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Gay.com & PlanetOut.com - February 2006

Catching up with Debbie Harry
Jenny Stewart

With Blondie's recent high-profile induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Doors mash-up "Rapture Riders" grabbing career-best reviews and an upcoming summer concert tour with the Cars in support of "Sound and Vision: The Greatest Hits of Blondie," Debbie Harry is once again in the spotlight -- if she ever left it.
So what goes on in the daily life of one of the most iconic performers in rock history? PlanetOut entertainment editor Jenny Stewart spoke to Harry and got an inside glimpse of red-carpet rants, David Bowie dreams and an addiction to "American Idol."

It's only 10 a.m. in New York City, where you are. How are you going to spend your day? 

I have a few errands to run -- I have some things to take to FedEx, and then I have to go to Staples for supplies. Trying to organize my archives is a big fucking drag, let me tell you, but I have to do it.

What are "the archives"?

All of my clippings and memorabilia and pictures. It's in danger of getting destroyed and kind of fragile, so I'd like to preserve it and organize it as much as possible and then just sort of be done with it. I'm working on a book, which is what inspired me to get the archives organized. The book is going to be autobiographical stories -- vignettes, a collection of little moments in my life. 

Your book could be turned into a movie, and then someone would be playing you onscreen. Who would you like that person to be? 

Well, gee, I don't know; I think Kirsten Dunst could be pretty good. And at one time I thought Michelle Pfeiffer, but I don't think that would happen now. The person I used to get confused with all the time was Tuesday Weld. This nutty old woman followed me all around the supermarket once insisting I was Tuesday Weld, which I thought was cute.

Did you watch the Oscars? 

I watched the Oscars alone, but I did a phone rant with my friend who's a fashion stylist. Oh, man, we just went to town! We tear apart everyone on the red carpet, and we talk about who looks great and who looks gorgeous. Meryl and Lily were just great. It must be luuuv. They were having a great time up there.

George Clooney is really great. He could just coast on cuteness, but he's actually smart. Matt Dillon looked good, too, didn't he? He's aging really well. Genetics are a funny thing.

Speaking of which, at your induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, everyone was commenting on how you were the best-looking one there, which is pretty high praise considering the caliber of people in attendance. Do you like the way you look now?

Yeah. I'm always highly critical, but I'm fairly happy. I'm afraid to say this, but I'm going to be 61 in July -- I feel like there is something wrong with my brain just by saying it.

But still, it was unanimous that you looked better than all the other rock chicks, even at your age. I remember reading an interview with Joey Ramone and he was talking about how everyone assumed that since he was a rock star, that he tore the town up every night. And he said "Which is so ridiculous - all I ever do is go to Debbie Harry's house and drink wine." I loved reading that. What a picture. So did you have to cut out all the partying?

[Laughs] Yes, we had some very lovely, quiet wine-drinking nights! I have one drink now and I really feel it, and I guess it's a lot easier to party in that sense, you know? I mean it doesn't take very much to get me going! Once you've done it and once you've sort of slammed yourself against the wall several hundred times, you sort of feel like "Well, OK, I think I know where this is going." 

You've said you watch "American Idol." If you were young and just starting out, and you were a contestant on the show, what are some of the kinds of songs you'd want to sing? 

It's sort of funny how I watch it. I know who the singers are and what the singers are like. And I like to see what their choices are and how they do with the choices they make.

I think maybe I'd try to do a Sly and the Family Stone song, because those are really good songs for that kind of thing. I think I'd also cover anything from Prince. "Raspberry Beret" would be good; it's very sweet. That would be OK for a girl to sing; you'd just have to, like, switch out the pronouns.

You said they never do Blondie songs on the show, but they did do "Call Me" once. Which Blondie song do you think is the most sing-able? 

Wow, that's actually pretty tough. I think maybe "Dreaming."

Blondie really has been a groundbreaking band that explored a lot of different musical genres. What about your personal taste in music? Who are your influences? 

