FORUM - October 1980
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RELATIONS
Pages 1 & 3
FORUM THIS MONTH
"I need someone who thinks of me as a creature, not necessarily as a woman... I was always treated like some buzzy little beauty. I never foresaw a happy relationship." Blondie's gorgeous Debbie Harry tells Forum how love came along with fame and her stronger sense of self, page 48. No lack of self-esteem here.
Pages 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55
Photographs by William Coupon
Forum talks to Debbie Harry, the world's new number one rock star, about lovers, fans and life beyond rock 'n' roll.
"I've always felt that I was, unfortunately, a woman with a man's brain, a man trapped in a woman's body," Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie, the hottest rock and roll band in the world told Forum interviewer Jane Goldman recently. Harry was explaining how she felt about relationships, male and female roles, sexuality in the Seventies and Eighties, the pressures of being, for better or worse, the greatest American sex object since Marilyn Monroe: "I always had the initiative of a man, but was always treated like some idiotic creature, some little buzzy beauty..."
Terminal treatment for somebody like Debbie Harry. It didn't work in her life, or in her career. She sang with two groups - Wind in the Willows and the Stilettoes - before forming Blondie with Chris Stein, her boyfriend, guitarist and chief songwriter. Together they made such hit albums and singles as Parallel Lines, "Heart of Glass", Eat to the Beat, "Call Me", and Atomic, all of which are "gold-plus" (over a million sales), and some of which are "platinum-plus" - two million or more; they've also done Roadie, a movie about the rock and roll life, and are planning further films, which will elaborate their point of view... "It's [no longer] 'Take another little piece of my heart, baby,' that kind of goosh... it's giving girls a chance to develop their style of living... There's nothing left for men to express in rock and roll..." Got that, Billy Joel?
FORUM: You have a sex symbol image... you flinched. Why did you flinch?
HARRY: That's been foisted on me! I mean, I don't mind it, but I didn't go after it.
FORUM: How important is sex to you?
HARRY: In a relationship, it's the most important thing. If you don't have that, why are you together?
FORUM: Does it ever become less important?
HARRY: No. You could be in love with somebody and still have fights with them and disagreements, but sex is always good. And you'll never resolve any kind of differences if sex isn't good.
FORUM: Tell me about your first sexual relationship. How old were you?
HARRY: Oh, kissing games at parties was like fifth grade, sixth grade. But guys really weren't that interested in sex until seventh or eighth grade. Then it escalated on up.
FORUM: How old were you when you first had intercourse?
FORUM: Has a relationship ever started where a friend turns into a lover?
HARRY: No, I've never had that. There's always been a sexual interest, a male-female interest. I think that the only person that I've ever had - I went out with Chris [Stein] for a while before we really made it. We knew each other and worked together for a while, first... But he's the only one.
FORUM: How did you and Chris meet?
HARRY: We met at an early show of the Stilettoes. He was in the audience.
FORUM: Do you remember the first time you saw him?
HARRY: Very clearly. I could feel him across the room. I was very nervous, of course, because of doing the show. I couldn't really see his face but I could feel him looking at me - one of those.
FORUM: What did you do?
HARRY: Nothing. I guess I just sort of - I was like delivering a lot of songs to him...
FORUM: Is fidelity in a relationship important to you?
HARRY: I think it just depends on the people, what they want and need. If you have enough freedom, or compassion, or understanding for the other person, and they want to fool around, fine. Of course, that's all idealistic. Personally, I don't think I could stand it. I'm very emotional and jealous - sometimes if Chris looks at a girl, I get nuts right away. But it depends on the person. If you have a boyfriend who needs to have a lot of different sexual interests, you should be honest and say, "Okay, I need this and you need it, so go have your fling and I'll go have mine. See you next week."
FORUM: Did you ever have a relationship like that?
HARRY: Yeah, I did, during the Sixties. We talked about it, and it was very important to him.
FORUM: Did you feel any less intensely about him because of that?
HARRY: No. I was very much in love with him. But it was hard to get over. At first I was really hurt and unsure. But he was really good, he explained how he felt and he was very sincere. It worked out great in the long run. But we really talked about it a lot. I think that's where people lose when they don't talk about it.
FORUM: Can sex be good if it's just sex?
HARRY: Sure, it can be great. But I'm not the kind of person who wants that alone. I like having a full relationship.
