Sunday - November 29th 1981
Written By: Michael Cable
Photography By: Brian Aris
As one of the tracks on her latest album, The Best of Blondie, reveals,
Debbie Harry is very much a Sunday Girl. But the singer once hailed as a
re-incarnate Marilyn Monroe confesses to the bluest of Monday morning blues at
the hostile reactions by fans at any effort to abandon her peroxide image and to
broaden her career as a solo singer and actress.
Debbie Harry darted out into the New York rush-hour traffic, dancing up and
down and waving frantically in a vain effort to flag down the only vacant yellow
cab on the Avenue of the Americas.
The driver accelerated past, flicking a contemptuous glance at her
anonymous-looking, leather-jacketed figure and deciding instantly that this was
not a fare worth stopping for when richer pickings were waiting uptown in the
Debbie dodged back to the safety of the kerb with a muttered curse. It was one
of those moments when not being recognised as the world's No 1 pop pin-up did
not make life any easier for the star who until recently, had one of the most
familiar faces in rock.
Since she washed Blondie right out of her hair along with the peroxide that
helped to get her dubbed "the Marilyn Monroe of pop", things have not
been running quite as smoothly for her. Her debut solo album Koo Koo - with its
controversial sleeve showing her face pierced through with fierce-looking
needles - looks like being a flop.
And both fans and critics have reached bitchily to her attempts to break out
from the restrictions of the Blondie mould and broaden her career.
"I knew this was likely to happen," she says with calm resignation.
"When you make a major change like this, people are always a little bit
wary. It takes them a while to accept it.
"I'm not too worried. I have been looking forwards to doing something
different. I like change and I love getting fresh ideas and a new look. Of
course, when you've had a certain amount of success it is logical that you
should want to stick with the winning formula.
"But I think it is more important to be stylish. And the only way to be
stylish is to be continually moving on, doing something new.
"Most of the time it is not accepted right off. It was the same with
Blondie in the beginning. It took three years before the American audiences
accepted us. It took less time in England - but everything happens faster
What has taken Debbie by surprise is the depth of hostility she has faced since
she branched out on her own. "I should have thought the fans would be happy
to know I have a lot more to offer, but instead they seem to be obsessed with
the idea that I've deserted the group. I suppose I can understand it in a way.
"Nobody wants to lose something or somebody they love. I feel just the same
as they do about Blondie. I don't want to lose her - and I won't.
"I haven't by any means given up the group altogether - in fact, we shall
be doing a new album in the New Year. I'm just expanding. I want to do a hundred
"But obviously I've got to be more careful with people's feelings and make
sure I explain myself more fully. My mistake was that I just sort of said I was
going to try something new and then ran straight off and changed into it."
A Best of Blondie album has been released to keep fans happy. But part of the
reason for the new direction is that Debbie actually felt that the public was
getting bored with Blondie. And, at 35, she felt that the time had come for her
to be her age a bit more.
"Blondie is a very girlish thing - very poppy," she explains. On Koo
Koo I hopefully show a lot more depth and feeling. The mood is meant to be more
serious, more womanly.
"I am very pleased with the album. I got to do a lot of stuff that, as a
singer, I needed to do to advance myself. But it has certainly given me a lot of
The main one concerned the eye-catching sleeve designed by Han Giger - who was
responsible for some of the horrific special effects in the film Alien.
Some stores refused to display the record, and there were problems with
"A lot of mums and dads probably wouldn't want to buy it for their little
kids who, let's face it, make up a big part of the Blondie audience. This was
something I didn't really consider when we did the sleeve.
"I just wanted to do something that was visually away from Blondie. I am a
little disappointed that people who are supposedly intelligent and sophisticated
can't accept it for what it is - art, science fiction and fantasy."
As part of her new solo image Debbie disguises herself in a selection of lurid
wigs - shocking pink, green, blue, black and yellow. "I've had a lot of
laughs out of it and the kids really like it."
Her acting career is another example of how she insists on doing things her way.
Instead of accepting one of the glittering star parts that were pressed on her,
she chose to make her film debut in a very down-beat role as a drab housewife in
the movie Union City Blue.
Debbie doesn't accept that this was a strange choice. "I thought it was
directly in line with the way my music career has developed - we started as an
underground kind of thing instead of doing Top 40 stuff and really commercial
work straight off.
"I wanted to do a film that would give me experience but would not be like
a multi-million dollar production that would put me under pressure."
Now Debbie's working on her second film, Video Drome, which shows how TV can
affect the nervous system!
But she's quick to deny suggestions of a long-term plan to phase out of music
altogether and into films, insisting that she can go on singing rock for many
years to come. "The music is never going to disappear. It's not just a
youth fad that kids enjoy and then grow out of."
Debbie's private life certainly doesn't live up to the tradition of superstar
rock'n'roll extravagance. She shares a modest New York apartment with
29-year-old boyfriend Chris Stein - the man who helped her to found Blondie and
who has guided her career ever since.
They have been together for seven years, but still have no inclination to marry.
"Marriage is business, not sex, and Chris and I are already a
corporation," Debbie once said.
They have just completed work on a book called Making Tracks - which tells the
story of Blondie through Chris's pictures and Debbie's words - and have also
done music for a film and a cartoon entitled Drats.
They have none of the obvious trappings of pop success - for instance, they are
more likely to be seen riding bicycles than in limousines.
Despite her punk sophistication and her air of liberation, Debbie has no
feminist objections towards being regarded as a sex symbol. In fact, she finds
it rather flattering. "My God! Who wouldn't be thrilled to be told they're
a sex symbol," she says.
"The trouble is a lot of other things tend to get overlooked. The amount of
notice I've got for writing all Blondie's hits compared with the amount of
notice I've got for being a sex symbol only goes to show how powerful sex it!
It's just the way things are. It's great that people are interested in sex.
Actually, it's balancing out a bit now and I am getting more recognition for the
"And that's only fair. After all, I spend a lot more time writing and
singing than I do sexing!"