Written by: Chris Salewicz
Photography by: Anton Corbijn
LIKE MATCHING Regency miniatures,
Debbie Harry and Chris Stein sit side-by-side on a
two-seater beige couch in the large, subtly opulent
living-room of a fourth-floor suite in London's
Grosvenor House Hotel.
A cooling carbon monoxide breeze from
Hyde Park blows in through the room's five open
windows, conveying the distinct sound of fast-moving
early evening traffic on Park Lane four floors below.
One imagines that those wealthiest of
Arabs who are the hotel's more usual guests must have
been somewhat intrigued by the chin-length purple wig
that now squats a little awkwardly on Debbie's Head.
In the lobby downstairs there is promotional
literature for photographer Patrick Litchfield's book,
The Most Beautiful Women, in which Debbie is featured.
Now her moon-shaped head has more of the appearance of
an over-ripe plum.
"I figured," Debbie laughs
at herself in her soft, high, casually confiding
tones, "that since with Blondie everyone knows me
for my hair colour, I might as well have a lot of
different hair colours and get everyone really
"The girl who lives downstairs
from us in New York has this weird marketing job, and
she had all these wig samples. And now I've got every
possible colour, and people will just have to expect
anything. I can do three or four colours a day, and I
don't have to wait. It's really the ultimate.
"Actually," she admits,
"this one is a bit weird because of its length.
I'm really not used to having short hair.
"But the wigs are such real
showbiz schtick," she chuckles huskily. "I
figure they're a good way to follow up the Blondie
cliche, and have fun with it, and not have to give out
any intellectual reasons about Blondie.
"I've been colouring my hair
since I was 13. Not just blonde - every colour:
purple, green, yellow, red, orange, blue, pink. I
started doing it in 1959."
"Which is why," interjects
Chris Stein, "she is now completely bald."
Beneath the wigs, of course, Debbie
Harry's hair is now its natural colour, a dark brown
that is one shade away from auburn - she returned to
her own colour for her role in the film, Union City
BLONDIE is no longer blonde: a visual
manifestation of a step forward into another phase of
her life. This new artistic chapter - the way was
prepared by her low-key movie debut - has a definite
musical beginning in "Koo Koo", the solo LP
she has just released.
Apart from featuring her long-time
lover and musical ally, guitarist Chris Stein, "Koo
Koo" is most notable for being a collaboration
with bassist Bernard Edwards and guitarist Nile
Rogers, the two men who are the renowned Chic. "Koo
Koo" is a Chic Production.
Harry and Stein first became familiar
with Chic's music at the beginning of 1978 when
touring Australia, where "In The Flesh" off
the first Blondie LP had become the group's first-ever
hit. "All of us on that tour were so into their
songs," Debbie says. "Then when we got back
we met them and became friends, and our paths have
crossed ever since."
Unlike last year's entirely
Chic-composed Diana Ross album, "Koo Koo"
has only four Rogers/Edwards songs. It has an equal
amount of Harry/Stein numbers, and two written by all
four musicians. "It was a collaboration from the
word 'Go'," insists Debbie. "It was an
unprecedented situation for them, but that's why they
wanted it. They encouraged it, in fact.
"It was like everybody was trying
to break out of their formulae. Because they were
stuck in one, we were stuck in one... And we all
wanted to escape. It's not a Chic album, and it's not
a Blondie album either.
"We really felt locked in to what
we were doing. Everyone said that our last Blondie
album, 'Autoamerican', was such a huge departure, yet
it was and it wasn't. To me, it still sounded like a
Blondie record, although we did do slightly different
kinds of material.
"The thing that really got us
about being Blondie was that so many groups were
imitating us - people like Kim Carnes and Kim Wilde -
and that was really starting to get on our nerves.
"You know," she adds,
"I was a little surprised at the way my voice
sounded on some of 'Koo Koo', because it was so raw.
Nothing was done to it in the studio, like on the
Blondie records. This is more like what I really sound
like live, I guess."
HABITUALLY, as Debbie finishes
speaking, she nods her head backwards and forwards
several times as though emphasising what she has just
said. As she talks, she keeps her hands still, only
her lively face displaying animation.
Chris Stein, by contrast, gesticulates
constantly; waving his hands, flexing them against one
another, or running them through his just greying hair
and rubbing his ginger-tinged beard.
Harry and Stein make a good team. Both
have much positive energy about them, the teetotal
guitarist providing his woman with quietly protective
support. Though unfashionable these days amongst the
truly hip, and hardly considered in any way
iconclastic or avant-garde, they probably are far more
accessible to new ideas and information than many of
their more self-consciously cool detractors.