FORUM: You're monogamous and happy that way?
HARRY: Yes. It's really terrific. If it wasn't I wouldn't have lasted this long [six years]. Nothing puts a strain on our relationship except maybe too much work, because Chris and I are business partners. Sometimes that gets hard, but we've gone through the worst part of it, I think. Now we're having the easiest time of our whole lives. We both have individual projects, so we have a little bit of separate time.
FORUM: Do you think that if you hadn't played around when you were younger it would be harder to maintain this relationship now?
HARRY: I don't know if it would be harder to maintain, or if it would be harder to find a relationship like this. Because you wouldn't know what to look for. Or you may just get lucky. Or some people, regardless of what age they are, they know themselves completely. Unfortunately, or luckily - I was not one of these people. A lot of people know exactly what they want, from age two on up. Some people never know what they want.
FORUM: And now you do?
HARRY: Oh, yes. More than knowing what I want, I think I know what I need.
FORUM: What is that?
HARRY: I need somebody who thinks of me as a creature, not necessarily a woman. Because I've always felt that I was, unfortunately, a woman with a man's brain, a man trapped in a woman's body. I always had the initiative of a man, but was always treated like some idiotic creature, some little buzzy beauty. That was my personal perplex. And in most of my relationships with guys, they would always be the leader. And I really wasn't interested in that. I don't think I've ever gone out with anybody that was as smart as me, except Chris. Chris is probably a little bit smarter than me, and that's nice. Not that I'm such a genius, but I really am smart.
I'm an independent person, and I've survived quite well being independent. I don't need a man for support in that way. I need a partner, I need someone who wants to share the kinds of things that I enjoy doing, and that is willing to have a woman who's strong. A lot of men don't want to have a strong woman - but a lot do. It probably has to do with intelligence. I like somebody with a good sense of humor.
By the time I was twenty-five I think I had pretty well figured out these things. But when I was eighteen, I had no idea. I thought I wanted a handsome man, some kind of male hero type, and that was it.
FORUM: What made you think, at eighteen, that you wanted a male hero?
HARRY: That's all preprogrammed pretty much, through television.
FORUM: What smartened you up?
HARRY: Every time I tried to get into a situation like that I found it totally demeaning. It just didn't do it for me. It bored me to tears. I was bewildered and miserable in high school. I couldn't understand what was going to happen to me. I couldn't fit into all these things. I guess I knew I was going to be an artist.
FORUM: You've said that sex is the biggest sales force, and that sex has sold Blondie.
HARRY: Yes, I think that's what makes everything happen - sex. That's why people dress nice. That's why people comb their hair, don't stink, brush their teeth, shave their legs, shave their faces. Everything that we do with our physical appearance has to do with sex and attraction. The only other thing that people go out for is power. And the number of people who try to achieve power as some kind of goal - instead of sex - is very few. And I think that sex sells, especially in the entertainment field. And it's not only for Blondie... I didn't mean it in the sense that Blondie tries to sell sex, but we're all really aware of what people buy and why they buy it. That's why we're a commercial group. We went after a commercial identity. We never tried to be an art group or anything like that.
FORUM: Is there a sexual message in your lyrics?
HARRY: More or less. I don't think a lot of standards are right about women and their sexuality. I think girls should be a lot stronger, more aggressive and express themselves better. That's what a lot of my stuff is about, my point of view. Where can rock and roll go but in another direction, sexually. Men have fought this for a long time, really fought it. Male rock and role musicians for many years fought off letting girls be in their bands as instrumentalists. Or else they were nothing but a piece of fluff. Didn't do anything but stand there and look desirable.
FORUM: But look at your image. A direct about-face.
HARRY: It is and it isn't. I've heard it said that a lot of my lyrics are from a weak point of view, or about "poor little me." And I don't see that at all. For the most part, I don't draw conclusions. I try to create positive thought. Like "Heart of Glass," it's really simple: "Heart of glass, I had a love who soon turned out to be a pain in the ass," you know, big deal. It's just like, "next." But not, "Awwright, NEXT!" Not real heavy attitude. Just "Okay, life goes on, big deal." Like once removed.
I always feel like I'm the third person, when I'm singing. I think that's where a lot of people miss the point. I feel like I'm a reporter or a storyteller... I'm probably one of the few singers around that does that. It's not me...
