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National Post - 24th October 2007

KEEPING HER TIDE HIGH

Debbie Harry says she's lazy -- so why is she wearing combat boots and blasting hip hop?

Ben Kaplan, National Post
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2007

'Now when I go on-stage, I feel like I should be carrying a mop," says Debbie Harry of performing One Way or Another, her snarling 1978 hit, after seeing it in constant rotation as a sound-track to a Swiffer television ad. "Insidious, isn't it? Have you seen the cruise commercials that use Iggy's music? We were warping people's minds, now look--it's working, people are warped!"

An icon of downtown Manhattan, Harry talks with a pronounced Penny Marshall accent and, at 62, is still wearing beat-up combat boots. As singer and pin-up of Blondie, Harry was one of the late-'70s post-punk pioneers. Playing CBGB and Max's Kansas City with her boyfriend Chris Stein, Blondie's guitarist, the former Playboy bunny and Warhol muse mixed disco, hip hop and punk into a sexy, streetwise blend.

On Necessary Evil, Harry's sixth solo record, the still-blond diva recorded 17 new tracks with Super Buddha, a Brooklyn-based production team that's also worked with the Scissor Sisters and Rufus Wainwright. "We'd be outside the studio smoking, and she'd pull up in her car and there'd be hip hop blasting," says Super Buddha's Barb Morrison, who's currently recording a new Debbie Harry track with Garbage's Shirley Manson. "She's definitely in a class of her own. I mean, her kids are the New York scene."

Indeed, the former fixture at Studio 54 is often still seen dancing at nightclubs, and says her first solo record in 14 years was influenced by Lady Sovereign, Smashing Pumpkins, Bat for Lashes, LCD Soundsystem and 50 Cent. "I don't go out or work as hard as I used to, but music is good for me," she says. "Maybe I don't have as much stamina or bounce back, but what else what would I do? Write a tell-all? Yucchhh! I will never, ever tell all," she says, tucked into a booth at the Rivoli on Queen West in Toronto, not far from the El Mocambo, where Blondie once recorded a live DVD.

(It's a shame that Harry won't pen a book, because one suspects it would be full of stories such as this: "I think there was one night when Johnny Ramone pissed into a glass of beer and handed it to Johnny Rotten and Johnny drank it.")

Lately, she's saving her best stories for audiences. She played solo gigs in June and did a European tour with Blondie in July. Her music is featured on London's West End in the musical Desperately Seeking Susan, and in the upcoming film Elegy, based on The Dying Animal by Philip Roth, she plays Dennis Hopper's wife.

Despite this, she says that she's lazy and that making movies, posing for Warhol and fronting a rock band are all the same thing. "It's about bringing this character to life. I didn't think I could sing, sometimes I still don't --and there's probably people who would agree -- but anyone who stands in front of a band imagines themselves as bigger than anything, even people who sing karaoke. It's performance, that's what we all do in a way."

Harry is currently preparing for a two-month solo tour that will see her crisscrossing America and playing Toronto on Nov. 23. And even if she influenced everyone from Avril Lavigne to Madonna, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame isn't looking to regale in her past. "Rock 'n' roll went from the underground counter-culture to the mass media, and now everyone's out there shaking it, which is great," she says. "Just maybe I wouldn't have chosen those mops."

Link: National Post - 24th October 2007


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