SCENE - February 1-7 1990
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY - VOL. 21 - NO. 5
what's in a name?
by Judy Black
The name of the group was Blondie, but everyone who followed the trials and tribulations of the troupe knew its essential star was Deborah Harry. Out of the limelight for several years, although she was still recording and acting sporadically, Harry has re-launched her solo project with her third album, DEF, DUMB AND BLONDE. If the title brings up the Blondie association, all the better. With the major musical magic being created by the combination of Harry and her mate and former bandmate Chris Stein, the duo has used their Blondie experience as a steppingstone to an even higher creative ground.
"I think Chris (Stein) is an incredible writer," Deborah Harry states. "I look forward to him coming into his own, as it were, in the future. He really is responsible for the majority of the Blondie hits and success. He's a wonderful person to work with. He's a kooky character. He's a totally original kind of personality. He's a really good writer. I like working with him. We seem to have some kind of special balance. Working together happens. It's very easy for us."
Another easy association for the duo comes in the form of producer Michael Chapman. He is the production force on several tracks including "Maybe For Sure" and "He Is So." Chapman was also a major part of the end result of such Blondie hits as "The Tide Is High," "Dreaming" and "One Way Or Another."
"Mike has the ability to do an interpretation," Harry reveals. "He played an important part in creating the Blondie sound. The reason we wanted to work with him, Chris and I, on this record, is because we felt this record has to be a reintroduction for us to our fans and to our record buyers. We wanted to approach it like this. We did this for a very specific reason."
If it sounds like it would be easier for Deborah Harry to come back with her nickname, which she lent to her band for their name, it's not that simple. There is a legal restriction requiring a specific number of former bandmates to be present in a new musical amalgamation in order for the grouping to be dubbed Blondie.
That's just fine for the former frontwoman. Harry seems to feel she's taken the Blondie persona as far as possible and that striking out under her own name is, in essence, the same as being front and center under that stage name.
"It's something I agreed to, thinking it was fair at the time," Harry says in response to the legal restriction. "Now I don't know if it's totally fair. There's not much I can do about it now. Blondie was a group as well as a personal identity. But people still call me Blondie. I can't help that."
Why should she try? Harry and company were a force to be reckoned with in a time that was dominated by male rock and roll bands. Just to survive in this undeniably cutthroat business is success in itself, but to be a woman in the forefront of a predominantly man's world had to be a task that was somewhat trying at times.
"Yes and no," Harry replies rather indecisively. "I had my moments of difficulties. Chris and I were always working together and going together, so he was always very supportive to me.
"I think it is very difficult for a woman to have a career," she continues. "Anybody who tries, they get extra points. It's difficult for men, too, but it's definitely harder for women."
In today's society that sentiment still rings true. While women are, in most terms, equal to men, it seems that men still have the upper hand. It is a bit more complex than the fact that men have been the predominant "bread winner" for such a long time; somehow humans automatically assume that "male" is more than "female."
"It's almost to the point of being part of the unconscious or subconscious," Harry asserts. "Women have been considered property for a long time, so it's very hard to break that. It's very difficult for people to understand or even acknowledge that."
For DEF, DUMB AND BLONDE, Harry went back to her roots where she was able to draw upon the elements that made her a "pop phenomenon." Now Blondie's grown up; however, her impressive past is a hard thing to forget. Her success in the '70s and '80s will definitely affect the way people will look upon Harry in the '90s.
"Obviously," Harry quickly agrees. "There are a lot of people that are curious and a lot of people that are real fans of music but never had the opportunity to see Blondie. They're definitely going to want to check me out, given the opportunity."
Opportunity knocks. Deborah Harry is currently out on the road, opening up for Tears For Fears. The tour, which will touch down in Cleveland next Monday, February 12, will find Harry gracing a stage in the rock and roll city for the first time in years. Being off the touring circuit, but not the radio or television airwaves, for such a long time, does the fair-haired one consider this a comeback of sorts?
"Well," Harry ponders, "yeah, I guess. I suppose. I've been out playing for a couple of months in the States and in Europe, so I think some people have seen me recently. But I guess, overall, you can say this is a comeback project."
Regardless of how you envision Deborah Harry's re-emergence, one thing is clear: She's back with the same vengeance and style that crowned her the platinum priestess of the music scene. Being cited as an influence by just about every female vocalist on the airwaves today as well as being credited for creating a viable marketplace for female rock and rollers, it's only natural that Harry would want to acquire that same brass ring as a solo artist.
