Record Mirror - 28th February 1987
Page 42 + 43
Did you know that: (a) Debbie Harry became 'Blondie' after a truck driver hooted at her, (b) Debs used to rummage through garbage cans to find her stage gear, (c) Ms H is an orphan girl who used to think she was Marilyn Monroe's illegitimate offspring...? Yup, the ultimate fax on Harry's game is all in an RM DHSS (Debbie Harry Special Service) extravaganza.
Profile: Robin Smith
On hot summer afternoons in Greenwich Village, truck drivers used to hoot at the girl on the sidewalk with the startling hair. "Hey, Blondie," one of them yelled, and a legend was almost born.
The girl's name was Deborah Harry, a struggling singer who was not above searching through garbage cans to try and find unusual stage clothes. In a story that often reads like a soap opera script, Debbie had come to New York to be a star. In a few years she would become the sensuous voice behind some classic pop songs, and people would call her the new Marilyn Monroe.
Debbie Harry was born in Miami, Florida, but she never knew who her real parents were. When she was three-months-old, she was adopted by Catherine and Richard Harry and taken to Hawthorne, New Jersey. At the age of four, Debbie's parents told her she was adopted and for a long time she fantasised that she was the illegitimate daughter of Marilyn Monroe. "I always thought I was Marilyn's kid," she says. "I definitely felt physically related and akin to her."
Debbie's head swelled when an auntie told her she looked just like a movie star, and at school she was voted prettiest girl in the class. Debbie became a baton twirler in the school band, and to draw even more attention to herself she started bleaching her hair. Some of her hair styles and make up were so bizarre that many of the kids on the block refused to be seen in the street with her.
"There was no colour I didn't try," remembers Debbie. "I started to draw attention to myself with orange hair and mostly black clothes. My parents had to put up with some stupid shit from me. When I felt I wasn't being appreciated I'd say to them, 'You'll be sorry you talked to me like this when I'm rich and famous.'"
In the best rock'n'roll tradition, Debbie hated school, apart from the art classes, and spent most of her time listening to the radio. As soon as she'd graduated from high school Debbie left her comfortable home in New Jersey and headed for the bright lights of New York, with the intention of becoming an artist.
She ended up working in shops and hanging out in Greenwich Village. This was the hippy dippy Sixties, and Debbie enjoyed watching Lou Reed play at the Electric Circus or watching the Doors in action. Debbie thought she'd give it a try herself and auditioned for the musical 'Hair', but her talents weren't
In 1966, Debbie joined a band called the Tri-Angels and a year later she moved on to a folk rock group called Wind In The Willows. She supported herself by working as a waitress, and she was also a Playboy Bunny for nine months. It was during this period of her life that Debbie started to get heavily involved with drugs.
"I was stoned lots of the time," she says. "I used to cry and cry. I wanted to blank out my mind, whole sections of my life. I was completely out of my mind. But I realised that drugs were becoming my life, so I got smart and stopped taking them."
Debbie moved back home with her parents again before getting her own place and giving New York another try. For a while she lived with a car salesman, then Debbie joined a group called the,
Stilletoes, and a young lad by the name of Chris Stein came down to see their second concert. Debbie caught her first glimpse of him as she was singing on stage, and says that she felt strangely drawn to him there and then.
Chris was a photography student and part time musician, who was later invited to join the
Stilletoes. He and Debbie became friends and then lovers. When the Stilletoes split up, Blondie And The Banzai Babies came crawling out of the wreckage, evolving into plain and simple Blondie.
It was the quiet period just before the full explosion of punk rock. In America, groups like the New York Dolls and Television were attracting interest, while in Britain the Sex Pistols were about to terrorise the nation. Blondie, though, didn't seem to have a lot going for them. In those days they looked like a third rate Fleetwood Mac, with terrible haircuts, bad trousers and silly shoes. Debbie was working in a bar and the band drifted on, writing the basic version of a song called 'Heart Of Glass'.
In September, 1976, Blondie released their first single 'X Offender'. The song was inspired by the true story of an 18-year-old boy charged with statutory rape after getting his girlfriend pregnant. At this stage in their career Blondie indulged in bizarre theatrics on stage. They even took a goldfish in a bowl along to their shows. Blondie played New York's legendary CBGB's club, but on their first night there, Debbie was so nervous she forgot the words to most of their songs.
Blondie's album 'Blondie' was out later in the year, and they were creating ripples but no monster waves. Debbie was unhappy about the way she was marketed, particularly when a poster of her wearing a see-through shirt was sent out to disc jockeys across the country. Debbie's always wanted to be sensual, but never Samantha Fox.
