DAY & NIGHT
- Friday November 29th 2002
Entertainment Guide that came
with The Irish Independant
Written by: John Meagher
Debbie Harry may be
an icon, but she's also a tough old broad with an
intense dislike of journalists, as John Meagher
DEBBIE HARRY is about to come on the line but
before she does her American publicist decides to have
a little chin-wag.
"You know, Debbie would really rather talk
about her new album and her tour than any of that old
stuff." The old stuff is Blondie, circa 1978, her
relationship with the band's guitarist Chris Stein and
the nasty things that the US tabloids wrote about her
after the band's demise. But that's precisely the
stuff that the fans want to hear. Blondie, despite the
new music, will always be remembered for being
frontrunners of the short-lived New Wave movement in
the late 1970s, early 1980s.
In the band's heyday, Harry was famed for not
suffering fools and if recent press coverage is
anything to go by, she enjoys nothing more than a good
spat with journalists - even over something as basic
as her name. One day she wants to be called Deborah,
the next Debbie. I end up calling her both.
Debbie/Deborah is 58 and sometimes she sounds older
and younger than that. Her voice flits from girlish
giggle to granny grumble in the same sentence, but
it's only when she isn't giving monosyllabic answers,
which, unfortunately, is most of the time.
Blondie are in the middle of a mini, five-date US
tour when I speak to her. The crowd's reaction has
been good, apparently. "It's fun," she says
in her flat East Coast drawl. "These are kind of
warm-up shows for the UK and Ireland. The crowd seems
to like the new songs. We're opening our set with a
song from the new album. It will make people sit up
The album is almost completed, as yet untitled and
due for release early next year. "We're mixing
some stuff now and debating about one more track,
about how to finish it."
Not that Blondie are short of material. It has been
rumoured that this could be their first double album.
"It feels like it could be a double album, but I
don't think it will be."
What can fans expect from the Blondie live
experience in 2002? Her laugh is oddly disconcerting
and her answer is just plain odd. "A big headache
- no, no, just kidding. A nosebleed - no, no, just
kidding. The band sounds great, better than ever.
We're trying to include the hits and some new material
and some surprises, like covers that we really love
When Blondie split in 1983, Debbie Harry didn't
think there would be a reconciliation, let alone
another album. In fact, there would be a 16-year wait
for the next Blondie release - 1999's patchy No Exit.
And, she admits, Blondie would never have reformed if
it weren't for the efforts of former lover Chris
Stein. "Chris initiated the whole thing. We had
interest from a management company and he felt that if
we didn't do it at that point it would never get it
done and we might regret it later on. He was
Harry has lived in her beloved Chelsea area of New
York for most of the past 20 years.
Autograph hunters don't bother her, but that, she
snaps, is not because people don't know who she is.
"I think it's a very New York thing not to bother
you on the street. It's the one place in the world
where you can have anonymity and people respect that.
They are friendly and cordial but not intrusive."
When she's not touring with Blondie, she plays with
the quirky, avant-garde Jazz Passengers, who are
popular among Manhattan's glitterati. They recently
played at a private party for designer Donna Karan.
And they played at London's swanky Barbican Centre
with the BBC orchestra - an experience she describes
as "quite interesting and really beautiful".
Which band does she prefer playing with? The
silence is so long I fear that she has just walked
away from the phone. "I don't know if I could
choose one or the other," she says at last.
"I think Blondie is more personal, but I think
Jazz Passengers has given me a new set of wings."
I ask her if music in Blondie's heyday was more
exciting than now. "The formats for radio are
very controlled and it's difficult for new music to
emerge on commercial radio. What annoys me is that
more than ever, a lot of people who are not musicians
get to say what music others should hear."
She says she misses the mid-1970s. "When the
Trade Centre went down it hit me hard and I wished it
was 1975 again. That was an exciting time to be
starting off. The attacks made me realise what an
important time that was for me."
She was in New York on September 11. The
smouldering twin towers were visible from her
apartment. I ask her about reports that New Yorkers
made more than an effort to be friendly in the
immediate aftermath of the attacks and she takes
offence at this. "I'm always amazed that
outsiders think New York is an unfriendly place,"
she says, tartly. "I think people were very
supportive of one another after it happened."
She may have been considered the epitome of New
York in the 1979s, but Harry was born in Florida and
raised by her adoptive parents in New Jersey. But
Manhattan soon pulled her away and she worked briefly
as a Playboy bunny and then a waitress at CBGB's - the
down-at-heel home of New York glam rock and, later,
Blondie sprang from the New York punk scene in the
early 1970s. Harry met Chris Stein when she was a
member of the all-girl tribute band, Stiletto. Debbie
was soon lured away to form a new band along with
bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy O'Connor. After
using various names, they adopted the one that truck
drivers shouted at Debbie in the street and, as
Blondie, the band recorded a demo featuring Platinum
When Smith left to join Television in 1975, Stein's
persistence prevented the group from folding. His
enthusiasm was infectious, and with new bassist Gary
Valentine and keyboardist Jimmy Destri on board they
The result was a superb debut single, X-Offender,
with spoken intro by Harry. With confidence running
high, they turned in some dynamic live shows. Blondie
(1977) expanded everything that had been condensed
Harry, now in full ice queen persona, joined the
major league with the 1978 album, Parallel Lines,
which spawned four singles, Hanging On The Telephone,
Picture This, Sunday Girl and Heart Of Glass - the
last of which was a number one all round the world,
even in the band's native America.
Its follow-up, Eat To The Beat (1979), generated a
groundbreaking video album with a promo to accompany
each track. The cover of John Holt's The Tide Is High
became Blondie's fifth UK number one in two years, and
was a taster for Autoamerican, which also contained
the early rap crossover single Rapture.
In 1981 Harry released her solo debut Koo Koo,
produced by Chic mainstays Nile Rodgers and Bernard
Edwards. Despite the presence of Stein, the set failed
to capture Blondie's sense of simple pop. For much of
the decade she tried to break into acting, but with
the exceptions of cameo roles, most notably in David
Cronenberg's classic Videodrome, she just ended up
In the 1980s, an era she now calls the
"ice-cream years", she put on fat too much
weight and seemed to have temporarily given up on the
notion of pop stardom. The tabloids had a field day
with her weight gain, her reclusiveness and the whole
Now she spends many of her days alone. She says she
likes to eat alone and enjoys dropping into gigs
throughout NYC. She is also fond of walking. With her
dogs, I venture? That seems to offend her. "You
know, in the UK when people think of an old woman
walking her dog, they think she's sad and pathetic,
living a lonely life." I try to explain that I
didn't mean to cause offence, but she doesn't seem to
hear me. "But people are much more open over
here. They use the dog as an excuse to chat you
That invites questions about her love life, but she
doesn't want to indulge me. "Let's just say thing
are fine at the moment." And how are things
between her and Chris? "Just fine."
She seems more comfortable as our conversation
winds to a close. The Irish shows, she is convinced,
will be "hot". And she has one last message
before she goes. "Don't write us off just
Blondie play Dublin's Vicar
Street on December 2 and 3. Blondie's Greatest Hits is