Details - October 1993

Pages 158, 159, 160

DEBORAH HARRY
Still a head of her time
Interview by Brantley Bardin, a freelance writer who lives in New York City.
Photo: David Lachapelle; Fashion: William Mullen; Hair: John Sahag for John Sahag Workshop; Makeup: Sandra Linter for the Stephen Knoll Salon. PATENT LEATHER AND SHEARLING COAT FROM CHEAP & CHIC BY MOSCHINO. LINGERIE, SCARF, AND STOCKINGS BY TRASHY LINGERIES. SHOES FROM IAN'S.

BB: So William Gibson's written you a song?
DH: Well, we melded two of his poems together on "Dog Star Girl." I haven't talked to William, but I think it has to do with Sirius - you know, the star - and there's a tribe in Africa that says that they're from that star system. But with Gibson you never know. Musically it has this throbbing thing going on, this tension, and that worked for me.
BB: It's very spacey and avant-garde.
DH: Our intention was to make an album that was avant-garde and creepy and sort of threatening. But we were met with rejection from the record company. The Big Boys wanted something more "refined" and "commercial." Basically they thought it sucked.
BB: Hence the title, Debravation. Why does everyone still call you Debbie, not Deborah?
DH: I think there are probably too many letters. My next thing is, the videos are all gonna be called DebraVision.
BB: How would you define DebraVision?
DH: (breathily) Well, it's learning how to spell... and pronounce... Deborah!
BB: If DebraVision were an emotional state, what would it be?
DH: Oohhhh! White noise. The shwwsshhh on your TV screen.
BB: Very Videodrome. By the way, what exactly were you in that movie?
DH: (in a carnival barker's voice) I played the seductress, the temptress. I was sort of like the embodiment of the video creature. Don't ask me whether she was really a real person or an electronic being, because I didn't write the fucker! Ask Cronenberg. He said, "I wrote this part for Blondie," and then I showed up with red hair and he said, "Oh, I guess that will be O.K."
BB: You've played a cannibalistic housewife, a hair-hopping psycho mom, and a washed-up singer. How do you choose your roles?
DH: Whatever comes my way. No, whatever I audition for and get. Sometimes people hand me things and go, "We want you," and I go, (kind of Mae West-y) "Oh, you've got me." I think that I could be a very competent actress but I just don't think people see me that way. I guess I'm not aggressive enough.
BB: Do you have a dream role?
DH: I always wanted to do the life story of Doris Day. I'd also like to do a version of Nana. It's a classic. It's a French story about this woman who rises to wealth and fame and position because she's... a manipulative bitch.
BB: Have you ever had sex with a movie star?
DH: I guess I have but I don't think it's ever paid off. The Bastards!
BB: There's a lot of sex on your records. How important is it to you?
DH: Pretty damn important. What else is there to write about?
BB: So are you willing to have cheap sex in the name of art?
DH: Yes, yes, yes I am. Cheap sex is on my list as a possibility. (in a scholarly voice) However, an emotional attachment does take you to a higher level of enjoyment.
BB: How many times have you been in love?
DH: The kind of love that overpowers you physically and mentally and is a sickness and a demon that should be locked up and put away? Out-of-control love like that? Maybe two or three times.
BB: Was your partner and ex, Chris Stein, one?
DH: Yeah. Chris was an overpowering, beyond reason relationship. I really didn't have to think about it; it was sort of irrational.
BB: And you're really good friends with him now, right?
DH: He's a really important person in my life. And all the rest of them I had killed, so...
BB: When Chris got sick, you took care of him for three years. What did that teach you?
DH: To be very aware and very tuned in to what truly makes me happy. It made me more canny about life.
BB: People say, "She gave up her career to nurse Chris Stein."
DH: I didn't. It's very nice that I'm being nominated for sainthood, but it's a bit much, really. Certain things happened simultaneously that made it appear that way, and Chris was my partner - we started the whole thing together - and I really couldn't carry on without him. And anyway, I don't think I've thrown my career away, so fuck you!
BB: Was it harder to establish a solo career than you thought it would have been?
DH: Yeah, it's sort of taken longer, but then I was sort of unclear about how I wanted to do it. I really wasn't aiming at a show biz career; I wanted to discover myself and do all these things, so I did. Now I'm a lot clearer and I'm looking for jobs in Vegas. But I'm willing to start with Atlantic City.
BB: Did you always want to be famous?
DH: Yes, yes! Rich and famous. But mostly famous. And I wanted to be loved.
BB: You wanted to be loved...