Both are involved in video and cable
TV, and though it is probably impossible to live in
Manhattan and not be "into art", the
self-confidence which sucess has brought them ensures
there is no twee New Yorker smugness in their espousal
of modern visuals. They democratically insist on the
importance in the "Koo Koo" project of Swiss
artist H.R. Giger who designed the LP cover and who
fusses like a busy magician about the suite, his fine
grey hair flailing about his forehead like that of the
recent Marlon Brando.
"The importance of the visual
side of what we do," Debbie asserts, "is an
automatic assumption on my part. I've always noticed
that the best groups were always very visual groups.
That's a special thing: there's no place else except
in rock'n'roll that that is represented - a 50/50
representation of visuals and sound."
They claim that working together
within the often sexually highly charged atmosphere of
rock'n'roll has never imposed any strain on their
relationship. "I'm amazed that it's been so
easy," admits Debbie. "I think whatever the
context of a relationship the first two years of being
with a person are the hardest. If you can get through
those first two years together, you can get through
anything. It's really whether you want to make it
work, and how flexible you're prepared to be.
"I just think you have to lay
down your own rules. If you want to make it work, make
it work for however it's comfortable for the two
THE FUTURE of the Blondie relationship
however, seems uncertain, even though Chris Stein
denies tales of strife within the group. Blondie are,
though, contracted to record several more albums,
which Chris somewhat reluctantly concedes will have to
be made. Their form appears uncertain:
"We could just improvise... Play
for ten hours and then put it together. I'm not sure
at all what it's going to be like. Mind you, I've
always been intrigued by the concept of the Islamic
disco song which has been floating around New York for
so long I can't remember."
"I'd like to do something
Chinese," is Debbie's only thought on the matter.
A Blondie tour appears out of the
question. Debbie, however, may appear with Chic when
they tour Europe towards Christmas.
There is a possibility that Blondie
may make a film together, an idea certainly attractive
to Debbie following her role in the cheap quickie
Union City Blue. "The film got really good
reviews in America," she says. "But it
didn't do good business. I could relate very much to
the fact that the character I was playing lived in her
own private world, watched movie stars and then went
and dyed her hair.
"She wasn't really a housewife
character, because she didn't have any children. She
was just very alone. She was married, but he was never
there. She was really alone."
The role Debbie hoped to play opposite
Robert Fripp in a re-make of Godard's Alphaville will
not happen. "I think," says Chris, "one
of the things we learnt from Alphaville was that you
should never reveal your ideas before they're hatched.
Now we've got plenty of plans for things we want to
develop, though experience shows there's certainly no
point in talking about them beforehand."
"Chrome" on "Koo Koo",
however, was originally written for that film, Chris
admits. Debbie and Chris wrote some of the songs for
the new John Waters' movie, Polyester, starring Divine
and Tab Hunter. They've also written three songs for a
cartoon film being made in Canada.
Though Blondie have achieved huge
success, Debbie insists such a situation doesn't
neccessarily permit popular music-making to become
easier: "In a lot of ways as a performer it's
easier to be the underdog. When you come out onstage I
think it's more of a challenge to have to make people
like you. Also, sometimes you come out onstage and
everybody's ready for you, and you just don't come up
to their expectations, because everybody's fantasy is
always more than reality - then it makes it very hard.
"Even so, now we all have such
experience and we've had such good luck, I think we
feel pretty confident - though I don't think we feel
over-confident. We feel good about what we do. We're
lucky! If you're going to enter the commercial music
business, then there's no point in not trying to be
She dismisses the commonly held notion
that because the music business is so male-dominated
then it's easier for women to get a foothold: "In
fact, it's much harder. It's definitely not a woman's
business. It's pretty easy for a woman to be a lounge
or cabaret singer, but the pop world has never really
been that open."
She says that it's also a fallacy that
women singers are necessarily jealous of each other:
"Sometimes they are. Sometimes there's a healthy
competitive attitude. Sometimes there's real
friendship. And sometimes there is jealousy. It
depends on who the person is, and whether they feel
secure or not."
Once in an interview Chris Stein
remarked that the musician's function was something
akin to that of an oracle of the unconscious; that
he/she articulates assorted truths common to his/her
time. "Oh, that's certainly true", he nods
his head, "But it's the case with any artist, not
just with musicians. But that's all part of our...
uh...", he shyly hesitates as though suddenly
feeling self-conscious or exposed... "spiritual
"Sure," he continues after a
moment, more matter-of-factly, "because an artist
is very often not even sure where his stuff is coming
from. What he comes up with just seems to sort of...
come through him, through archetypes, which are just
things that are there in your primitive unconscious
that just come up and release themselves.