FORUM: So is there a positive philosophy in your lyrics? Or are they just songs?
HARRY: They only deal with the problems of boy/girl relationships and everyday living. I'd say they're on the positive side, I'm not about to tell people to slash their wrists, jump off the roof. Sometimes they're inspired by heavy meaning, but they're made to be lighter. I'd like to do some songs that are more biting...
FORUM: Is performing a turn-on?
HARRY: Yes, it really is. A lot of it is hard to put into words. When there's three to five thousand people looking at you with desire that they've been manufacturing in their heads for months, and you're the object of their desire... you feel it. It's happening, it's real, but it's not anything you can touch. You get to use all of your emotions and all of your energy in this capsule of time, all at once. You get to climax everything about you, that is your personality and your talent. It's real physical. It really is like a big transfer of energy. You're getting all this love, or affection, or enthusiasm from the audience, and then in turn you're trying to turn them on, and it keeps going around. And when you get offstage - it takes hours to come down.
FORUM: Do people try to catch your eye while you're performing?
HARRY: Oh sure. There are some really great-looking kids who come to the shows. Sometimes I kiss guys who are in front. It always surprises the bodyguards. Sometimes girls jump up and really hug me - it's very funny.
FORUM: You seem to be leading a movement toward female band leaders. Do you feel that the new Elvises and Micks will be women?
HARRY: That's the only place left for it to go. There's nothing left for men to do. The only people that can express anything that hasn't been expressed in rock and roll are fags and girls. There's bound to be more male stars, but they can't express anything new.
FORUM: What is it that girls are expressing that's different?
HARRY: What girls are saying is: "Don't treat me like that, treat me like this." Which Nancy Sinatra initially did with "These Boots Were Made for Walking"! That's the sort of predominant attitude. And it's not the same as "Take another little piece of my heart now," and "Baby love, baby love" - all that kind of goosh. It's giving girls a chance to develop, get to the stage where their style of living and thought is the same [as men's], not some clandestine activity.
FORUM: Because of your persona, does it ever happen that a man can't get it up because he's intimidated?
HARRY: I'm not involved in that because I'm not single. But I don't think that would happen. I wouldn't let it. If I ever went out with anybody and he couldn't get it up and I was trying to make it with him it would probably be because he was too drunk. And if it did happen, I would probably laugh it off - say "Let's just go for a walk or something." It doesn't frighten me. I think people that get hung up about not being able to fuck are afraid of something. Anybody that I'd be interested in, I would try to build them up. I'm not the kind of woman that tries to belittle men to get over on them. And I would never accept a relationship where a man would try to do that to me.
FORUM: How do you feel about being called the Marilyn Monroe of the Eighties?
HARRY: It's sort of putting the cart before the horse. If that's a label for looks, fine. But I'm just approaching the idea of doing a couple of movies, and I'm very analytical about it. She was in a whole different realm. I don't think we're anything alike. I don't even think we look alike. I've created an image, a shtick, that has been bought by the public. And from that, people are categorizing me, without really understanding what I've done. Being Blondie is like creating a role and having a run on Broadway for five years. I feel that Blondie is part of me, but not all of me. I think that I can do a lot more. People just know me for jumping around in front of a band.
FORUM: Are you trying to say you're not a dumb blonde?
HARRY: With four inches of brown roots. No, I don't think any of the kids ever equated me with that. And I don't think people that were fans of Marilyn ever thought of her as a dumb blonde. She was being the character of a crazy blonde, or a sexy blonde, but never a dumb blonde.
FORUM: Who do you think is sexy?
HARRY: I think Chris is sexy. Clint Eastwood. John Laurie from the Lounge Lizards. My idea of sexuality is a lot different from anybody else's. I think good looks are sexy. Good looks meaning sense of style, not necessarily symmetrical features. I think sexy people have a terrific sense of style and wit.
FORUM: What women are sexy?
HARRY: Let's see... I can't think of anybody. All right... I thought Jane Fonda was really sexy in Barbarella. That's my idea of what sexy is anyway, Barbarella.
FORUM: Do you dress for sexual attention?
