Attitude - October 2007
Pages 34, 35, 36, 37
WHERE YOU ASK THE QUESTION
QUIZMASTER Simon Gage
Ladies and gentlemen we give you DEBORAH HARRY, the woman mistakenly known as Blondie (for it is the band she fronts). We bow at the foot of an icon and give her your lovely questions as an offering...
Deborah Harry - Blondie front-woman; style icon; rock goddess; living legend; the person if your dad didn't fancy, it was probably because he was gay; the woman even gay men fancied! - is talking about the weather. One of the world's bona fide icons is talking about cloudy skies, how it's gone a little cooler outside, and how people just can't stop going on about it. "It's only a bit of rain," says Deborah, in a whisper that's barely audible above the hub of a damp New York morning. "Everyone's gone crazy!" she laughs.
At 62, Deborah (which she prefers to 'Debbie') has been there, done that, and young kids today are still wearing the T-shirt. She's hung out with Warhol, starred in movies by David Cronenberg and John Waters, influenced Madonna et al and even cameo'd in Will & Grace (it doesn't get more bona fide than that!) Oh, and there's the small matter of a new solo album (her first in almost 15 years) and an upcoming Broadway musical of Desperately Seeking Susan set to the soundtrack of Blondie's back catalogue, just in case anyone thought she was getting a bit lax.
And she may be older than your mum, but Deborah's still rocking it, minus a little gusto perhaps - "I still have wild nights, just not so many. And I'm not into substances the way I was" - dropping by NY gay spots like Mr Black and getting down with the NY scene glitterati at Lady Bunny's birthday extravaganza. It's all still a bit rock'n'roll, and Deborah's still loving like she always has.
All my gay friends in New York say the scene there has really dried up over the last few years, what with crystal meth and Giulliani's reign. As a virtual grand dame of the NYC club scene (I wish I had gone to Jackie 60!), would you agree?
Jake via email
Well, it's all there, but it doesn't seem like the participation is quite as free and innocent as it once was. And some of the best clubs, or at least one of the best clubs - Jackie 60 - went down after 9/11 which I think had a really big and long-lasting impact. Though I think it's coming back now. Coupled with the fact that there's this really huge real-estate boom in New York, meaning that you can't really afford to have an experimental club scene, just simply because the rents are too high and clubs have to think commercially whether they want to or not. But there's certainly a lot of action going on in New York - you just have to get out here and find it!
Which Blondie song has made you the most money?
Carl via email
Oh wow, I have absolutely no idea! Right now, it may be One Way Or Another, because it's being used on a commercial. It's also covered a lot, which brings in the money. If you have a big commercial hit, obviously that's going to bring in a lot of money, but I'm not that interested in the statistical side of things. If my accountant called up and said, 'Did you know...?' I might listen, but it's not really something I've pursued. I'm just happy to get the cheque!
How many reality shows have you been approached by in the last two years?
Hugh Richards, Bolton
Oh I've been approached to do, let's see, at least five! But you know, I'm not a strong believer in reality (laughs). But these reality shows, I don't know if I believe if they're actually real. I think for people who are not really used to being in front of the camera, or have never been in front of the camera, it can be quite a good thing for them - and it must be a lot of fun for them, even if it can get a bit distasteful at times. If I'd agreed to a reality show I suppose I'd have to get used to the idea of a camera following me around 24/7 - so thank God I haven't actually agreed to it!
Some years ago Grace Slick was asked about her love life by Rolling Stone magazine and she said, 'I wouldn't want to sleep with the kind of man who wants to sleep with a 65-year-old woman.' Was she missing out?
David Manning, Brighton
Grace is a very unusual kind of woman, I should say! Judging from this statement, anyway. I think she's just choosing the wrong type of men! But you know what, it really depends on the person. All this ageism, I understand completely, and sometimes I cave in to crying out, "Oh, I'm such an old woman!" but for the most part it really does depend on the person. I mean, I hang out and always have hung out with people who are much older than I am and also much younger than I am, including people in their twenties. It's all about the person's make-up at the end of the day!
Who do you see most of yourself or your influence in?
a) Gwen Stefani
c) Ana Matronic
d) Jessica Simpson
Matthew Mitchell, Glasgow
Oh wow, what a selection! Well, I guess they were affected by me, to varying degrees. I think a lot of them have assimilated the same information. And yeah, I think Madonna stole my mojo - she wasn't too helpful to me! If I had my time again, I think inevitably there are some things you'd want to do differently, but ultimately I'm very happy about what I've done and where I'm at right now and what I've got. And I hope I'm not finished quite yet! I haven't really got a clue if Madonna sold out or not, but I do think she always aimed at being commercial, I don't think there was any doubt in her mind about that.
