The Advocate - 11th September 2007
Pages 44, 45, 46
Fall Entertainment Preview - Music
The queen of new wave still reigns, and with her first solo album in 14 years, she's discovered all you need is love
By Brantley Bardin
SURE SHE LOOKS LIKE A BONA FIDE LEGEND as she curls up in a couch in the lobby of a boutique hotel in San Diego, working wraparound sunglasses worthy of her late pal Warhol, and pursing those permanently pouty lips that could give you a smooch as easily as wolf you down for dinner. But Debbie Harry will have none of that. No, this life force, who was Madonna before Madonna and has been called "the Marilyn Monroe of punk," is still the coolest woman in the world. Today she takes those shades off, fixes her silvery-blue-green cat eyes on you, and all but laughs in your face at the very idea that she, little Deborah Ann Harry who grew up in Hawthorne, N.J., could possibly be anything close to an "icon" or, God forbid, a "legend."
"FIrst off, I hate the word 'icon' 'cause it sounds like 'acorn,'" she harrumphs. "And as for 'legend,' well, it's kind of preposterous, but I guess you get stuck with these things the older you get, right?"
Right, Deb. Especially when you're a music-fashion-club maverick who... well, let us count the ways: She spent June taking gay pride across America while singing as part of Cyndi Lauper's True Colors tour to benefit the Human Rights Campaign. (Incidentally, our meeting in San Diego was days before she was to celebrate her 62nd birthday onstage at the tour's close in Los Angeles.) After taking only two days off to go home, she immediately headed off to Europe for a summer tour with Blondie - the legendary band that catapulted to fame with a lot of help from her self-invented bleached-blond prototype of the modern female rock star. She's writing a new song for the British stage musical of Desperately Seeking Susan, which will feature songs from the old Blondie catalog, including "Heart of Glass," "Call Me," and "The Tide Is High." And finally, she's about to unleash her first solo album in 14 years, Necessary Evil, with its irresistibly seductive single, "Two Times Blue," already creating an "it's so great to have her back" buzz.
Of the myriad projects she's cooking up, it's clear that to this eternal "established rat" Manhattanite (who still trawls the city's alterna-rock clubs with drag queen pals like Toilet Boys front man Miss Guy), Necessary Evil is the one closest to her heart. "I'm thrilled that I have gotten this thing out," she says of the album. "It's fresh, I love it, I feel really good about it." It's an epic of 17 genre-hopping tracks - pop, dance, tribal, jazz, and snarling punk - and the still blond and fabulous one penned the bulk of them with Brooklyn producer-writer team Barb Morrison and Charles Nieland of Super Buddha.
So what's the album about? "Why, love," she coos, though by her own admission her love life "sucks! But I'm lookin' - I haven't given up. 'Cause love is what motivates people - it's the greatest force and the most difficult thing to do. So the album is sort of my conclusions about it, [laced with] all of its ironies and foibles." Hence, there are straightforward tracks like "If I Had You," a lush old-school ballad that finds Harry longing for a romantically take-charge guy (or girl - the singer has confessed to a lesbian dalliance or two in her day), plus punky rave-ups like "Whiteout," with its purely sexual, screaming take on l'amour: "Don't touch me!/You're too hot!"
Besides lending her talents to the True Colors tour, Harry has done yeoman AIDS work for years, including recording the Cole Porter classic "Well, Did You Evah?" with fellow punkster Iggy Pop for 1990's Red Hot + Blue, the well-regarded compilation album whose proceeds benefited the Red Hot Organization AIDS group. The power of love is also why she's feeling good about gay rights. "What I'm seeing these days, regarding homophobia, is that more and more gay people are coming out," she explains. "It seems like every other family has a gay person in it, which makes people less afraid because they have love for that somebody in their family. So it really changes their perspective. It makes them think, You know, I gotta give some of that [homophobia] up. I'm always optimistic about these things, because when all this stuff gets ironed out, nobody's gonna give a royal fuck about what you are as long as you're not a killer, a child molester, or some kind of weird sadist."
Harry is a woman who has gone from being one of the biggest stars in the world to an artist who has had to fight to not be taken for granted for the bulk of the last 25 years. But she has never stopped growing as an artist - not during the late '90s, when she was a jazz singer with the Jazz Passengers (Roy Nathanson and Bill Ware contribute the track "Paradise" on Necessary Evil), and not now, when she's releasing what is, hands down, the best solo album of her career. Yet from the get-go of her super-stardom Harry has been loved by (and in turn, has loved, supported, and hung with) the LGBT crowd.
"For so long, gay culture was verboten and clandestine and it had so many elements that just made people fight harder for it," she says. "And that's a good thing - I wish more people had that about other issues... political issues, environmental issues. But gay culture has a sense of purpose. Don't get me wrong about this, but likewise, I've always felt that it's easier for me to be the underdog, climbing and fighting my way up. It's better for me mentally than to just cruise at the top."
But won't she be wrecked if Necessary Evil isn't the hit she'd hoped for?
"What if people don't love this record? Am I gonna kill myself?" she asks, faux-pouting like a sexed-up Shirley Temple, "God, no - either I'll record some other stuff, write things for other people, do things with Blondie, or... well, who knows?" Then, like the legend she is, Harry stands, flips her shades back down on her nose, and proclaims, "There are other things to do."