TVTimes - January 24th-30th 1981
Vol. 102 No. 5
Pages 2 & 3
The reality behind the fantasy life of the Sex Goddess of Song who once liked to believe she was Marilyn Monroe's daughter.
COVER STORY by Anthea Disney
Cover picture by Tony Barbosa/Chrysalis
AS SHE CAME through the door, a small figure dressed in a black jacket over a quilted jump suit, her hair hidden under a blue silk scarf and glasses perched on her nose, she could have been any trendy young housewife.
Even as she fluffed-up that instantly recognisable blonde hair and sat down to talk, it was hard to connect this clear-skinned young woman with the other Debbie Harry, the one who as the taunting, predatory star of the pop group Blondie made her name prowling the stages of Europe and America - the sex goddess of rock 'n' roll.
"Inevitably, there's a lot of me out there," she says. "When Blondie started, I had a very clear idea of who she was. But now the images of Blondie and me as a person are sometimes so overlapping that it's difficult for me to separate the two."
As Debbie talks about her stage personality, she constantly refers to herself as "she" and "her" as though sanity demands that she thinks of that punk glamour girl as another entity.
Perhaps no one could stalk and taunt audiences with that almost contemptuous sexuality without the emotional comfort of knowing it's really an act.
"At the beginning," she says, "I tried to incorporate a lot of different girls I knew as well as my own experiences into Blondie. I tried to make her a resilient creature who could bounce back and had a never-say-die, what-the-hell attitude.
"She was sparkling and adventurous, she liked having fun, liked having sex and was tender and sensitive at the same time.
"I tried to envisage her like a cartoon character because all the members of the band" - for Blondie is the group as well as the female character - "saw Blondie that way.
"Now she has evolved into a creature who is like a mirror, reflecting and interpreting the songs. I've changed her drive, made her more part of the band and less the creature in the spotlight. For a while I could push Blondie out on her own. In some ways it was easier for me then because now she has become more abstract and less female."
Debbie Harry's origins do not make her seem a likely candidate for her current role as the New Wave's Sex Queen. After being adopted at the age of three months, she was brought up in a comfortable home in the New Jersey suburbs. The cool blonde was then a rather shy, mousy little thing who sang in church and acted in school plays. Despite her image, she's still close to the parents who adopted her and she has maintained an unfashionably monogamous, seven-year relationship with Chris Stein, who with Debbie started the band and is still the motivating force behind it and the lead guitarist.
Stein, at 30, is five years younger than Debbie. He is hardly a typical rock star. Prematurely greying, analytical and sensible, he says of living with Debbie Harry: "Someone lives with Sophia Loren, someone lives with Jane Fonda and after a while they take it for granted. Debbie and I have a great relationship and I'm very happy about it. If we worked together every day in an office, it might be strained, but because rock 'n' roll is a life-style we don't have problems."
When they're not working they mostly stay home and watch TV. Going out means films or professional wrestling, of which Stein is a big fan. Clubs and discos are not on their itinerary and a secure home life seems important to them both.
They met after Debbie had abandoned suburbia for New York's world of underground music and art, supporting herself as a waitress and a Playboy Bunny. Stein first saw her when she appeared with a raw, all-girl band named The Stilettos. She had that indefinable something called star quality. Stein fell for her and they have, as the fan magazines put it, been together ever since.
Success took its time arriving and, surprisingly, happened first in Britain and not in their native America. The group entered the British charts in February 1978 with Denis - five years after the band had been formed. There were three more Top Twenty hits in 1978 and the following year Blondie achieved world recognition with the album Parallel Lines, which sold five million copies.
But Debbie and Stein say today they still appreciate being able to pay the rent, afford heat and own a car. The years of living in cold-water flats have not yet faded out of memory.
When success came, the other members of the band began to resent interviews gravitating to the girl they called "The Rock Garbo" and that brought an internal crisis within Blondie. Also, the band's astonishing popularity created its own demands, for it was now attracting what is known as the M.O.R. (middle-of-the-road) audience which, roughly translated, means big money and a much wider variety of people to please.
As Chris Stein realistically admits: "A lot of people think they can put out one single and change the world. It's not like that. Every record company is out to make money."
