The West Australian TODAY
Friday 1st August 2003 - Page 7
The curse of
Debbie Harry has, for almost 30 years, held a starring position as the focal point of Blondie. MURRAY ENGLEHEART reports.
ON JUNE 23, Debbie Harry was scheduled to take part in a tribute concert for the late Peggy Lee at New York's Carnegie Hall. She was surprised I knew of it and asked how I found out. The internet, I replied innocently, Blondie's official website to be exact. Immediately I felt a stamp being pressed into my forehead.
"Oh yes! You're one of those!" Harry laughed, in what was hopefully mock revulsion. "You're a webster!"
I protest, but in vain. But it must be a career pinnacle, I continue, being on an equal footing with the likes of Eartha Kitt and Nancy Sinatra?
"It's a damn great show," she swooned a week or so before the show. "It's going to be really good. I'm getting a little excited about it. I'm going to actually do a duet with Nancy Sinatra. She's the best. I love Nancy."
For the best part of 30 years, Harry - who is now 58 - has held a commanding, no iconic, status as the striking focal point of Blondie, who reunited in 1997 after a 15-year absence.
The band formed in New York in 1974 around Harry and guitarist Chris Stein, who initially performed as Angel & the Snake. Stein, a graduate of New York's School of Visual Arts, met Harry the year before. At that time, she was fronting all-girl rockers the Stilettos. The pair subsequently got married, and split amicably during the 80s.
Angel & the Snake rechristened themselves Blondie, not so much due to Harry's hair but because truck drivers would use the moniker to catcall the singer.
Drummer Clem Burke and keyboardist Jimmy Destri completed the initial line-up.
Their mix of everything sparkling in rock'n'roll's history, including the joy of the classic 60s girl groups and the essence of original garage punk, has alerted the eyes and ears of everyone from Brian Wilson to the late John Kennedy jun.
In New York in the late 70s, that sound placed Blondie happily at odds with other unique entities such as Television, Talking Heads and the Ramones, though all were broadly tagged as punk.
"A lot of the bands were really, really different and a lot of them actually didn't become huge but I think were hugely influential," Harry said.
"You can see (the New York influence) with the White Stripes. I think that they really picked up on the Cramps. I don't know if I really hear any band that's sort of picked up on Television but I think early Television with Richard Hell was quite wonderful."
For Harry, Blondie's influence is somewhat less clear-cut. "Sometimes I see it. I think that Blondie's influence is a little bit more eclectic than those bands. They were more focused. I think that we sort of take a lot from a lot of different areas."
The latest edition of that sound will be on display later this year via the new album, The Curse of Blondie. It's the follow-up to their successful 1999 comeback album, No Exit, which sported the surprise hit single Maria.
"I think it's a Blondie tradition that all of our albums sort of have a wide spread of styles. We try to represent all of the influences that we've felt over the years and being from such an urban environment there's a lot of different ethnic influences and we really try to represent that."
Harry has written or at least contributed to many of the band's songs, a talent for which she's rarely credited. For most she is simply the presenter rather than a creator.
The seriousness of that craft was the last thing on Harry's mind the day she donned a Devo suit.
"We were doing a photo session with Devo and (Blondie's) Chris (Stein) was actually the photographer. And we got all of them over to our little apartment and then we went up on the roof. Our apartment was on the top floor. They had on their yellow suits," she laughs. "And they let me put one on."
WIN! Blondie plays the Burswood Theatre on August 17 and 18. Music Today has 10 double passes to the Sunday, August 17, concert. For a chance to win tickets, write your name and address on the back of an envelope and post to Blondie Competition, The West Australian, GPO Box 2907, Perth 6800. Entries close on August 8. Prizes will be posted.