- June 1999
By Glenn O'Brien
Front Cover photography by Rob Roth
She's influenced performers from Annie Lennox to
Liz Phair and, oh yeah, Madonna - bringing an
ironic, witty glamour to punk rock. Now Deborah
Harry and her seminal band, Blondie, have reunited
with a fierce new album, No Exit, and a
cross-country tour. Are you ready for the rapture?
I met Deborah Harry and Blondie in 1976 at CBGB's,
New York's famous Bowery dive. I remember the night
vividly. Debbie, who was drinking Heineken out of a
bottle, would have been overawing if it weren't for
a radiant warmth that put me at ease right off.
Chris Stein talked as fast as Woody Allen, with
contortions of logic that indicated an alarming and
subversive genius at work behind those nighttime
sunglasses. I was working for Andy Warhol and
writing the music column for Interview, and they
actually read it. We hit it off immediately and
Although she looked like a kid in the CB days,
Debbie had been around. She'd been a folkie with a
band called Wind in the Willows, a waitress at Max's
Kansas City during the wildest of the Warhol days,
and a Playboy bunny. In 1973 she joined a proto-punk
band called the Stiletos, and at their second gig
she met Chris Stein, an art student, photographer,
and guitarist. The two clicked almost magically.
They moved in together and in 1974 formed the group
that would eventually - with drummer Clem Burke,
Keyboardist Jimmy Destri, and bassist Gary Valentine
- become Blondie. The rest, of course, is music
"Heart of Glass" was Blondie's first
No. 1 hit - and something of a miracle: a disco song
by a punk band at the height of the late '70s
"disco sucks" movement. They had the first
No. 1 reggae song with "The Tide Is High"
and the first No. 1 rap hit with
"Rapture." If punk was about getting back
to basics and away from the excesses of dinosaur art
rock, Blondie's special gift was for making pop
songs with great hooks - songs that were ready for
Top 40 but had wit, irony, and stripped-down musical
virtuosity. Debbie was, in a way, the first real
woman rock star. She was cool and beautiful and had
great style - making her a diva for our times.
She was also launching an acting career, with
roles in 1979's Union City and David Cronenberg's
1982 sci-fi thriller, Videodrome, co-starring James
Woods. And she starred in the Broadway show Teaneck
Tanzi, a comedy about women's professional
Then, suddenly and bizarrely, things fell apart.
In 1982 Chris was taken deathly ill with a rare
genetic disorder. Debbie dropped everything to nurse
him back to health, and in the meantime the band
broke up. Chris recovered, but their romance didn't.
They separated, amicably, and remain best friends to
this day. Debbie continued to act - from John
Waters' Hairspray to James Mangold's Heavy. She
released several solo albums before joining a band
called the Jazz Passengers in the '90s.
Last year, as spontaneously and unexpectedly as
they split, Blondie reunited. Debbie, Chris, Clem,
and Jimmy got together to perform a few shows and
noticed there were a lot of young faces in the
audience. They realized they could still make
powerful, relevant pop music and rock a big house.
Blondie's new album, No Exit, is a remarkable
accomplishment - one that's enjoying both critical
and commercial success, as the band gears up for a
13-city tour in May and June. They're having more
fun than ever. And dare I say they've matured?
"Everybody's a lot less fucked up now."
Chris concedes. "Nobody's stoned. In the old
days everyone was horrendously fucked up and
negative about everything. Today we're horrendously
fucked up but really positive. It's a big
It's not common for a seemingly dead band to
resurrect itself, let alone achieve superstardom
again. Some people think you've got to be an angry,
alienated, savage young kid to push music to the
next level. But a kid's got nothing on four angry,
alienated, savage adults who also happen to be
smart, cultured, and incredibly accomplished. Debbie
Harry and the boys are older, wiser, and - in the
very best sense - wilder than ever.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Hi Debbie. I called earlier, but I
guess you were out.
DEBORAH HARRY: I was walking La Poochita, and it
took longer than usual because her gonads are
GLENN O'BRIEN: Enraged? Does that mean she's on heat
- or infected?
DEBORAH HARRY: Probably both. It's that time of
year. She was standing there on the street getting
head from this black Lab. It was really quite
GLENN O'BRIEN: It would be more interesting if
people went into heat seasonally. What do you think?
DEBORAH HARRY: Some people do. Walking around the
streets now is much more rewarding than it was in
GLENN O'BRIEN: Yeah, it was unexpectedly chilly
yesterday and suddenly there was all these girls in
tank tops with goosebumps.