Unless they wanted to wave goodbye to their new contracts, the band had to develop. Critics and old fans have felt increasingly betrayed, particularly by Blondie's latest album Auto American. It topped the U.S. charts all the same. "If an audience can't get that same thing from you, it acts like a possessive lover. You go on and the fans stay behind where they are most comfortable," Debbie says. "It's not like they're leaving you but like they're standing still while you're progressing and they don't like that. Suddenly you are incompatible."
Chris Stein believes the problem lies in elitism. "People like having their own private band. Once millions of other people show they like you too, the original group feels slighted and that's where it becomes comparable with having a jealous lover.
"People have these pre-conceived ideas about what it's cool to listen to and we wanted to expose our fans to different types of music, to open up their brains a little. I believe punks are just as stuffy as opera lovers. If you force a punk to listen to Wagner or Camelot by Lerner and Lowe, he will reject the image of the music rather than listen and hear the melody."
These days Debbie Harry is taking advantage of her wider appeal. She has already acted in one low-budget suspense film, Union City, and the band made a cameo appearance in the rock movie Roadie. She says she has had other offers, some of which have been for weird vampire pictures. Film as a medium obviously intrigues her but apparently she is not planning to leave the band, knowing that without the blonde there would be no Blondie.
Hugh Birley of Chrysalis, Blondie's British record label, has been coping with inquiries about the band splitting ever since they were formed. "Debbie may be involved in more solo projects in the future," he says, "as may other members of the band. But if Debbie should do any solo recording it is unlikely to be before 1982."
So she accepts cameo appearances, as on this week's Muppet Show, when she vamps Kermit, sings with him a duet of Rainbow Connection and performs with a punk Muppet band.
She is clearly a creature of contradictions. She loves to shock by displaying raging female sexuality on stage, but in private she talks of how she is "nearly ready to face up to the responsibility of having children". She and Chris Stein are partners as well as lovers and they seem devoted in a charmingly old-fashioned way.
But the girl who loves to play man-eater enjoys the idea that she feeds men's fantasies. "I think a fantasy life is very important and if, as Blondie, I can be that for people, I think it's great. As a teenager I used to imagine that Marilyn Monroe was my real mother. That's a fantasy a lot of adopted girls share.
"Not knowing where I came from is a great stimulant to the imagination and it has always meant I don't take anything for granted."
When she gives thanks, this 5ft. 3in. power-house must add a footnote of gratitude to the unknown genes which have been so kind to her. Debbie Harry has flawless skin, Clara Bow lips, ice-blue eyes and a delicate frame. She is not just pretty or attractive - she is beautiful.
Perhaps the strangest part of her fame must come from knowing that copies of the creature she invented as a stage image are now walking the streets of New York, Paris, London and Tokyo, looking more like Blondie than Debbie herself.
"Blondie is a characterisation," she says. "I'm not Blondie and I don't dress like Blondie when I'm living my life.
"So many girls are being Blondie that it's kind of weird. Now I take the view that they can do it and I can be someone else. I can be myself."
Pages 4 & 5
The many moods of Debbie
Debbie Harry is a trendsetter with an image and style she sees reflected in girls all round the world. But Debbie has fantasy images of her own, and the talent to project many moods as a battery of cameramen have proved. "A fantasy life is very important," she says. "If I can feed fantasies, that's great..."
JAN 25 SUNDAY
The Muppet Show
Debbie Harry of the pop group Blondie visits the Muppet Theatre to sing her big hits One Way or Another and Call Me. Then she joins host Kermit the Frog to song his big hit Rainbow Connection. Meanwhile, Robin brings his Frog Scout Troop backstage.
The writers are Jerry Juhl, David Odell, Chris Langham, Jim Henson and Don Hinkley. Music is by the Jack Parnell Band and the music associate is Derek Scott.
Debbie Harry revealed: see page 2
Kermit/Rowlf/Waldorf - Jim Henson
Miss Piggy/Fozzie/Animal - Frank Oz
Floyd/Robin/Pops - Jerry Nelson
Scooter/Statler/Sweetums - Richard Hunt
Honeydew/Zoot - Dave Goelz
Annie Sue - Louise Gold
Rizzo Rat - Steve Whitmire
Designer Tony Ferris
Director Philip Casson
Producer Jim Henson
Executive Producer David Lazer
ATV Network Production