As a big fan of your solo albums - I grew up on songs like French Kissin' In The USA and I Can See Clearly - I'm really excited about your new solo album (the single Two Times Blue is great). How do you make a distinction between Blondie work and your solo stuff?
Philip James via email
Aw, thank you! Well, if there is any distinction it's probably very slight, and the distinction would be that in some cases I would make the song either bisexual or asexual, so that the listener can relate according to their own feelings. I'm a benevolent person like that (laughs). I mean, some of the things are obviously very feminine and I think in a lot of cases many of the songs were written so that we would all feel comfortable. I suppose it's just really a matter of syntax!
My favourite Blondie single ever is Good Boys. Am I insane?
Andy Hopkinson, Reading
(laughs) Probably! As my guitarist always says, there's no accounting for taste!
What is the fundamental appeal of Debbie Harry to gay men?
Adrian Hoffman, Richmond
Oh gosh, I don't know! It's a mystery to me sometimes! I think what it boils down to is an understanding and a compassion but also, getting down to basics, the people I hung around with and had a lot of fun with and really hit it off with, a lot of them were and are gay men. You know, I still go to what I think are gay clubs, but it's hard to know whether they're strictly gay anymore. I suppose there are only a couple of exclusively gay clubs these days - is The Cock still going in New York? One of my favourite places to go in New York is Mr. Black - I've been going there a lot lately. You'll find naked men just wandering around in there.
Don't you worry about spoiling the memory of Blondie by coming back? Wouldn't it be better to leave it perfectly frozen with you in an off-the-shoulder dress?
Louis via email
Oh, jeeze! (laughs) No, not at all. There's room for the then and the now. Also, I don't think you can think like that, it's too restricting, and I'm not ready to give up just yet!
Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
Rob Valentine, Liverpool
Inevitably, yeah. I think in an active way as well. Standing in front of an all-male band in the early 70s is in itself an image that is and will always have feminist associations!
You are the queen of all that is good and glam in this world. When people talk about Blondie, Debbie Harry's style is mentioned just as much as the music. At the time, were you trying to make a style statement, or was it just a case of putting on whatever was clean?
Jason Swift, Henley
Ah, well, no! At the time we were very conscious of style and we really loved all of the bands from the past that had a strong visual identity, and that was always part and parcel of what Blondie was about. And we may not have been the most perfect visual entity ever, but I think the combination of what we did stylistically and visually and physically, you know, had a lot of power and made a massive statement overall. We always had the Mod thing as a reference point, and it was always something we followed and took inspiration from. That's probably one of the reasons why and how we took off in the UK, as it was an aesthetic that was identifiable and British people could understand. I think one of the most important elements and the thing that probably got us noticed in the first instance was the fact I worked so closely with Steve Sprouse [Halston's one-time right-hand man, and god of 80s punk glamour] for so many years, and he took inspiration from 60s style and the whole Carnaby Street look and new-wave French cinema, and just became synonymous with that early 80s New York aesthetic, so he for me informed my style vocabulary. The look is 'in' now but I don't think that sort of aesthetic ever went away, but to do it in a really high fashion way and make it really beautiful and not kitsch or slutty, to do it to its full value, is so exciting. It's a great look!
Were you bothered that the cover for KooKoo was banned in the UK? And how did you end up working with HR Giger (the man who invented the Alien monster) anyway?
Jon Grant, Manchester
(Laughs) It didn't bother me that it was banned, but I was surprised. I guess it was ahead of its time, as were a lot of things we did. HR Giger had just won the Academy Award for his work on Alien, he was a huge name and his images were known the world over - and more importantly, it was such an incredible image. It was his idea, his design, and he had a whole philosophy around it. There was a Frankenstein element to it, with him being such a sci-fi freak. I guess the piercings were just a little bit too realistic. But they didn't really go through my head! We actually ended up working with him after we went to see some work of his at the Wolf Gallery in New York which was just around the corner from where we lived, met him and invited him back to our apartment, and we hit it off. And it just sort of came up in conversation, and he had done other album covers before, so it just fell into place. We also did a film together, which was to one of the songs, so that's floating around somewhere!
Do you prefer a man in briefs or boxers?
Will via email
It really depends on what's inside them! (laughs) I think what we need to do is get a whole load of men and line them up - then we can decide!