"You know, a lot of the criticism
people get from becoming successful is because they've
been singled out to rise above the masses - that's
what upsets a lot of people.
"But I think that's always
existed - from Biblical society up to the present day,
there's always been shamans and elders. There was
always someone who stood out - not necessarily as a
functional leader of a group, but often as some sort
of spiritual or aesthetic leader.
"I think it's a natural function,
yet people fight against it and want everybody to be
the same - they're a little resentful about any one
person being elevated. Certainly, economically I can
understand that, but from a practical standpoint it's
a perfectly logical thing.
"Someone like Iggy Pop is very
much an Everyman figure. And groups like The Clash
represent that, too: The Clash are very much
archetypes. I can understand that - I am not for a
grey, sexless society.
"Certainly that's what Elvis
And with that Debbie and Chris depart
the Grosvenor House, late for their dinner appointment
with a couple of very different archetypes - David
Bowie and Eric Idle.
LUNCHTIME the next day. Debbie and
Chris have returned to the same room, but are sitting
on a different couch. Under hot TV lighting, with all
the windows in the room now closed, they are giving an
interview to an Austrian television crew.
Now Debbie's purple wig is replaced by
one that is blue-black, long, and Morgana-like. She
wears a black silk cocktail dress and plain black
shoes. Chris wears a neat, three-button grey flannel
suit, black open neck shirt, and grey sandals with no
It is mid-way through a relaxed
interview by a professional, calm interviewer, who
asks: "There is this old cliche that rock music
has something to do with drugs. What's your opinion on
this?" Debbie: "It's a complex thing: I
think a lot of kids are really victimised by it, and I
think a lot of politicians are making a lot of money
on it. It's a big danger.
"I think it should be much more
openly talked about than it is. People should be much
more educated about drugs, because I think that
everyone is searching for something at a certain time
in their life, and so they are trying a lot of
Chris: "I think the reason people
turn to drugs is because they're searching for magic,
and for some kind of spirituality, which society
teaches them doesn't exist anymore.
"But drugs are a trap, because
when you take them you only keep going off to the same
place. And then that's that: that's all you ever get.
But if you work with your own mind, and your own
psyche, then you can just keep getting higher and
higher. And that's what's important. If you smoke pot
a lot you don't dream properly: you don't go into that
deep sense of relaxation when you're sleeping.
Personally I've tried very much to cut down on
pot-smoking. And I don't do any other drugs."
Interviewer: "Do you think it's
just politicians with their stupid laws..."
Chris: "In America it goes beyond that. We see
areas with large black populations where it's so easy
to go out and get heroin. The politicians don't do
anything about it, because they want to keep black
people under control. You can't get heroin in a nice
white neighbourhood in America, but if you go to a
black neighbourhood it's very easy. It's everywhere.
And the police don't care."
Interviewer: "Do you think people
take it for inspiration?" Debbie: "I get
much better inspiration when I'm straight. I'm much
more creative. I have better ideas. Everything is
brighter when I'm straight. It's a trap. It's really
stupid. It's even a waste of money."
Chris: We're coming to a new age.
We're approaching the year 2000. I'd like to see
everyone be a little more advanced. Communication is
the most important thing. One of the new values should
be open-mindedness: people should be willing to accept
a lot of different things. There's so much happening
in the world now that people have to accept other
ideas. Otherwise they'll destroy themselves."
The Grosvenor House suite had been
booked by the record company specifically as an
At the discreet Mont Calm hotel, just
the other side of Marble Arch, Debbie Harry and Chris
Stein sprawl on separate arm-chairs in the lounge of
the suite in which they're actually staying. A spiral
staircase leads up to the bedroom from a corner by the
Debbie has changed out of her dress,
and is wearing a faded black t-shirt and black pants
on which the zipper has just snapped. She also has
removed her wig, revealing her fine, natural hair. As
they both sip chocolate, attempting to keep away
altogether from caffeine, they consider what is left
for them to do within the world of music.
"For me," affirms Chris,
"what we're doing with Chic is very important -
if we have black kids and white kids listening to the
same music, then that makes a good social statement.
Personal freedom is what's important, and if kids can
get together, then that's a very good thing."
"As for myself," Debbie
considers, "I think I've pretty much proven to
myself that I can do things: I can make myself feel
good within myself. And if you make people feel good
about themselves then they feel like they're worth
something - self-value, self-importance, but without
false ego: just something that makes you feel good.
"And I've done that now,
obviously. And everytime I complete a project it feels
"So I would just like to keep on