don’t ever bother me again.” I ask Harry what the rejection meant to her. “By that point I was a mature woman – I wasn’t in need of a mother.” Her cool equanimity for once doesn’t quite ring true.
I believe her, though, when she says she didn’t really enjoy the height of her fame and wealth. “It was pretty inhibiting. And I don’t think that being an artist is being about that.” She’d been happier, she grins, when Blondie were “scrounging and struggling”. And now? “I’m happier now than probably ever in my life.” She pauses for a moment to consider. “You go through struggles, you know who are. You feel complete.”