It's hard to say because I'm always trying to keep free of influences when I'm writing. Whatever I'm listening to definitely pops into my work. As I said, I'm a big scanner, so if I'm in the car listening to the radio, I'll just keep popping from station to station. But there are certain people whom I really love and I could listen to all the way through -- like the White Stripes and Missy Elliot and Eminem. 

You took on reggae with "The Tide is High," which opened the AIDS film "Longtime Companion" and really set the tone for the first part of the movie. As a longtime AIDS activist, did you have any more to do with that movie? You're currently an environmental activist, but do you continue to do AIDS work? 

I do things for AIDS, but I think the environmental issues are really, really desperate now and I know people don't really acknowledge that, especially our government. Diseases are nothing if we don't have a place to live. And in some metaphysical way I do think that the diseasing of the planet is causing us to have these other diseases. I know that's sort of unproven, but I think in a way it's symbolic or symptomatic of the condition of the planet.

Congrats on the "Rapture Riders" song. It's an extremely clever mash-up. What was your first reaction when you heard it? 

I thought it was amazingly good because, you know, some of those mash-ups are a real stretch of the imagination and don't work at all, whereas some of them work beautifully. 

One of the strange things about it is that when Blondie first went to LA in 1976, [Doors keyboardist] Ray Manzarek came down to see us because we had a keyboard player, so he was sort of intrigued. He came down to the Whiskey and hung out, and we actually got to know him a little bit. So for this to come together now is pretty amazing. I really think it's awesome and -- trust me -- that never happens. [Laughs] It's rare that I really love something! 

You've done duets with Perry Ferrell, Coolio and a lot of other people. Now you've done one with Jim freaking Morrison. Is there anyone else you've been dying to do a duet with? 

You know, I'd really like to do a duet with David Bowie. I'd to write a song with him. We could do something really interesting together.

Have you ever made out with someone while one of your songs was playing? 

I think that has happened, but I think I told the person I was with to turn it off. It's distracting. I would just start critiquing my music. I don't like to have any music playing in the background because it's such a study for me. It's not like I can have it just flavoring the atmosphere. When I have it in the background, I become really focused and absorbed. I start to think, How did they do that or that? I can't even have a conversation with someone while music is playing because I'll forget what I'm saying.

Blondie is re-formed and you guys are going on tour with the Cars (who are playing with Todd Rundgren). Such an interesting choice for the Cars. I think it's a great double bill and actually really good timing. 

Yeah, it's going to be a good, powerful show actually. I've heard what they sound like with Todd. And I think it's really great and they sound amazing. I don't think either Blondie or the Cars were ever gigantic, but each of us has respectable-size audiences. I think it's going to be fun.

You know that game, "Who would you rather make out with?" You probably played it with your stylist friend. 

[Skeptical] No . . . I never played it with him. [Laughs]

No, it's actually really fun -- trust me, Debbie.

OK.

Gwen Stefani or Shirley Manson? 

I think Shirley. I know Shirley.

Olivia Newton-John or Linda Ronstadt? 

Oh, my God! Egads. [Laughs hard] How about we go with Linda Newton-John?

Joan Jett or Pat Benatar?

Joan Jett! . . . Wait, is this all women?

No, here are some guys. Bono or David Bowie? 

Oh. Huh. Let me see. I think Bono.

Really? I hope that doesn't ruin the chances of the duet with Bowie. OK, Patti Smith or Chrissie Hynde? 

Chrissie Hynde. She's great.

Kate Moss or Cindy Crawford? 

I think Kate Moss. I know her a little.

Peggy Lipton or Madonna? 

Now why should I know who Peggy Lipton is? 

She was on "The Mod Squad," remember? That beautiful blonde? 

Oh yeah, her. 

So Peggy Lipton or Madonna? 

Oh, shit!!! [Laughs] Oh, geez, let's skip that one.

OK, last one -- Prince Harry or Prince William?

Oh, God! Oh wow. I think maybe Prince Harry. That one's got that little wild streak in him.

Well, I'll let you go. Good luck with those errands; I know you can get them all done. 

[Laughs] Such confidence! Thank you very much! 

Link: Gay.com - February 2006

Link: PlanetOut.com - February 2006


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