ICON MAGAZINE - Autumn/Winter 2007
Pages 6, 36, 37, 38, 39
Interview: Stephen Unwin
Photos: Joe Gaffney
"I still have wild nights like I always had," says Debbie Harry in a voice that is almost a whisper. "Just not so frequently! I'm certainly not into substances the way I was once."
In an age where pop stars think of eating McDonalds in a hotel room and flashing body parts that no-one really needs to see during a night on the tiles as the outer limits of the rock'n'roll lifestyle, Debbie Harry has been there, done it and worn the T-shirt.
In fact, she's worn the T-shirt without trousers (but with underpants, she assures me), on Top of the Pops in a classic moment of pop history, which every man over the age of 35 probably still cherishes. She's hung out with Andy Warhol, starred in movies by cult directors like David Cronenberg and John Waters, sung with the highly credible Jazz Passengers and has inspired pretty much everyone. From Madonna, who some say stole Debbie's niche in pop, while she was off nursing her partner and band mate Chris Stein back to health in the 80s, to Texas front lady Sharleen Spitteri, who has always paid more than a bit of homage to Blondie in her songs.
"Oh, the grande dame of pop thing," she laughs baring her baby teeth, "that's double-edged. If I dwell on it, I think, 'oh, God, I'm so old!' That's not really the sort of person I am as I'm very much about the now, but at the same time, I'm terrifically satisfied and proud."
Today, looking barely an inch of her hard-to-believe 62 years, Deborah (which she's always preferred to 'Debbie') is sitting on her new brilliantly received solo album, and still looking every inch the rock goddess. Her hair is soft and mostly blonde, her make-up just a cat's lick emphasising the arch of her eyebrows, and that mouth - remember how she used to be recognisable from just the shape of her lips? Still achingly gorgeous. The lines, up-close, are the sort most women not even approaching her age, would be happy with post-airbrushing. She must pinch herself each time she takes a look in the mirror.
"Well, I've never hidden the fact that I've had surgery. I guess my vanity just doesn't lie in that particular area of denying it," says Debbie, matter-of-factly. "That, and my genetics, I'm lucky, I have Scottish skin."
The assumption that Debbie was older than we all thought has followed her around since the beginning. Back in the heyday of Blondie, when the band were peeling off global number one hits like, "Heart of Glass" and "Atomic", she was in her mid-thirties, while a lot of her chart contenders were barely out of their teens and she was still the most Blu-Tacked woman on Planet Earth.
"There's still this expectation to look good," Debbie continues, "but you have to make sure as you get older that you wear clothes that fit your body. I'm not into any one designer but I do have people who seem to know how to cut clothes to suit my body. That's not to say there haven't been a few newsstand-worthy bloomers along the way. There was this one picture that I thought, 'that's horrible, why would you even want to print a picture like that'? I have to be careful to look in the mirror as I leave the house," she insists with a smile. "I've caught myself going out with dirt streaked all down my face!"
Compared to the wham-bam careers of many of today's pop up-starts, Deborah's career has a trajectory that carries all the hallmarks of talent combined with tenacity and raw X-factor, with a continuing appetite for the sound that Blondie epitomises (New Wave-Punk, with that infectious pop sensibility) - not least in the UK. "In the early days people did actually think we were British which is why we did so well there," she says. There has always been this connection between Blondie and the UK. With the penchant for today's starlets spectacularly going off the rails and often without the least bit of decorum, you'd expect a certain level of bemusement on the part of Debbie who, despite the trials and temptations that came her way, managed to resist pushing the self-destruct button.
"I think it's very difficult," she says of the Paris-Lindsay-Britney triumvirate. "They are very young but they can never escape the attention. They seem to enjoy it but it can't be easy when everything you ever do is going to be scrutinized. There's a song on the album called 'School for Scandal' which is about that sort of media intrusion."
Home is still New York. "It's not quite the same place it used to be but I still get a real buzz from being there". New York, where Debbie first landed at a time when it was a hotbed of proper rock'n'roll, with acts like The Ramones and Television starting to make a noise, in both senses of the word. After a couple of false starts in bands like Wind in the Willows and The Stilettos, she and Chris who had met (eyes-across-a-room-style) when Debbie was on stage, formed Blondie.
Proving that punks didn't have to be ugly, spit at their audiences, self-mutilate or murder their girlfriends in hotel rooms, Blondie went on to become the most successful band in the world at the time. Launching a million torn T-shirts and smudgy eyes, and cross-generational crushes, they were the only pop stars dads and kids could agree on. Debbie was easily the most famous blonde in the world, managing to juggle global success with the utmost credibility. Now there's even a Broadway musical of Desperately Seeking Susan set to the soundtrack of Blondie's back catalogue - surely the modern endorsement of greatness - to add to Debbie's heaving bow.
"When they came to us with the idea we weren't sure," Debbie admits, "but I love the film, it's such a fun thing and I think the songs work with it. We've heard a run through of it in New York and I thought it was great."
These days, with new 'New Wave' kids rediscovering her genius (and stealing her style), dads' eyes still glazing over at the mere mention of her name, a new album giving her (much) younger counterparts a run for their money and a Broadway musical, is there anything left?
"Do you think I should be doing more?" she laughs. "Don't you think that's enough?"
The album Necessary Evil was released on 17th September.