HARRY: Most of the time I dress so outrageously that Chris makes me undress and redress. Sometimes I guess I just reveal too much skin, I'm not very modest. Sometimes I wear things that are too weird. I like to dress like that, it makes me feel good. It makes me feel turned on. When I was trying to attract men and I would dress up, I'd know before I went out whether I would get anybody. You feel totally on. You can just walk into a room and everybody is going to notice you right away, it's just going to be right... It must have been the rubber feet with the warts on the toes. Those get 'em every time, especially when you're dancing.
FORUM: Do people hit on you a lot?
HARRY: Oh yeah. Lots of guys. Sometimes girls, too. Mostly it's fans. Sometimes, very rarely, on an airplane, a suited-up businessman will flirt with me, not knowing who I am. Then as soon as he finds out, he stops.
FORUM: Do you ever take anybody up on it?
HARRY: No, I'm in love with Chris. I haven't had any side things going. Most of the time when I meet people, particularly in and around shows, I'm in town and I'm gone, so there's never any time to develop any friendship or anything... When I was younger, I was really into one-night stands, just fooling around and not bothering to get to know people. But after a certain age, I wasn't interested in that any more. If I do get interested it has to be really just wildly sexual and nothing else. I haven't done anything like that for a long time.
FORUM: People hitting on you - has that increased with fame?
HARRY: The numbers of blatant curiosity-seekers obviously has increased. As far as attracting more members of the opposite sex, there's no way to figure that out. A lot of times, guys that work for Con Ed, construction guys, they don't know particularly who you are, they're always making passes at girls. That continues to happen. A couple of guys followed me out of the little grocery store on the corner the other day, they didn't know who I was, but they were carrying on this flirtation. They were really funny, really cute.
Of course, some of them are obnoxious, they're so sleazy. And one thing I really hate: a lot of guys say to you, "Smile. Why don't you smile?" And I look at them, and they ain't smiling, they ain't being friendly, they're not telling me jokes. Why should I walk around with a big smile? I'm a happy person, but I don't feel like I have to smile when some creep who smells like onions... Tell me a joke, and I'll smile. And if it's a funny joke, I might even laugh. And if it's a real funny joke, I might even have a drink with you... How's that?
FORUM: You mentioned that both men and women come on to you. What about women?
HARRY: Women's sexual advances are much less overt than men's. They're very subtle. It's partly female nature probably, and it's partly because they're afraid of being rejected.
FORUM: How do you react?
HARRY: Same way I react to guys. The obvious thing is for a guy to say, "Hey, you want to have a drink, or you want to come over," and I'll say, "No thanks, I'm with Chris." Very simple. If I've enjoyed meeting them sometimes I'll invite them to come back to the hotel, where everybody hangs around the bar after a show. I'll be friendly, usually. I won't just tell them to fuck themselves or anything...
FORUM: How much sex is good?
HARRY: Some people never get satisfied. I saw this girl on Al Goldstein's show, Midnight Blue. She never could get enough. She was really in love with her boyfriend, and she was also a porn star. She made eighty guys come in one night. She jerked them off, one with each hand, and she fucked them and blew them at the same time - sometimes she had three, four men at the same time. At the end of the night, she said she finally felt satisfied.
My degree of satisfaction with sex always varies. Sometimes I'm not interested at all, I'm totally asexual. Sometimes I must have it...
Sex to me is so natural, I don't even think about it. But I think kids should know more about it.
FORUM: Did you learn about sex when you were little?
HARRY: Not officially, but I picked up a lot on the playground.
FORUM: Do you think people are ODing on sex? Has it been overused?
HARRY: It's definitely being overused. The glamour thing is really boring. They should change all that. They should come out with something new. They should do more with bisexual attitudes or something... But they are in a way, because they're doing all these things with women weightlifters. And that's what I meant before, there's some kind of reversal happening. That's what the Seventies were anyway, the whole consciousness becoming aware of homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual behavior, all of it becoming legitimate and not as clandestine... Which, in a way, makes it boring as hell, but... it was more fun the other way, but at least now you can go into any bar you want to...
Seriously, though, I think the idea of ritual is one of the things that's missing from the way modern man looks at sex. The idea of creating an atmosphere through a certain set of actions... If you were to light a candle, burn some incense and pray for a unique sexual experience or the continuation of your relationship, or to bring to fruition something you both wanted, and then you made love, it would really mean something... You'd get so much more... it would be so total... you know?