Cheap Date - 2000

A Cheap Date exclusive...

DEBBIE HARRY
INTERVIEWED BY ANITA PALLENBURG
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NIGEL MOGG

Pages 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.

Anita: So were you attacked by Ted Bundy?

Debbie: I had an accidental encounter with Ted. It was in the early 70's, and I was wearing very high platform shoes and I was staggering across Houston street late at night, and I couldn't get a cab. So I was standing in the road... and he came around and asked me if I wanted a ride, he asked me again and I said no. But he kept coming around because I was there. So finally I got in the car, and it was hot, it was so hot. And he smelled so bad. I looked at him, and he was a good-looking guy. But the smell... it was like poison. It was a smell that made me think, this guy has like this old smell. So I looked over to open the window, and the window was open a tiny bit, and I looked at the inside of the door, there were absolutely no handles, like you couldn't get out of the car. So I started looking at the whole interior of the car without moving my hands, and I realized the entire inside of the car had been gutted, stripped; it was just a metal frame. The hair on the back of my neck just went weeeee. And I stuck my arm out, and I opened the car from the outside. I was sneaky. I just did it. I think he realized what I was doing, and he put his foot on the gas, and I was flung out into the street and picked up by a cab.

Anita: Fantastic. You got out.

Debbie: You know, at the time I didn't know anything about Ted Bundy, you know? I just thought "thank God I got away from that asshole" and I just carried on... and years later, after he was executed, I got on a flight and picked up a newsweek, and I'm reading this story, and it says Modus Operandi, and it describes how he looked, the inside of his cars, and the hair on the back of my neck once again went out, and I said 'Oh my God that was Ted Bundy.'

Anita: That's such an amazing story. Another question: are the English right in their criticism of American Punk, or are they just being snooty and English? They always put it down don't they?

Debbie: I don't know, you know? I always thought that they were somehow linked. The only difference I felt was that with the English punks it was more of a political movement, and in the States it was more of a musical counter-culture that was against the powers that be. We couldn't get record deals, we couldn't get airplay. In the UK, up and coming music gets more favorably treated, it gets looked at with real sort of interest by the music community and by radio. The major difference was that over here it was not so much to do with a political statement. You know A.r.r. was here the other night from the Slits and that was kind of exciting.

Anita: It it New York that's fun, or is it the company that one keeps in New York that is fun?

Debbie: I think its New York that can be fun. You know New York has a specific thing about it. There's always so much going on. For me now its really my friends, I really treasure my friends. But I can always go to a club and see somebody I know, so I guess its a combination of those things.

Anita: If I didn't have a flat in London, and somebody might as well live in it, I would probably live in New York, I've always loved New York. So what's wrong with the French? (hhhaaaa)

Debbie: They speak french. Hhhhaaaaa.

Anita: Cause they speak french. They move their mouths in a funny way. Uuh. Uuuhn. If you could be reincarnated as a piece of clothing, what would it be?

Debbie: I think I would want to be a cape.

Anita: Ahh. Very nice. What are your memories of working as a Playboy Bunny and as a waitress?

Debbie: Oh you know, the usual stuff. I think mostly I was proiferal, kind of figuring it all out, seeing you know what the real people were doing. I came from a very provincial atmosphere. Suburbia, New Jersey. Grew up in a small town, in a family that was very "small town", and I wanted the world you know. I really wanted to taste everything.

Anita: Did you have to pay the rent as well?

Debbie: Oh yeah! I couldn't really do it any other way. I was too stubborn to, you know, get some guy to pay my rent, I figured that was more work than for me just to get another job. So working at Max's Kansas City was great, I got to meet everybody, see all these fabulous people. Max's in the 60's was fantastic.

Anita: It was the best. I used to go to Max's all the time, but I used to spend most of the time in the bathroom, or up the stairs.

Debbie: I used to spend a fair amount of time there myself. Ooooppppss" I'm sure I saw you in there. Hhhhaaaa.

