BIZ Magazine - June 14th 1987
Photography: Hans Neleman
Interview: Pamela Nowicka
UK Magazine that came with "You" & The Mail On Sunday - Issue 37
Confessions of a Blonde Bombshell
As lead singer with the phenomenally successful Blondie, Debbie Harry was one of the world's most photographed and glamourous women. Then she opted out of the limelight to nurse her sick boyfriend. Now he's healthy and she's back with a brace of hits. Pamela Nowicka learns just why everyone's still wild about Harry.
Debbie Harry is a woman of contrasts: a 44-year-old who looks 30; a sex symbol who espouses feminism; a pop star with a strong business sense. She is undoubtedly stunning. Her legendary cheek-bones, wide-set green-blue eyes under arching brows, and almost sculptured lips combine in a face that is even more fascinating than the photos suggest. Wearing an olive-green jumpsuit and discreet gold jewellery, she is tiny in her white mules - about 5ft. Her make-up is light, emphasising that astonishingly unlined, wrinkle-free skin and bone-structure that the camera loves. Her hair is a shiney blonde with some stray chestnut strands (definitely not roots).
Her manner is friendly but reserved. Behind the laughter - she laughs a lot - and the soft New York accent, is an intelligent and determined individual. She has an enigmatic quality. There are no prima donna attitudes, but plenty of charm and
Fronting Blondie in the late seventies, her striking identity as the beautiful blonde created a tremendous impact which has fixed her in the public mind ever since.
'I don't think the overtly glamourous thing was ever what I intended,' she reflects, 'I think it came over like that because I was organised in that way. The concept of 'the blonde' has always been there. I was tuned into it and I wanted to use it.'
Like Marilyn Monroe?
'It goes beyond that. It's a basic thing for many people - a symbol of femininity. There's lots of them, not just one, and it's like a key - a major universal thing. It has to do with innocence and being childlike. It makes one relax, lower one's defences and be more accepting.
'I'd read books about archetypes and I was fascinated with sex symbols and being blonde. When we were trying out names for the band I'd be walking down the street, and guys would yell out (she intimates a macho growl) "Hey, blondie, come here." So I thought - we'll use that.'
Perhaps it's because she has so carefully constructed her image that Debbie seems almost detatched from it. She may pout and stare from photos and videos, but her approach is almost tongue-in-cheek - inviting onlookers to share the joke, not her bed. It's as if she's saying 'Hey, look at this game I'm playing - it's called "sexy and beautiful" and it's really fun!' Unlike, say, Madonna, she gives the impression that she has never confused the image with the person inside.
She is very much her own woman and is fully aware of what she's doing, which allows her to come across as 'feminine' without being fluffy, though in the early days of Blondie it was different.
'Many times when people wanted to ask me a question, they'd ask Chris' (Stein, her long-term boyfriend) 'It was really awful!' she laughs. 'It doesn't happen so much now.'
So how does she feel about feminism?
'I think it's great, I really think it's terrific. I've always been very independent and stubborn. I haven't demonstrated, picketed or marched, though I've signed petitions for the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) in the States. But although I haven't been political, I think having achieved success as a woman is a statement in itself.'
She says she's fed up with being portrayed as some sort of Florence Nightingale figure, because of her semi-retirement to look after Chris when he became ill with a chronic skin disease. So how does she see her career now she's back in the charts?
'It's great. It's wonderful to be working again. I want to do albums and films. It's a lot easier since I don't have a band now. You don't have to keep everyone busy. As for the change of direction - it's me, not Blondie, that's the primary thing.'
Her latest album Rockbird is more laid-back and subtle than previous ones, isn't it?
'I think that's a sign of the times. Generally the songs that you hear on the radio now are more romantic. I don't think the Sex Pistols would do very well nowadays. I'm happy to do music, period, whatever it is. I really love doing it.
Musically, although her distinctive vocals echo the Blondie sound, the overall feel now is of greater sophistication, while losing none of the tuneful subtlety. Her most recent single 'In Love With Love' exemplifies this. Co-written by Debbie and Chris Stein, it's a high-energy eulogy to being in LUV. The Stock/Aitken/Waterman team, who fashion hits for Mel & Kim, Pepsi & Shirlie and Dead Or Alive, have transformed a sweet album track into a charismatic club pounder.
Debbie's input into the songs she co-writes is mostly the words - I like to be clever and use words interestingly. I write them from observation. She has often used French lyrics in her previous work - most notably in her last solo hit 'French Kissin' In The USA', but not any more. 'I think I've finished using French words,' she says, 'It was OK for French Kissin' - that was so romantic - but it's not easy to sing and the phrasing is difficult.'
She thinks back over the years as the star in Blondie: 'A lot of things happened in a short number of years. When you're working very hard to get success and continue operations, you can get very serious and intense. But having done it already, now I can have a better time with it and approach it in a lighter vein. That doesn't mean I didn't have fun doing Blondie. I'd do everything over again in exactly the same way. But this time around there won't be so many surprises.
'The best thing I've learnt is how to handle stress and how to like myself. I think we should all guard instinct and inspiration carefully - and use them.'