Q Magazine - April 1999
Cash For Questions
Words: Steve Malins
Photographs: Hugo Dixon

She escaped a serial killer but not P.D.James. She slightly resents Madonna and is not - repeat "not" - a lesbian. She's been fondled by James Woods and alarmingly will use the phrase "Woof! Woof!" Meet the people, 
Debbie "Deborah" Harry.

"It's sort of like a lapdog, isn't it?" chuckles Blondie's Debbie Harry, tugging at a black furry hat recently acquired in London. "I was just wearing it in a shop and Chrissie Hynde's fucking fur song came on and it made me feel really guilty... the bitch."

We have already seen Debbie Harry once today. Twenty minutes ago, in the middle of West London's King's Road, Harry had the hat half-pulled over her eyes and her black collar up, looking like a bewildered shopper ready to head off in 10 different directions at once. It was only the sight of Blondie's keyboard player Jimmy Destri parked on a pub bench with an Our Price bag, that alerted Q to the fact that the legendary sex bomb-turned-new wave matron was only an arm's length away.

The same air of skittish curiosity impresses at Chelsea Harbour's Conrad Hotel, where in a few minutes Harry points out Damien Hirst's boat on the quay, reveals that she's reading Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy, and holds forth on the junkie population of Sydney's King's Cross district, sharpening each subject with quick East Coast humour and a soft, batty laugh. Overall, she comes over like a genetic cross between Marilyn Monroe and Andy Kaufman. Almost 20 years since Heart Of Glass was Blondie's first UK Number 1 single, and on the eve of their latest single, Maria, repeating the process, Debbie Harry is still alluringly feline.

What was it like being a Bunny Girl?
W.Dods, Northallerton

It was an interesting experience. I made some money, but I never viewed it as a career.

Did your real parents try and get in touch with you once you were famous?
Charlie Beaumont, Blackpool

No. I don't think they know who I am, and I don't know who they are. My adoptive mother died last year, and she's the person who gave me all the stuff that made me the person I am. I can see if you were desperate and lonely you might feel that search and reunion would be necessary... but I've had a good life.

I was told that you were once in a car with Ted Bundy (notorious US serial killer). Is this true?
Melissa Moloney, Dublin

It was a scary moment in my life. I'd just thought I'd gotten away from some lunatic and then years later I read a piece in Newsweek which described the modus operandi of Ted Bundy and I realised that it was the man I'd been in the car with. Basically I was in an area of New York where there weren't cabs - way over on the East Side in Alphabet City. It was in the early-'70s and I was wearing these very high platform shoes and having a hard time walking. I even took my shoes off and was walking barefoot and that was just as bad. I couldn't get a cab and this man kept circling and coming back, saying, Do you want a ride? I kept saying no. About the fourth or fifth time he came back and I realised I wasn't going to get a cab so I got in the car. When I got in it was very hot and I realised the windows were all closed except for a fraction. I looked down to open one and there were no handles. Then I stared around the inside of the car and it was completely stripped out. I remember the hackles on the back of my neck standing up. He smelled awful, he had this incredible odour. So I wriggled my arm out through this little crack and opened the door from the outside. I don't know how I did it, but I saved my life.

When did you last take heroin?
Stephen Parkin, Jarrow

Not since 1984. When Chris Stein (ex-partner and Blondie guitarist) was very sick I did some heroin then. I took it in the late-'60s, then not at all through the Blondie time. When Chris got ill, I was very stressed out. But I never dabble, ever. When you take habit-forming drugs then you usually have a habit. These people who claim they're dabbling, it's just bullshit. I was quite low and made the decision to go into therapy.

What's the story behind your feud with Patti Smith?
Derek Carrell, Dublin

I don't have a feud with Patti Smith. I made some joking remark fairly recently about me and Patti being lesbian lovers and I don't think some people saw that as humour. There was a bit of rivalry between us in the late-'70s. Patti was very competitive and she was much higher up in the food chain so the fact that she was concerned by me was a bit surprising. She probably didn't take anyone very seriously except herself. We're on much better terms now, but we're not lovers. I swear I'm not a lesbian.

Did your first manager Peter Leeds rip you off?
Mandy Hodge, Reading

He made us distrust one another. He told the boys they could all be replaced, I was the only one that was important. From then on they were always a bit afraid of what might happen. His method of management was divide and conquer. But I can't say that he went into the cash drawer and took the money.

There was an ad in the British music press in 1977 of you in a "seductive" pose and the tag-line, "Wouldn't you like to rip her to shreds?" Did you have to deal with a lot of misogynist crap like that?
Pamela Tandy, Wrexham

Yes. Probably at the time I was very unused to that kind of sensationalism but you get hardened to it. It's press, as they say in the business. But journalists didn't used to go on about my breasts the way they do these days when they're writing about Geri Spice Girl or Madonna. So I think I had it easy.

What was the best time in Blondie?
Angie Pearce, Birmingham

Probably the night we were in Milan and Mike Chapman (Blondie's producer) happened to be there, so he says, and that was the night we found out that Heart of Glass went to Number 1 in America.

We're always hearing stories about Chris Stein's health. What was actually wrong with the poor feller?
Roger Yeots, Lincoln

He had a disease called pemphigus vulgaris. It comes from stress. They didn't know whether it was genetic or viral and it was kind of rare. Until the invention of steroids it was terminal, so I'm very happy that steroids were around to cure him. We couldn't do Blondie without Chris. He was the one who initiated most of the groundbreaking musical things we did and a lot of the time he was the one who had to fight to push them through, and it took its toll on him.

