Record Mirror - 8th November 1986
THE RETURN OF
Interview: Nancy Culp
"I want to have fun this time and take things
lighter than I did in the past." After solo
failure in the early Eighties and the prolonged
illness of her boyfriend Chris Stein, Debbie Harry
returns to vinyl form and tells the world about it in
an exclusive rm interview Hurry up Harry:
If you were asked to name, off the top of your
head, the band with the most enduring image from the
late Seventies, the chances are that one name and one
image would immediately spring to your mind - Blondie.
Yet up until recently, all that remained of her
presence (dear) was a lovely celluloid memory, such as
was witnessed on the recent reshowing of Blondie's
first ever TV appearance, on Granada TV's 'The Way
They Were'. We saw a truly awe-struck Tony Wilson
gawping in completely undisguised wonder at the
thigh-booted, platinum-haired vision in black as she
rasped her way so deliciously through 'Rip Her To
So what did happen to Blondie and its inspiration for
that name - Ms Deborah Harry?
From the early garageland punk of 'Rip Her To Shreds',
through to the musical boundary smashing 'Heart Of
Glass', then into the Eighties with the song that
probably first featured rap proper in the popular
charts, 'Rapture', the archetypal blonde with the
perfect face dominated the pages of every music paper.
Once the initial punkiness had been honed down by ace
pop producer Mike Chapman in the form of 'Denis',
Blondie were practically unmoveable from their
position in the top 40. Indeed, they were the top
singles act of 1979, with two number ones and two
platinum discs (for 'Heart Of Glass' and 'Sunday
Girl'). The album, 'Parallel Lines', outsold all its
nearest rivals, and it seemed - as the punky Seventies
wore on to the electronic Eighties - that Blondie were
set to make a transition rather more smoothly than
many of their contemporaries.
'BLONDIE - THE GROUP' the slogan went, but no amount
of solidarity amongst the ranks of the record company
or the press could stop the public from latching
itself onto Blondie's most unmistakable asset - the
stunning Ms Harry. Role model for an entire generation
of women, she possessed that elusive quality of being
appreciated by both men and women. The possible
stumbling block of her straight-from-the-street-corner
tackiness was countered by an obvious high intellect,
a palatable level of artiness and a genuine love of
what she was doing. ("I've never thought of
giving it up. I'll always consider myself as a
performer and a musician and I can't say that I'd drop
it," she tells me later.) She is all things to
However, the glittering career and endless stream of
hits suddenly hit a rather large hole in the road, and
the Blondie-mobile plummeted headfirst into the ditch.
First of all, Debbie's long awaited solo album in
1981, 'Koo-Koo', was slammed unanimously by the
critics. Taking its cue from the only single to make a
chart showing, 'Back Fired' was a rather apt title.
Maybe, in hindsight, the avant-garde nature of it went
She was one of the first pop people to use Nile
Rodgers and explore the possibilities of rap. Then in
1982, insult was added to injury when the band's limp
'The Hunter' album bombed, along with a UK tour
playing arena-type venues. More importantly, Debbie's
boyfriend and co-founder of Blondie, Chris Stein,
suddenly fell pray to the mysterious and debilitating
illness pemphigus vulgaris - which attacks the
victim's skin causing it to become infected and fall
That was it. The band shuddered to a halt, Chris went
into hospital for an indefinite period leaving Debbie,
alone and distraught, to carry on and eventually nurse
him back to health. She was never seen out, except for
the occasional particularly cruel photo of her en
route to the hospital wearing her sorrow only too
Then, mid last year, a song crept out on the 'Krush
Groove' soundtrack, then another on the 'Scarface'
soundtrack. Slowly but surely, Debbie was getting back
into the swing of it, True, the recordings may not
have been quite what made her such a creative force in
the first place but on the whole, most people were
only too glad to have her back on the scene, the one
and only Platinum Venus.