Anita: People say 'Oh you were there, I passed you on the way to the bathroom!' Yeah! I have a great memory of Johnny Thunders because in those days I was still part of the Stones' kind of entourage, and I had a limousine waiting for me outside, and when I got out of the club the limousine had gone. Johnny had taken it and had gone on a ride around the lower east side; the red light district. I thought it was quite funny. That's all I remember. It was a great place.

Debbie: It was the only place like that, ever. I didn't know that Micky (owner) was a junkie at the time you know. My boss was a junkie, I was a junkie, everyone was a junkie.

Anita: I was a junkie! Running in and out of the limousine, up to the bathroom and that was it. I had one thing on my mind, I guess. One track mind. Although I know lots of things went on there. Andy Warhol... everybody was there.

Debbie: Hair the musical was written there, the whole thing. It was interesting. In the 60's it was an all arts place. Everyone went there. Hollywood went there, New York went there. All the artists used to go there and give them their work for free so that they could eat. Nobody's got the balls to do it now.

Anita: The Chelsea hotel is a bit like that, where people used to pay in paintings. I've done my fair share of Chelsea Hotel. You?

Debbie: Oh yeah, I've sure done my Chelsea!

Anita: Which paid better? Being a Playboy Bunny or Max's?

Debbie: Probably in the long run, the bunny was more, but more labor extensive because you had to maintain a level of appearance. You'd had to go through the inspection line before you went to work. They felt they had some kind of ownership thing, that they could call you and expect you to drop everything and work. It was actually really quite offensive.

Anita: I lived at the Playboy club in London for about six months, the Stones did a lot of stuff there, and stayed there too.

Debbie: I think about the Stones, about the songs, the experiences that they had. Nobody can ever top that, nobody can come near that. That era and the scale has just gone. I mean its staggering.

Anita: They are untouchable now which is good. Nobody can fuck with them really.

Debbie: I always loved Brian (Jones) I always felt very bad about that. He was so talented.

Anita: Yeah he was, but he was not very well. It was very difficult with him. I think he also really didn't want to be part of the Stones anymore, by his own choice. He was really into the Blues. So you're singing on Ronnie Spector's records now? Which is your favorite Ronette's song?

Debbie: You know what I really like about Ronnie? I always liked those songs, they were all so sexy. She was just so hot you know, so cute. Everything. Recently I introduced her to somewhere in Soho, a club, and she did some of her Christmas songs, and I thought that was so nice; for some reason I never wanted to go near Christmas songs, but it was so cool that she did that, and the way she did them - gave it that sound.

Anita: And other girl groups?

Debbie: How can I remember the names, my God, I don't know. There was this one song that I really liked called Lower The Flame, it was a B side, and it was one of my favorite songs. I used to marvel at these songs, in the production there were outright glaring mistakes, they just pressed them up anyway - the B sides.

Anita: There is a lot I have forgotten from those days, I can remember bits.

Debbie: Why should you force your brain cells to remember a lot of stuff when the most important you can do it to come up with new stuff? For me you know, I'm busy writing now and trying to think of things that take the twist with all of the stuff. Why should I sit here and be chronological or like a machine with old information? It doesn't make sense to me.

Anita: It doesn't make sense to me, I can live without it, that's for sure. That year or another year, I can't remember. It's nice, you know? In my own head it feels good, I got these memories, sometimes I get a flash, its like having your own buzzer there going on, which is good.

Debbie: What they are discovering about time and the universe, that is like the way we remember things, like the depths or perception. Something going back, receding.

Anita: I've certainly got a big black hole in my life which are the 70's.

Debbie: You know I always felt that that period, that all of those drugs that came around that wiped out a lot of us and obliterated a lot of stuff, was all politically sanctioned. I always felt that and Chris said that too: that a lot of people who really had something important to say or do were subdued.