"I think as a business person, yes, definitely," Harry admits. "That's what you have to go for. Go for the top. You have to work like that. It's hard to put into words. I think that that is a subtle thing that has to do with aggression and sense of style. I think that once you've done something like that, you would naturally want to achieve what you've achieved before."
One step taken to help her reinstitute success was to enlist the aid of a new management as well as a new label. Harry hooked up with Sire Records and manager Gary Kurfirst. It was through Kurfirst, and another band which he manages, that an interesting writing association came about.
"'I Want That Man' was written for me by the Thompson Twins, who I'd never worked with before but knew through their music," Harry says. "The interesting thing lyrically, for Allannah (Curry), was that she was writing for a woman. She's usually writing lyrics that Tom (Bailey) can sing. This time out she was able to make a very direct statement from a female point of view. It was one of three songs they submitted for the album, and it ended up as the first single."
In conjunction with the single's release came the video, which was directed by Mary Lambert, who has been the creative force behind the majority of Madonna videos, including "Like A Prayer." Even though video was still in its early phases when Blondie was seeing its last shining moments, Harry gives television, specifically music television, the credit it deserves.
"They're (MTV) so powerful it's incredible," Harry observes. "They can make a record happen. If I'm part of this industry and I'm competing in the business, then I have to find it equally as important for myself."
Music videos aren't the only place Harry's acting abilities are being made use of. She has appeared in the science-fiction thriller VIDEODROME and played a masochistic radio love counselor in UNION CITY. More recently she sported a big hairdo and a small role in the zany John Waters' film HAIRSPRAY.
But Harry's acting is far from being reserved for the big screen. One recent television role came in the guise of the "Wiseguy" series, in which she played down-and-out rock star named Diana Price. If the role sounds like Harry was typecast, remember it was on the strength of one original song that Ken Wahl's character launched Price back into the same she had attained in her heyday. Also remember, life imitates art.
"I had two different sets of lyrics for it when the producers called up to tell me about the character, Diana Price, that I was playing," Harry confesses. "Chris and I knew that one set of lyrics to 'Bright Side' fit who she was: a down-and-out singer who is trying to pull her life together."
Harry has pulled her musical life together. The "Bright Side" single, with the second set of lyrics, appears on the album, as do other insightful songs. As Harry and Stein's lyrics become more personal, so do the songs. With that in mind, it would be safe to assume that Harry has at least one personal favorite.
"Let's see," Harry ponders. "Possibly the 'End Of The Run.' I think that is really a very beautiful piece of music. This is a song about nostalgia and also about how some things become more important the further away they get, how it feels to be part of something unique and special. It's sad when those great personal moments pass away, but it's also great to be part of them while they're happening. It says a lot."
So does the rest of the album. Deborah Harry is truly stretching her writing as well as her vocal wings. DEF, DUMB AND BLONDE finds her exploring all different areas of interests. "Love Light" delves into the occult and metaphysics and, musically, comes off like a tribute to Dr. John.
"Kiss Is Better" was an idea influenced by Prince and his music. The song is the second Thompson Twins collaboration on the album and sounds more James Brown-ish that the purple one, but then Harry conceded that collaborations are "often unpredictable."
Blondie brought back respect to the much-maligned dance scene in 1979 with "Heart Of Glass." Although she briefly touched on the rap realm in 1981 with "Rapture" (truly years ahead of the rest as far as that musical genre is concerned), Harry combines the best of both worlds in a track titled "Get Your Way."
"This is our bid for a crossover dance hit," Harry proclaims. "I'm looking forward to doing a great house mix with this one. I love rap music and have for a long time. The rappers are so hip and funny. I've tried to work elements of that sound into my music for a long time."
Blondie's back. This time Deborah Harry is in control of her destiny and she has a definite professional goal (which is personal as well) in mind. In the midst of a comeback and a new year, Harry is eagerly anticipating what the future has to bring for the blond-haired artist.
"I think I would like to be very creative," Harry concludes. "I'm really loving working again and doing shows. It's incredible. It's really great. I'm really feeling good about it. I would like to continue doing shows, which I will be doing for this tour with Tears For Fears. Then I'm going to be going to Australia and working there for a while. Then I'd like to come back and try to work on some writing, some new stuff. I think that just being creative and productive is what's on my mind."