By the end of 1985, with Chris now measurably
better and well on his way to writing again, Debbie
started to think about returning to the studio, with
the pair of them collaborating on the songs. Late
October 1986, and I'm dialling a New York number with
hands trembling so much that I can just about make it
to the last digit. The phone answered and an agonising
silence ensues before the soft tones of one of my top
five goddesses eases me into the interview.
The main topic of conversation is, quite naturally,
the new single 'French Kissin' In The USA'. Due for
release in early November, it's a remarkable return to
the form of yore, albeit a gentler hybrid of the well
loved Harry repertoire. A sampler tape from the album,
also due in November, promises more of the same. It's
called, aptly enough, 'Rockbird'.
"I really had fun doing it," remarks Debbie,
after gracefully accepting reams of gushing comments
from yours truly. "It's a very personal record
for me. It's less agressive than the Blondie stuff. I
feel it's far more sort of feminine."
Was it written by you or Chris? "Oh no, it was
written by a guy called Chuck Lorre, who I've never
actually met. The song was just submitted to me by my
record company Geffen, and I just loved it so we
You've been away for quite a while now, where do you
see yourself fitting in with the current music scene?
"I don't really know, I haven't been paying
attention to it." (Small wonder really.) "I
haven't really thought of it as fitting in. I think
all different kinds of music can exist together."
What made you feel that now was a good time to get
back into it all? "Well, it just seemed like I
was ready to get back to business and work. Chris is
so much better now, so it was a good time to do
I tactfully avoid the subject of Chris's illness, as
it somehow seems inappropriate to rake over old
issues, especially as I felt she just wanted to talk
about what's happening now. As she talks she sounds
excited, yet maybe just a little apprehensive about
her new solo outing. It's been two years after all,
and the business can change a lot in that time. But
"In this country," (USA), "it certainly
has. The music marketing is much more sophisticated
and so is the American press." She hesitates and
then continues, "I always felt that the English
music press - and I'm not just saying this - was far
more sophisticated and that the American press tended
to look up to it. But that's changing now."
Maybe her enthusiasm for the English press is coloured
slightly by the fact that us lot over here took
Blondie to our collective hearts far earlier than the
Americans, but then Blondie always did have a slight
Englishness about them. Perhaps it was something to do
with their spirit of adventure which took them into
the uncharted waters of the previously black dominated
disco/rap area. Debbie emphasises that the
experimentalism was what Blondie were all about.
"It's certainly to our credit. I think rap is a
very vital and interesting medium. I've always loved
it. We always experimented with crossover things and I
think it's stood up well historically."
When you look back over Blondie's recorded output and
your solo stuff, what do you think were its strengths
"I think our biggest strength was being
adventurous and moving on, like after achieving a
certain sound. Also not staying in a rut. We were very
adventurous and aggressive about trying new things and
making that blend of black music and white rock and
roll work so well. I guess too, we had the right
combination of being intelligent and entertaining, and
we were good visually of course! And we tried to
maintain a sense of humour. Our weaknesses? Well, they
were the ones that destroy most bands. Problems with
business, competition getting too much within the band
- outside forces."
Yes, it is very often money and the business side of
things which finally ruin things, isn't it? And
resentments within the band over payments and so on.
"It's exactly the truth! And it keeps repeating
itself over and over again. I think a lot of people in
the business use it as a tool when they're involved
There's more than a hint of bitterness in her voice
when she says that last sentence, and it makes you
think that maybe it wasn't only Chris's illness which
put an abrupt halt to the band. However, if there is
any bitterness within her, it certainly is not showing
up in her physically. As you can see from the latest
pictures, Debbie is still as supernaturally gorgeous
as ever, and at her age (and I was too polite to ask,
but would hazzrd a guess at just over 40), she makes
women 20 years her junior look like pruning gloves
next to her rose-like beauty. I comment on that fact
and she laughs.