DEBORAH HARRY: And miniskirts with no stockings. And
guys with no shirts on. Actually, I saw guys with
little shirts - they're not completely toples yet.
GLENN O'BRIEN: You live in Chelsea - it won't be
long. What's Poochita's real name?
DEBORAH HARRY: Chi Chan. I call her Chi Chi too. And
GLENN O'BRIEN: Does she answer to all of those?
DEBORAH HARRY: She answers to nothing and no one.
GLENN O'BRIEN: The other night you won a Lifetime
Achievement award from one of your favorite New York
clubs, Jackie 60. Did you give an acceptance speech?
DEBORAH HARRY: I was completely surprised by it. I
said, "Thank you very much, but I'm not dead
yet." And left the stage immediately.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Do you still perform at Jackie?
DEBORAH HARRY: Occasionally. On awards night I was
supposed to present one, and I was really chagrined
because when I got there, they said we weren't going
to be presenting until 2:30 a.m. I screamed,
"What?!" I was really tired that night.
I'd just gotten back from a trip. That hour is a
little beyond my scope now.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Maybe you used to be a woman of more
DEBORAH HARRY: I certainly was a woman of a
different schedule. Now my schedule is quite early.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Have you ever been
DEBORAH HARRY: Miss Guy did me at Jackie 60 a few
weeks ago. He lip-synched to "Rapture" and
had various people doing the walk-on bits from the
video. It was video verite'. It's a new breakthrough
GLENN O'BRIEN: Was there any resemblance?
DEBORAH HARRY: I'm horrified if I look and act like
that. But I guess beauty is in the eye of the
beholder. I shouldn't really critique it, though,
because I'm friends with Miss Guy.
GLENN O'BRIEN: I thought it was a travesty!
DEBORAH HARRY: You weren't there!
GLENN O'BRIEN: OK, I wasn't there. I meant it was a
transvesty. How is the tour going?
DEBORAH HARRY: It's going well. It's probably going
to last six more months before I kill someone. Maybe
GLENN O'BRIEN: How is it different traveling with
the same four you travelled with 20 years ago?
DEBORAH HARRY: The personalities are pretty much the
same. It's not the same testosterone level. Jimmy [Destri]
is married, so he's not out every night with a
GLENN O'BRIEN: What does he do instead?
DEBORAH HARRY: We go out for dinner, sit around the
hotel bar and make jokes, meet people, go to
parties. It's more adult-ly social.
GLENN O'BRIEN: What about Chris? I thought he was
out every night with a different groupie.
DEBORAH HARRY: He was for a while, but lately he's
got himself hooked up.
GLENN O'BRIEN: When you and Chris broke up, did you
go through a jealousy period?
DEBORAH HARRY: Well, breaking up is hard to do.
GLENN O'BRIEN: I know. How do you do it?
DEBORAH HARRY: Oooh! You've done it. Well, I guess
GLENN O'BRIEN: Yeah, only 10 years and a million
DEBORAH HARRY: Do you really want to go into all
this sad stuff?
GLENN O'BRIEN: No. But I know the readers do.
DEBORAH HARRY: I can't. The mornings are hard enough
for me. I drink a cup of coffee, and I'm full of
anxiety. Even though it's decaf. I can't talk about
GLENN O'BRIEN: Do you have a new movie? I heard you
made one where you have sex with your son.
DEBORAH HARRY: Six Ways to Sunday. It came and went
quickly, but it's a cute movie. The lead, Norman
Reedus, is a terrific actor. He used to model for
GLENN O'BRIEN: Did it feel incestuous?
DEBORAH HARRY: It was more camp than anything. I'd
like to do more movies. Blondie's reunion is good
for exposure - maybe it will make people think of me
for parts. I'm ready. I'm really ready, Glenn. I'm
GLENN O'BRIEN: Do you think they'll ever make
Blondie, the TV movie? Like the Sonny and Cher
DEBORAH HARRY: Oh, VH1 tried. They offered a low
budget, and we thought it would be really tacky.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Well, they did Sonny and Cher, and
now Cher has that big hit.
DEBORAH HARRY: Sonny and Cher had a really big
career and all those different stages. Their story
was much more evolved.
GLENN O'BRIEN: But you're more evolved people than
they are. Does performing feel different now from
the way it did in the old days?
DEBORAH HARRY: I really enjoy myself now and have a
better understanding of my job as a performer and
entertainer now. Although sometimes I'm not the most
wittiest or most articulate person.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Oh, come on, Debbie! Give me a break.
You're the Cole Porter of chicks.