Desperately Seeking Susan: The Musical - a collaboration between your music and the Madonna film - is in production. What's your involvement with that, and are you excited about it?
Ian Curran, Newquay
Well, I was approached with the idea and the script, and my first reaction was 'Eugh!' I'm not really a big musical theatre fan, it's just not really part of my world very much. I've seen a couple over the years, and one of my all time favourites is Guys and Dolls, but for the most part I'm not that knowledgeable. But then when I sat down and read the script and actually thought about the whole thing, with our songs fitting in, I thought, 'Yeah, this is kinda great!' I was really, really surprised at how well it works. It's two great elements coming together and it's just so much fun more than anything. It's a bit of a who-dunnit. I saw a run-through a while back, but it's probably evolved a lot since then. And I've written a new song for it. I can't wait for the first night - I'll be there in the front row!
Why do you think that there is still such a fascination with everything that came out of New York in the 70s and early 80s?
Chris Davis via email
I think things actually take a little bit longer to filter through than we think, to disseminate around the world, and ultimately to make sense. That New York energy started emerging in the 60s, but I think it just took ten even twenty years to spread and make a huge impact. I mean, these days, movements happen much quicker what with the internet and things like that. Also, in our world, to become legitimate, and not just in an underground way but to be in major museums and that sort of thing, it really takes a while. It was also, at the end of the day, visually a very sexy and sexual period, which of course has an enduring appeal. Bring it back! (laughs)
Who's the funniest person you've ever met?
Tim Owen, Norfolk
Robin Williams. He's on, and very sweet. He's not on in a way that can become irritating, though, not at all. He's really very sweet with it. And also Lady Bunny. Lady Bunny actually just had her birthday the other night, and that was a... fun night. Let's just say, use your imagination!
Were you invited to join in the Hairspray reunion on either Broadway or film?
Colin Clark, Bristol
No! No, no, no. I think having done it once, as they say, they're probably right in not contacting the original cast. I think Ricki Lake and John Waters may have had a brief appearance in the new film, I'm not sure, but I've not actually seen it. I think it's often best to, if you've done an alright job, to leave things as they are, and perfect in people's memories. But I have heard Michelle Pfeiffer did a really good job as Velma, I think she's a really good actress.
You famously worked as a Playboy bunny. Did you get offers to do proper porn? You presumably said no...
Noel Cullum, Twickenham
Proper porn! (laughs) No, nothing like that. It wasn't offered, and I wouldn't have done it, anyway. Not my sort of thing! (laughs)
Have you been to a gay marriage ceremony? You also recently performed in Cyndi Lauper's pro-gay True Colors tour of US - are you vocal in your support of gay rights?
Dave Butcher, Cardiff
I've not actually been to one yet, no. I have friends who have done the deed, but I've not actually been present at one as of yet. I have friends who got married on mountain tops and things like that, which must be a wonderful experience. And yeah, the Cyndi thing was really great. The tour was very pro-human rights - the HRC (Human Rights Campaign, which works for LGBT equal rights) was sponsoring it. I think I've been more political recently, but not in such a way as writing songs about it. I think - unfortunately for some! - that I am a person that people listen to which is a strong position to be in. I think it is a kind of responsibility, being in a position to make people listen, and I think I can add something. I mean, the more people say about human rights, the better off we all are. I certainly feel that consenting adult should be able to live the life that they choose, and that the law should treat everyone equally. We all pay taxes, so we should all be privy to the same privileges. It's the logical and fair thing, it's as simple as that.
Is it true that in Blondie's early days at CBGB's Patti Smith warned you off her turf, saying there's only room in this town for one of us?
Luke via email
(laughs) No! That's not true, I'm afraid. And although we weren't friends there was a mutual appreciation, shall we say.
Do you have any feelings either way on the Spice Girls reunion?
Michael Patrick, Leeds
Oh, I think it's rather curious! Though I do hope they all have a good time and have a lot of success with it - they've certainly earned their stripes. And I hope they're in it just for the money! (laughs). But I don't actually think anybody's in it just for the money. You get to a certain point in your life - and especially them, who had such global success - and then to stop and do absolutely nothing, it's devastating. It really is very hard, and it's probably just about the right time for them to get out and start doing it again. Whether they'll be able to reach the same level again, I'm not sure, but they still have a really strong fan-base so I hope they'll at least have a good time. More than likely I'd go and see them!
The album 'Necessary Evil' is out now on Eleven Seven Music. 'Desperately Seeking Susan' opens at the Novello Theatre, London on 12 October.