"You'd better hold back that statement 'till
you've seen me in person! I don't know, I'm just
lucky. I'm terribly bad sometimes and sometimes I'm
good. But I should be more disciplined."
Reassuringly, the same as the rest of us girls, eh? So
you've not had any facelifts then? "No!"
(laughing), not yet!"
So how do you still look so good? "I don't go in
the sun. I've not been very successful at tanning. I
just go red. So I've had no incentive to sit in the
I think I'm probably only one of many to be externally
grateful to Ms Harry for liberating all us peroxide
peaches from the tyranny of having dark roots showing.
But tell me, have you ever got so fed up with it that
you've felt like running out and dying your hair say
red or black? This question prompts a veritable gale
of laughter from the other end.
"No, I really don't! I think it's more modelled
now. There's more streaking in it. The front, as you
can see on the sleeve photo, is still very blonde, but
the back is very striped. I'm going for a more blotchy
look at the back!"
What does she think, I wonder, of all these women
she's influenced - hello Patsy K, Cyndi Lauper, any
bottle blonde this side of Madonna. I can almost hear
her lips pursing up when I mention that last name . .
"I can't honestly say that I'm flattered that I
have had so much influence, because everything before
you influences you. But there are the Slits, Siouxsie,
Poly Styrene, Chrissie Hynde etc, so I can't claim
that it's all mine, there are others!"
You mentioned earlier to me, you disliked mixing music
and politics - are you aware of what's happening in
England such as the Red Wedge thing which involves
musicians and party politicians?
"I've never liked that. I've always tried to keep
politics out of my music. Music should be for
entertainment, for relief from your daily perspective.
Politics stinks as far as I'm concerned."
Inevitably, the conversation turns to the topic of the
Government's attitude to AIDS and the related subject
of sex in general.
"It's infuriating. They put billions of dollars
into the arms race, then put a thousandth of that into
medical research for AIDS. The statistics are
frightening. It could depopulate sections of the earth
in 10 years time! It's not just limited to
homosexuals, it's a heterosexual disease. So everyone
has to realise that. Personal attitudes and tastes
don't concern me.
"Whatever you want and need is fine by me, but as
far as public health and alloting money to research
everyone should be saying that it's a problem for
everyone to deal with, not just a minority group. But
the worst thing that has happened here is the Supreme
Court Law over oral sex. Now, I'm not completely sure
of the facts so you'll have to check it out - but
there is a law about to be passed which means that
even if it's been two consenting adults in private,
you can be arrested for having oral sex. That's not
just in Texas but every state. Isn't that terrible? I
think it's aimed at homosexuals."
Frightening indeed. But let's turn back to a
somewhat more cheerful matter, the new album 'Rockbird',
which features three songs by producer Seth Justman,
three co-written with Chris, one of which, 'In Love
With Love', she describes as being: "Sort of
lyrically and somewhat musically it is our sequel to
'Heart Of Glass'."
Also included is the single, another song co-written
with a woman called Toni C, and a tune co-written with
Nile Rodgers entitled 'Beyond The Limit'.
All sounds jolly exciting too. But have you been
keeping up with the press at all, you know, checking
up on the competition?
"Well, I haven't, but I've been paying more
attention to it lately. People keep asking me
questions as if I know which trend is which, but I've
been in the studio so much. Like the other day,
someone asked me who I liked and I said Sigue Sigue
Sputnik. People laugh at that but they're so
She also confesses to liking New York's adopted
bastions of Irish patriotism, the UK's very own Pogues.
Are you nervous about the reception the record will
get though, Debbie? "Well, I'm sort of having a
delayed reaction to that. It's only since I've been
talking to journalists that I've actually thought
about things like that. I don't want to get nervous. I
want to have more fun this time and take things
lighter than I did in the past. You know, it might all
have a cumulative effect!"
Well, I for one sincerely hope so, because, Heaven
only knows, the charts sorely miss Debbie Harry's
sparking blend of sultry sophistication and pure