Why weren't Frank Infante (Blondie's rhythm guitarist) and Nigel Harrison (bassist) not invited back to the newly re-formed Blondie?
Derek Culshaw, Wigan

Frank was not in the 1982 version of the band. He'd already left. Nigel was considered and asked but he said that he had a career working at the record company, Interscope. I think I saw Nigel once or twice in that entire period between us splitting up and getting back together again. At present they're both suing us, saying that they are entitled to money made from the name. We're fighting and that's all I can say.

Koo Koo: nice artwork, shame about the album?
Patricia Rush, Hackney

Piss off. I love that record. The mix is bad but the material is great. But Chrysalis didn't want me to have a solo career, and right after Koo Koo was released, Ebony & Ivory came out with a big push on black and white doing it together, and they completely missed the boat because Koo Koo was exactly the same thing. Only Chic (Harry's collaborators on Koo Koo) were so much smarter, they were a parallel to Blondie.

Did you feel usurped by Madonna?
Louise Lawrence, Scarborough

Yes, in her early days when she was doing her Marilyn thing and being very blonde, she clearly took over my territory. That was upsetting because I really didn't know what to do and I was so down and out at that point. In retrospect I think she caused me a few problems at my American label, Warners, because they were so heavily involved in Madonna it affected the level of promotion I got from them. And for the record, I'm not having a lesbian relationship with Madonna.

Why did you change your name to Deborah for a bit?
Jessica HOwells, Walcot

Because my real name is Deborah and I'm much older, more sophisticated person now, heh, heh. Actually I just got sick of Debbie because it sounds so cute and I wanted to make a break between Blondie and my solo career, so I called myself Deborah. It didn't work, God damn it. I never said to my friends, Call me Deborah now, no. Most of them call me schmuck.

Did you have to be very careful when having "relations" with Chris Stein, since he was a bit frail...
Oliver Sargent, Dundee

Take it and shove it...

Chrysalis Records: were you humped or did you jump?
Stuart Murdoch, Mauchline

Woof woof! It wasn't all bad with Chrysalis, they did a good job on promoting Blondie and introducing it in such a way that our reputation has remained. We still exist today because of the way they marketed us. They sometimes made us change things, like we had a great cover - for Plastic Letters, I think - we shot it out in LA and I didn't have a dress so I just took a pillow case and I stripped gaffer tape on it, made me it into this little white dress with gaffer tape all over it and I had my hair all sticking out. They just said, Too punk, and we had to re-do it.

Are you currently in a relationship?
Gary Bell, Colchester

I am not having a lesbian relationship with anyone.

Are you honestly back playing again because you enjoy it so much, or do you really need the money?
Stephen Rudd, East Yorkshire

We always want the money. Working for money is a good thing, it's what we all do because it's survival. But there was a lot more to it than just wanting the money. EMI were putting out yet another Best Of package, so we went to them with the idea of us giving them two new songs and to try and upgrade our deal because we were working on a percentage decided in the late-'70s. Initially, the UK record company were very interested and we did a couple of tracks with Nick Rhodes and Warren Cuccurullo from Duran Duran but then EMI closed in the States and the deal fell through. So we took it to Capitol but they said they didn't like the material and weren't interested. One of the songs was a blatant attempt to link up with the Studio 54 movie project and the other one was a ballad. Anyway, we all got to know each other a bit and it sort of grew from there over a two-year period.

Do you feel bad about the way you've treated Gary Valentine (original bassist) over the years. Or is he insufferable?
Olga Darrow, Poole, Dorset

Dear oh dear. No, I don't feel bad about the way I've treated him. Gary wanted to leave Blondie, and he's gotten money from his publishing and his shares of the Blondie business. In fact I think it helped pay for his Masters Degree and now he's a freelance writer. I think Gary's fine. We invited him back into the band when we started working with Duran Duran because he was our obvious first choice but it just didn't work out musically so he's not part of the current line-up. But he's not insufferable; he's funny, he's cute.

Playing live again, what Blondie single do you like performing the most?
Jason Leatherbarrow, Liverpool

Rapture. It was our tribute to Grade B sci-fi movies but you'll have to ask Chris about that. I wrote the pretty toe-to-toe part, he did the fucking Man From Mars bits.

We're expecting a baby on April 15, have you got any suggestions for names?
Maria & Kent Harris, Twickenham

If it's a girl Eurydice. If it's a boy Orpheus.

What did you think of the Hay-On-Wye literary festival you attended in 1998?
Keith Ogden. Brecon, Wales

It was great. I got to meet P.D.James, queen of mystery. We played a good Jazz Passengers gig there. I'd never been to that part of Wales before.

Are there any more film roles in the pipeline, and which do you consider your best and worst films?
Darran Markey, Oswestry

I have one on the way called Six Ways To Sunday that was shown at a film festival here back in November. I think my best one is Videodrome or Hairspray. People have asked me if I actually burned myself with a cigerette in Videodrome and I can't believe it. It's all fantasy, kids. The worst one is Phone Sex, a TV movie starring James Russo. Potentially it was good but it really didn't turn out too well.

Do you regret not having children?
Suzi Scoones, Oxford

Yes. It's a long story. I'd rather not go into it.

What has been your all-time high and your all-time low?
Joe Cushnan, Worksop

The low point was when Chris was sick after the break-up of Blondie. A personal high-point was when I presented a Grammy Award to Rickie Lee Jones and my co-presenter was George Burns, whom I've always adored.

When I was about 15 a schoolfriend of mine showed me some nude pictures of you in a men's magazine. I am now 33. Does that make you feel old?
Jim Brakell, Ellesmere Port

Not especially, no. I think I'm very fortunate in that I went through my "old" phase when I was in my twenties. I used to feel very old then, and now I don't think about it very often. If I do it's, Oh, God, when am I going to start to really look bad? When am I going to turn to a pile of rot? But most of the time I'm busy and happy with what I'm doing and, well, lucky me.


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