ROCK STARS - March 1980
Number 16 - Pages 42, 43, 44, 45
DEBBIE HARRY SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT:
"IT'S THE MUSIC THAT SELLS BLONDIE, NOT THE SEX"
"The All-American girl next door? No, I was never that. Never ever!," laughs Debbie Harry when we suggest that even someone with a new album climbing the charts might have had more humble beginnings! "Before Blondie - I don't know, I did a lot of different things. I went to school, didn't like it too much. I was a waitress for a while and an instructor in a health spa for the rich, a beautician." She left out the time she spent as a Playboy Bunny and her stint as a barmaid at Max's Kansas City club in New York. "All those jobs never lasted very long," she adds. "I didn't like any of them. I was always drawn to showbusiness or music."
Her first band - and one she rarely talks about - was a 60s-style harmony group called Wind in the Willows. But the most important band before Blondie was an all-girl group, soon to invite men to join, called the Stilletoes, led by Debbie Harry in her familiar outrageous thrift-store clothes and pointed shoes.
"I was hanging around New York wanting to be in music and not knowing how to do it, I finally got together with these other people and started a little combo. Then I met Chris (Stein) at one of the shows. He's the lead guitar player and my boyfriend. Then we started fooling 'round together - musically; we weren't lovers right away. And we started forming a band."
Next to join were drummer Clem Burke, who answered the ad that Debbie and Brooklyn-born Chris put in the newspaper. "I wasn't any more hopeful than usual," claims Clem, who had answered ads for several groups and failed miserably. Clem, always fashion conscious, seemed to have one big flaw - he was a Bay City Rollers fan at a time when that was a decidedly un-hip thing to be, and wanted to play the simple 60s-style teen pop he loved. Blondie was obviously a godsend. With keyboardsman James Destri, who writes songs with Chris and co-produces the band, along with Gary Valentine (the bassist who has since left and moved to California to form his own powerpop group, the Know) they were ready to start work.
Though Debbie says that they all had been in groups before Blondie, none of them were particularly experienced in the matters of performing onstage, so they decided instead to just do what they felt like doing.
"No one told us what we should do and how we should do it," recalls Clem. "We just went ahead and did it!"
Debbie chose the name. "It's a street term, like when you're walking down the street and guys always yell out of cars and trucks at the girls. Also it's a memorable name and pretty meaningless." The music fitted in perfectly - simple, streetwise and aimed at a car culture. Perfect for driving along the freeway to.
But it wasn't an instant victory. Clem recalls when they used to pile all their equipment - what little of it there was, mostly borrowed or rented from the few dollars they earned at club gigs - into the back of Debbie's old beat up Camaro to drive to places like Max's and CBGB's where the handful of underground fans grew to a sizeable cult following. Europe was first to fall to Blondie. America took a little longer. But when, "Heart of Glass," the modernized new wave disco single from their third album, "Parallel Lines," exploded onto the charts, all that changed.
"We certainly got some better equipment after that - and better transport," says Clem. "It's ideas, not equipment, that are important though," adds Chris, who is making sure that the band come up with plenty. Their new album, "Eat to the Beat," immediately shot into the number one position in the English charts, and they're so convinced that all the tracks could be released as singles and that videos are the medium of the future that they are making special videos of the whole album - the first time a group has done that.
What's left to conquer? Well, Debbie's ambition has always been "to do movies, eventually," and so far this year the band is working on two films.
The first will be Debbie Harry's screen debut. In "Union City Blue" she plays a housewife married to a psycho killer! But she prefers to talk about "Roadie" in which the rest of the band star also - as themselves! "Roadie," which began shooting in Austin, Texas, this fall, is a comedy of life in the rock and roll world, with Meat Loaf playing Blondie's bulky roadie.
(Comedian Art Carney plays Meat Loaf's father, and a host of other musicians are being signed up for lesser roles). The reason they don't like to stress anything where Debbie Harry is solely in the limelight is because of the very same slogan that appeared on buttons and T-shirts for the last two years: "Blondie is a Group."
Although it's obvious that when they're on stage all eyes center on Debbie. In the last year Debbie has been dubbed the newest "sex symbol" of rock and roll. This she doesn't mind. Debbie does not deny that her sex appeal has been influential in Blondie's success.
"Sex is a very strong motivation," she says, "I know the kind of effect I have on people. That's been happening to me since I was a little girl."
All of that is okay as far as Debbie is concerned, but the mere mention of the fact that Blondie is making it because of her is enough to set her off.
"It's the music that sells Blondie," she insists, "not the sex. But I will admit that it's the sex that creates the interest initially."
Blondie is ex-window cleaner and dishwasher Nigel Harrison, pop fan Clement Burke, pale (hence the nickname) Frank the Freak Infante, Debbie's boyfriend and room-mate Chris Stein, as well as the beautiful Ms. Harry. "I'm not at all jealous of Debbie getting all the attention," Clem sums it up for all the boys in the band. "She's the obvious face to market, so at least it helps to sell our music. Being in the background was frustrating at first. But now, with all the publicity that having a hit record brings, it's a more comfortable place to be."
And they are pretty comfortable these days, though Debbie claims that not much in her day-to-day life has changed since her hit, "except I can buy some of clothes I like now, I read, I watch TV, I just like walking around sometimes. But most of the time I'm working. Which is better than doing nothing at all!"