Blondie decided to break away from Private Stock Records, their first label, and seek another deal. Chrysalis Records showed a lot of interest in the young upstarts and were anxious to sign up some fresh new talent, rather than rely on the pulling power of their dinosaur acts like Jethro
Tull. Chrysalis were so enthusiastic about Blondie that they paid a $500,000 fee to release the band from their old contract. Blondie's tapes were bought by the company as part of the deal, and the album 'Blondie' later appeared again on the Chrysalis label.
In America, Blondie went on the road with Iggy Pop who had David Bowie along to help out. Debbie found the experience of touring with the two old poseurs very gratifying. "We hit it off right away," she says.
"Iggy and David accepted us as working musicians and treated us as pros. David would come out and give me suggestions on how to improve my performance."
Blondie also made their debut in England supporting Television, and at the end of the year toured Australia and Thailand. In Australia, Blondie became a huge media attraction when it was rumoured that Debbie took all her clothes off on stage and sang 'Rip Her To Shreds' stark naked.
During 1977 Blondie released 'Plastic Letters', and album that really established them in the world of pop. Two substantial hits were taken from it: 'Denis' with its French kiss of a chorus and '(I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear'.
For their next two albums, 'Parallel Lines' and 'Eat To The Beat', Blondie teamed up with producer Mike Chapman. With his partner Nicky Chinn, Chapman had written hits for Sweet, Mud and Suzi Quatro and his production credits included the Knack's first album. These days all that might seem a little bit tame, but in the late Seventies Chapman was hot stuff and his techniques suited Blondie's bubblegum approach.
The results of the Blondie/Chapman collaboration were such gems as 'Hanging On The Telephone', 'Heart Of Glass', (number one in February 1979), 'Sunday Girl', 'Union City Blues' and 'Picture This'.
'Eat To The Beat', also yielded the British chart topper 'Atomic' (number one March 1980) and in 1980 Blondie reached the peak of their career when they teamed up with Giorgio Moroder and released the single 'Call Me' from the soundtrack of 'American Gigolo'. It was their biggest American hit, staying for six weeks at the top of the American charts.
By the end of 1980, Blondie had scored three consecutive number ones with 'Atomic', 'Call Me' and 'The Tide Is High'. 'The Tide Is High' was Blondie's version of the song originally performed by John Holt and his band the Paragons.
'The Tide Is High' was quickly followed up with 'Rapture', which proudly claims to be the first white rapping record. Blondie looked like a sure bet to run and run, but strangely their popularity began to wane.
Maybe people had just got bored with the amount of media attention the band had been getting, or maybe Debbie had been flavour of the month for just too long. Debbie's debut solo album
'Koo Koo', recorded with Chic duo Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, wasn't a great success and Blondie's 1982 album 'The Hunter' was a disaster. The band had to cancel a British tour because of low ticket sales. In 1983 Blondie folded.
Still, it looked as if Debbie's ambitions to be another Monroe might fulfil themselves. She'd had roles in 'Union City' and 'Roadie', and would also appear in the bizarre film
'Videodrome'. But whatever plans she had were shelved when Chris Stein was struck down by a mysterious disease called
"It's a really rare disease, but apparently it had been in his body for years then all of a sudden it took hold," explains Debbie. "For six months he couldn't eat, then his skin went. It lost all its oils and he was told that 10 or 15 years ago he would have died because your skin opens up and your immune system goes completely. But they built him up on steroids and he came through."
Debbie nursed Chris night and day, making him soup because he couldn't digest solid food and massaging his body with special ointments. After a lengthy period of time Chris recovered, and Debbie thought the time was right to step back into the limelight and record another album.
"I wasn't totally away from work," says Debbie. "I did do a few things - I did a song for the
'Krush Groove' movie and I did a song for the 'Scarface' movie. And I did that wrestling play 'Trafford
The new look Debbie unveiled her single 'French Kissin' In The USA' late last year, and her album
'Rockbird' was out in November. 'Free To Fall', another track from
'Rockbird', has just been released as a single.
"I really had fun doing the album", she says. "It's less aggressive than the Blondie stuff. I feel it's far more sort of feminine."
It's likely that Debbie will be getting a band together for dates later this year, and she's also done some more acting work in an episode of 'Tales From The
"People say I'm making a comeback, but this isn't a comeback," says Debbie. "I just took an extended vacation. It's good to be back and have something positive to say."
Nine out of 10 New York truck drivers agree with her.