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‘It wasn’t a great idea to be as reckless as I was’

Debbie Harry on becoming an icon, cheating death - and what makes a good cover version.

The Guardian – G2

Friday 4th March 2022

Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

The reader interview

Hey, Debbie, in Face It [Harry’s memoir], you discussed the creation of the Blondie persona. How intentional were your choices in character curation, and why did you choose to adopt a persona in the first place? ChloSchmo

I think we’re all seeing images or performances that we like and absorbing and amalgamating them. As a kid, the beautiful women on the silver screen were fairytale versions of what life is for a woman, because when I was coming up there was no such thing as women’s lib. A persona gave me freedom, a world of my own. You pick a character that you love and then it becomes you.

As an adopted person, I have always had a heightened sense of curiosity and feeling different. Can you relate to that? DavidMcr

Totally. It’s animal instincts. I can’t define it more than that, but I know that exists for me. I never met my birth parents. Their family did not want to extend themselves, and as an adult I had to respect that. If I had found that out when I was a child, it would have been crushing.

I had a Blondie poster in my teenage bedroom. Which poster did you have in yours? enriquec

Because I’m so ancient [laughs], I don’t think posters came in until much later. My parents were into big bands, so I started listening to pop music on the radio and paying attention to DJs, because I was too young to go to concerts – and my parents were definitely not going to go because they did not appreciate it!

Which song are you most proud of? itsbleached

Oh God … obviously Heart of Glass or Rapture. Also a more recent song, Mother [from 2010] – the lyrics fell into place beautifully and said exactly what I wanted to say, about children of the night who go to clubs and have this dark alternative universe away from their daily life.

Which projects that got away – such as the offer to sing the James Bond theme For Your Eyes Only or the chance to appear in Blade Runner – haunt you most? McScootikins

They don’t haunt me. The James Bond thing was a misunderstanding about what they wanted – but so many things have gone right that I don’t dwell on inconsistencies or regrets or think: “God, that ruined my life!”

I read Face It recently and was struck by how many times you’ve cheated death or disaster [including heroin addiction, abduction by someone Harry believes was Ted Bundy, and sexual assault]. Has your guardian angel had to work overtime? RobinBustid

Probably! I don’t think in those terms but I can’t say it was a great idea to be as curious and reckless as I was. Like daredevil athletes or people that jump out of planes, we’re all testing our boundaries, and mine were very large [laughs]. I barely took notice of any lucky escapes. I really went after discovery.

This isn’t a question, but in 1978 or 1979 I was a very closeted trans kid watching Blondie on Top of the Pops with my friends. The inevitable question arose about who would like a date with you. I drew a deep breath and said: “I want to be Debbie.” There was a stony silence as I outed myself. I finally came out as trans three years ago so I owe you a lot … rachaeltyrell

I’m very flattered. I can imagine how heart-rending and difficult it is to make that stand. The people who do this are very brave and I have tremendous feeling for them and for all of us, because otherwise it’s a denial of the human race.

What inspired you to write Picture This? I’ve always loved the part where you sing “get a pocket computer” before we knew that cell phones were coming … eduardalennertz

In a way it was a tribute to Andy Warhol, who took a lot of Polaroid photos. The lyric quickly wrote itself. I had a visual image of the Polaroid coming out of the camera. I can’t possibly comment on the line about “watching you shower”.

Is it true that you saw the last Velvet Underground show at Max’s Kansas City [ the New York venue where Harry was a waitress]? nigelbarton

I wasn’t there for that last night. I hope I saw them there but I can’t honestly say I did. It’s a blur. There was so much going on, and a lot of great artists hung out at Max’s. I distinctly remember meeting Stevie Winwood, and how adorable he was. Not to say that he’s not adorable now. I did get to see the Velvets when they reunited and played only two shows, and that was wonderful.

Debbie, you were ahead of your time when you became famous and yet you appear to have been a supremely confident woman in what was arguably a man’s world. Where did that confidence come from? DeborahGeller

I must have been somewhat confident. Our goal was to be as exciting and cantankerous as possible. But I always considered myself in a partnership with Chris [Stein] and that I was trying to express the whole band’s point of view. So in some ways a lot of things that I was saying would be, in today’s world, transgender. Maybe that’s why it works.

Do you remember the first time somebody recognised you? itsbleached

Probably in the 70s when the CBGB scene was beginning and after Chris had submitted photos to Soho News, a little downtown paper. For a long time I had more publicity in photos than anything else, which was odd but worked in our favour. People still assume that I am “Blondie”, but after all these years bleaching my hair, I should at least be called Blondie!

Some of Blondie’s most celebrated recordings are cover versions, such as The Tide Is High or Hanging on the Telephone. My favourite [cover of a Blondie song] is Ride’s interpretation of Union City Blue with vocals by Alex Taylor from the Motorcycle Boy. Is there a Blondie cover that you are particularly fond of? VerulamiamParkRanger

I like Green Day’s Dreaming, and another that was sent to me by an unknown group on a cassette, which was particularly haunting and really took it in a different direction. More recently, I liked what Miley Cyrus did with Heart of Glass. She’s made it a bit herself, which is the art of a great cover. When we did Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire in a film called Roadie, nobody had done it as a rock song before, and we played it like we were on a fast trip to hell. I’m still really excited and happy about doing that.

As told to Dave Simpson

Blondie’s Against the Odds tour with special guest Johnny Marr comes to the UK from 22 April to 7 May. Visit for more information.

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