TOKION - September/October 2003
Pages 18, 88, 89.
text: Jeremy Jay Massacret
photo: Rob Roth
The Blondie saga reads like the pilot for "Behind the Music": hits, flops, drugs, illness, bandmate switcharoos, fights, breakups, reunion... all done with style. The greatest pop band of the New Wave punk era has reunited to complete their eighth studio album. We called up Debbie Harry while she was busy on a warm-up tour of the Midwest. Chatting about everything and nothing, it became clear why they've chosen to call their new album "The Curse of Blondie."
I WAS JUST WONDERING IF YOU HAD TAKEN MUSIC LESSONS GROWING UP?
Debbie Harry: No, but I was blessed with a good ear. I always sang, but it would have been really good to study an instrument. I was in church choir growing up.
WHAT FINALLY MADE YOU DECIDE TO MOVE TO NEW YORK?
DH: I always knew I wanted to move to New York. I wanted to be an artist. Sort of a vague overall concept, I guess!
YOU WORKED AT THE PLAYBOY CLUB WHEN YOU CAME HERE?
DH: Um... yeah... It was kind of... I guess it was unique. (It was) good to see how the whole thing worked - it was very popular at the time, sort of exciting. It was like show biz and all.
DID YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A PUNK AT THE TIME?
DH: Actually, we never really thought that anybody was (a punk). It was just this thing that happened because of PUNK magazine. They decided to call everybody 'punks.' But clearly all the bands were independent of one another stylistically. I think the 'punk scene' was a title that evolved much later... I think people were a bit more naive and were just happy to be going somewhere. It was a newer thing - there wasn't much press or hype. That came towards the end.
WHAT WAS THE INITIAL REACTION TO YOUR SOUND HERE IN THE U.S.?
DH: We were more of an urban thing. We went over really well in major cities where there were small, comparable kinds of scenes: Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco, L.A. and Seattle.
WAS THERE A DIFFERENT RESPONSE IN THE UK?
DH: Initially there was. It was a different feeling over there, more volatile. The audiences were really much more wild, slamming and pogoing and all that stuff - much more physical. It changed really quickly over here, too. I don't know if the music emerged from there, but because (the U.K.) is such a small country, they have a tribal behavior that doesn't really exist in this country. Because the ethnology here is so mixed, people feel sort of isolated. The English culture doesn't punish these people for being eccentric, whereas over here it's a little bit different.
COULD BLONDIE HAVE HAPPENED OUTSIDE OF NEW YORK?
DH: Yeah, probably. It's kind of impossible to say, but there were other scenes, like I said, in other cities. There were other bands from San Francisco and L.A. that were comparable to what Blondie started. Anything could have happened, really.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR ROLE AS A STYLE ICON?
DH: I sort of got off to a good start by my close association with Stephen Sprouse back in the day. That really put me into that world. But you know, I think rock musicians and singers have always been a part of fashion. I've always considered fashion to be like sculpture to me, especially Comme des Garcons. I also love Helmut Lang, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Narcisso Rodriguez.
DID YOU HANG OUT AT STUDIO 54?
DH: Yes I did.
I ALWAYS THOUGHT OF YOU AS A CBGBS OR THE MUDD CLUB KIND OF GIRL...
DH: We all went to every place. Well, I did... I just went to as many things as I could.
THIS IS KIND OF RANDOM QUESTION, BUT I HEARD YOU ONCE GOT PICKED UP BY TED BUNDY?
DH: Yeah, on Astor Street. I've been debunked, actually, by those people that debunk you, or whatever. They say he wasn't in New York at that time, but I think they're really wrong, because he had escaped and was traveling down the East Coast. I think that nobody has ever really investigated that. I didn't know until later who it was. It was pretty scary.
Hey, want to say 'hi' to (original Blondie keyboard player) Jimmy (Destri).
Jimmy Destri: How are you doing, man?
GOOD. WHAT'S DEBBIE EATING?
JD: Debbie's eating salad. Because of her respect for journalism, she had stopped eating for a while. I'm going to pick up the slack here... Today is the last date of our promotional tour, and we're out in the middle of America. We're playing at the rib fest. (Laughs.) There's going to be 20,000 people, all greased up with ribs. What better audience could you ask for?
Debbie will talk again because she's packed her salad in...
THANKS, JIMMY. BYE...
DO YOU MISS THE ART/POP/PUNK CROSSOVER?
DH: Well, it's sort of changed for me. It's not like I'm searching for something. I found my niche and I'm happy to be there. I just try to do work that is challenging for me and makes me be better at what I do. It's a different kind of world for me now. All the people that were in bands when we were coming up have families. They moved out of the city. You get older, you do things differently. If I were to be going out nightly looking for a music scene, I don't know if there really is anything (that is) quite the equivalent of what was going on back then. It was so small and intimate. Unimportant, basically. (Laughs.) Maybe that is kind of (what is) important about that (scene): that it wasn't important. There was no value to it. We all had our private fantasies and obsessions, and we just did it for the sake of just doing it, with no agenda... I mean, everybody wanted to make a living and make money and be superstars, (but) it was all within our own little brain, because there was no evidence of any of that ever happening.
WHAT'S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BOW AND ARROW YOU HAD ON AMERICAN BANDSTAND?
DH: I was Cupid to break the heart of glass! I thought it was cute. Everything was like a performance piece. Most of the time I would just do them once and that was it. I never went up there and did the same thing or said the same thing night after night. I still don't. I still try to stay loose and just talk about what's on my mind, or what little mind I have left. (Laughs.)
YOU NEARLY GAVE IT ALL UP A FEW YEARS BACK. ARE YOU HAPPY THAT YOU KEPT GOING FORWARD WITH IT?
DH: Oh, absolutely. As with any career in the arts and commerce, it's very difficult to combine these two things. But I really enjoy entertaining people, and fortunately I've been able to continue on. I guess I have a stubborn nature.