Anita: Well, it is like the English colonial system, its the best way to disempower. But for me the 60's was like ooooppps I'll take it, or oooppss wow there's that, I'll have that, I'll try that, I'll have another one of those! and by the end of the day, it was like a compulsion you know? Incredible.

Debbie: The new blend! HHHaaaaa.

Anita: Today it is more selective, people know more about it anyway. Back then it was like William Burroughs, I thought "well if he can do it!" He really was fantastic.

Debbie: He was tremendously strong, both physically and mentally, what a great mind. His last words as they loaded him into the ambulance were: "I'll be right back." Hhaaaaaa. They slammed the door up and took him away.

Anita: Yeah, I really miss those guys. What happened to Chris? (Stein)

Debbie: He's writing, he's married, he has six or seven cats and a big dog, and he's pretty much the same person you know. He's a real diehard liberal, he'll never change. Thank God.

Anita: It's amazing that you two stayed so long together.

Debbie: I'm very comfortable and happy with Chris, its a good thing, something happens with our two minds, which automatically just fits together. Even now everything is sort of parallel. We don't even think about it, it just happens. I think we're lucky that we actually found each other. I never expected anything like that to happen, I never knew that anything like that even existed.

Anita: What is your favorite hotel in the world?

Debbie: The one that I had most fun at was the Gramercy Park Hotel, hhhhhaaa, I always had fun there, and the Chelsea was fun too, but it was kind of scary there - yep a little scarier! Hhhaaa.

Anita: Which New York Doll did you dig the most?

Debbie: I was crazy about David. I thought David was the hot stuff! but I was friends with them all, I liked the original drummer, Billy Murcia, but then I became friends with Jerry, and Jerry used to play an early incarnation of Blondie.

Anita: What do you think of rap and hip hop evolution?

Debbie: Well, I always loved it, there was always something exciting about it. Even when it was primitive I felt like it was folk music. Blues had an element of the speaking, the voice of the people, but rap became much more political in a bigger way, you know I thought that was really important. I thought this is really hot shit.

Anita: What I liked about it was that it really did express anger. What do you think of the clothes?

Debbie: They come up with great combinations of things. I guess that's all we're left with now is to make new combinations right? There's no way you can actually do something that is original, its all blending.

Anita: I love the jewelry, the nails, the hair, everything. Whenever I see those nails I get totally envious! Haaa

Debbie: I don't have time to do that myself, I don't know how those girls get ready, it must have taken them days to get ready!

Anita: I'm glad the afro is back in now. The only thing I've ever done is just bleach.

Debbie: Bleach!! Yeeeaaaahhh!.

Anita: I started bleaching real early, and then I also managed to convince myself that I was a white blond baby. How would you have dealt with fame if you had been as young as other punk rockers?

Debbie: Gee, I don't know I think I'd probably would have been a better star, I think I would have gone for it in a much more showbiz kind of way. Which probably would have been better in the long run, you know? You know what I really wanted to be was a beatnik, I really wanted to be an underground artist. That was really where my thrust was, being a pop star - I thought it was such bullshit you know? I knew it was bullshit, I didn't really give a rats ass about any of it, I wanted to be famous, but I didn't really care about carrying it on, you know. In a sense it would have been better if I had approached it in a more legitimate showbiz kind of way.

Anita: I've got that beatnik thing as well, I've always done the kind of underground thing. I've tried the big time, and I didn't like a minute of it, I just don't like the way it works. I don't like the way it works still. There is that thing about being a legend, which you certainly are. I think there is a deeper thing than the showbiz kind of stuff.

Debbie: That was always what I felt was the beauty of Rock'n'Roll, it was entertainment and showbiz but yet it had the idea of the voice of the people, it had an essence to it which was socially motivated. Not that I want to change the world, you know? But it was sort of relevant to real life, it involved the real essence of poetry or the real essence of fine art. But it was also an entertainment. That was the real vitality.


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