DH: Yeah, I think that basically when you pare everything down, performers want attention, whether it's just some kind of perversity or sexual desire. It could be any of those or all of those things, but I put it down as love because I'm such a nice person.
BB: Does it really work that way?
DH: No, mostly it starts out with the audience hating you. So then you really have to work really hard to make people love you. Somehow it all worked for me. Something to do with sadomasochism, I suppose?
BB: Before Blondie, you were a waitress, a Playboy bunny, a hairdresser...
DH: I wasn't a hairdresser. I did makeup and facials and I fooled around with hair, but I could only really do trims. I've ruined some people. I cut my sister's hair once and she wanted to kill me. I don't blame her; she looked like a lampshade.
BB: What was your hometown, Hawthorne, New Jersey, like?
DH: (makes extreme hyperventilating noises and then screams) Enough said?
BB: What's the Jerseyest thing about you?
DH: Tomaters. I'm a Jersey tomater. I always wanted to be a tomater.
BB: Who would you like to eat you?
DH: Weeelll... let's start the list now.
BB: I know what you drink because I have a friend who bartends at Jackie 60, and I couldn't believe it: vodka and Diet Coke?
DH: Yeah, it's called a Burroughs. I made it up, after William Burroughs. He drinks vodka and Coke. It is a funny drink, but it's nice 'cause it kinda gives you that caffeine kick and that vodka cool.
BB: Do you ever get up on the stage at Jackie?
You haven't seen me!? I love it there. I think Johnny and Chi Chi are "gorge," as Chi Chi would say. I almost hate doing press on these things because it ruins them. But they're very creative people and they're really a lot of fun, so what the fuck?
BB: You have your creative side, too. Didn't you tear your dress off in Chicago once and throw it at the audience?
DH: Did I? Who can tell? No, I just think I've torn my dress off every chance I've gotten.
BB: You tore your dress off and you had on a G-string. Do you always wear one?
No, no I don't. Sometimes they're really uncomfortable.
BB: I'm asking because Details has a big obsession with underwear.
DH: Oooh, I do too. I've faced many lingerie emergencies where I've had to pop into lingerie stores quickly and buy something. For trysts and... other things.
BB: Do you still have your Candie's, the shoes that you made famous?
DH: My Candie's? I do! I saved everything, trunks full of stuff. I keep dragging this stuff out of the storage thing. Why, this very morning I had on my little tuxedo shorts from the "Rapture" video! And they still fit, guys!
BB: You were an early pioneer of video. Should we thank you or smack you?
DH: Probably you should kill me. We always had our doubts about that. It's better for you to have your own images when you listen to music than some lame video-clip visualization. It everybody so weak-minded that they can't have their own vision in addition to the one that's provided for them?
BB: You're also credited with creating the prototype for the modern female rocker: the tough-sexy thing.
DH: Well, that's very nice, isn't it? I did say that I was sick and tired of women who belittled themselves and viewed themselves as the underdog, always being stepped on. I wanted to take a different stance. However, (dramatically) I have been stepped on, and my heart has been broken. (sobs)
BB: Has Madonna ever said thank you for your shining example?
DH: She has mentioned that I was important to her, and that's very satisfying. However, a check would be better! Look, if I hadn't done it, somebody else would have. It was an idea whose time had come.
BB: Do you mind being called a survivor?
DH: No, I feel like one. It's funny, a girlfriend called me up and she said, "Oh, you're still alive." (laughs) But it's very accurate. There was a show at CBGB last year with all these old photographs from the '70s, and 50 percent of the people in them were gone.
BB: What makes you a survivor?
DH: Experiencing controversial substances and living a life that is not as predictable as other lives. I really was sort of adventurous, and I think I still am. I like experiences; I don't really want to stay home.
BB: In the punk days at CBGB, I remember a phenomenon called gobbing.
DH: Oh yes, gobbing. Well, I mean it was sort of like flattering to be part of it, like "Oh yes, they're receiving me with enthusiasm," but then it was also like "Well, I don't really want your gob on me." It was sort of like stepping in dog shit, I suppose.
BB: Which you used to be able to do in New York City but can't anymore.
DH: I know, you have to really work at it now.
BB: Every time I told people that I was coming to interview you they flipped. You're very beloved. Is that a little bit creepy?
DH: Oohh. It's sort of strange. Sometimes it's cool. Sometimes (dramatically) I don't deserve it. And sometimes I do.
BB: When's which?
DH: How should I know?



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