DEBORAH HARRY: I'm coming along. I squeeze out a
joke now and then - and I actually get the
audience's laughter, which thrills me to no end. I
would love to be a stand-up comic. [Beat.] Just
GLENN O'BRIEN: Do you get nervous before performing
DEBORAH HARRY: Instead of getting nervous and
internalizing, I get angry. I get ferocious before I
go on. I'm like the bull or the bronco in the pen
waiting to get out and explode. That's how I
GLENN O'BRIEN: Which of the songs you've written is
DEBORAH HARRY: I like "Double Take" off
the new record. I really spent some time and thought
it through, and it has real meaning for me. I
achieved some songwriting truth in that.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Have other artists covered Blondie
DEBORAH HARRY: The girl from Rugrats did "One
Way or Another." Melissa Joan Hart did it, too.
That one's been picked up a lot.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Are you making big money now?
DEBORAH HARRY: What's happened is that the old
catalog has gotten a big boost. So far we haven't
made any money from the new stuff.
GLENN O'BRIEN: I remember when Blondie were No. 1
all over the world, and you guys had no money, and
Chris would call the record company, and they'd say,
"It's in the pipeline."
DEBORAH HARRY: It's a long pipeline. Even longer
than "The check is in the mail."
GLENN O'BRIEN: What's the weirdest rumor about
Blondie that was ever in the tabloids?
DEBORAH HARRY: Just the usual crap. What could they
GLENN O'BRIEN: Well, last week I think it was the
Enquirer that had the headline CHER HASN'T HAD A MAN
IN SIX YEARS. It said she was encouraged to be a
lesbian by her daughter, Chastity.
DEBORAH HARRY: Well, I don't have kids. But in
England they wrote that I had conversations with my
GLENN O'BRIEN: Like Nixon?
DEBORAH HARRY: Actually, Nixon was there! I think I
told someone that when I was a kid my father built
this brick barbecue that was shaped something like a
Mayan temple, and I used to play in front of this
structure and have communications with it. It was
like my dollhouse. I think they took it from there
and said I was communicating with aliens that were
speaking from the fireplace.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Is it true that you're a lesbian?
DEBORAH HARRY: Just because I haven't had sex in six
years and I've been seeing Cher a lot?
GLENN O'BRIEN: So it's true about you and Cher?
DEBORAH HARRY: Absolutely. I'm just jealous that she
has a big hit.
GLENN O'BRIEN: A big head?
DEBORAH HARRY: No, big hit.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Oh, sorry. That makes sense because
your head is much bigger than hers.
DEBORAH HARRY: I do have a big head.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Do you have groupies on the road?
DEBORAH HARRY: I'm gonna work on it this time. I
swear to God, Glenn, I'm gonna try to have a lot of
sex with a lot of strangers, OK?
GLENN O'BRIEN: As long as you're safe.
DEBORAH HARRY: I'll be safe. I'll bring a big supply
of fresh butt plugs.
GLENN O'BRIEN: I always wanted to do that. Not butt
plugs. Sex with a lot of strangers.
DEBORAH HARRY: You always wanted to be a slut?
GLENN O'BRIEN: Yeah, kind of.
DEBORAH HARRY: You were a babe magnet!
GLENN O'BRIEN: But I was too stoned to act on it.
Girls would come up to me, and I'd be, "Oh,
DEBORAH HARRY: You sounded like Andy Warhol when you
GLENN O'BRIEN: And he had a lot of sex. Not! I
learned my pickup technique from the best wallflower
of all time. You were pretty good friends with Andy.
DEBORAH HARRY: I was just getting close to and
getting really comfortable with him when he died. He
was always so nice to us. I can't believe that
people would say bad things about him. He was such a
GLENN O'BRIEN: I know. He was my father figure. He
DEBORAH HARRY: I was devastated when he died. He
played a heavier role in my life that I ever
realized when he was alive. I was actually crying in
mourning over this person. And life really changed.
GLENN O'BRIEN: I remember the day he died. I cried
all morning, and in the afternoon I suddenly
realized, There's nobody left whose opinion of my
work I care about.
DEBORAH HARRY: He made you measure up. And you know
what? The day I left Chris, the day that I told him
I was leaving and wanted to live by myself, was the
day Andy died. Chris said, "Your timing is
impeccable, as usual." It was all the more
devastating because, as you know, breaking up is
hard to do.
GLENN O'BRIEN: Yeah. How do you do that?
DEBORAH HARRY: Aw, fuck off!
Glenn O'Brien was an editor for INTERVIEW,
ROLLING STONE, and SPIN and writes for PAPER and