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SuicideGirls - 23rd October 2007

Debbie Harry
By Erin Broadley

Before punk and new wave erupted in New York City in the late '70s, female pop singers were like carefully crafted charms dangled from a bracelet, they were chanteuses whose sexuality was packaged as the ultimate pop commodity. When the tokenism of '60s rock finally gave way to the rebel yell of late '70s and early '80s punk, female singers pushed a brazen, me-first attitude and redefined tough-girl with a heart of gold, or in Debbie Harry's case, the romantic she is, a heart of glass. And though some said she was too beautiful for punk, Debbie Harry was more than just somebodyís darling. 

Harry remembers always wanting to write music. "I got so much out of listening to other peopleís music," she says, "that the idea of making my own was just irresistible." After high school in the early '60s she landed in New York City and worked odd jobs as a secretary and even a Playboy Bunny before settling into her role as singer for the band The Wind in the Willows, a folk rock ensemble very true to the era. But it wasn't until she abandoned folk for an edgier collaboration with guitarist and lover Chris Stein, that Harry came into her own and began perfecting the Blondie persona we know today and have been captivated by for years. Itís is a complicated and unaffected beauty, what she once described as "that age-old tantalizing persona of innocence and sexuality."

With the pieces in place, it didn't take long for Blondie to make a name for itself. New Wave by genre, punk rock in attitude, the band quickly became associated with the burgeoning CBGBís scene. Blondie had this ultra-cool, somewhat nonchalant blue-collar decadence about it that made the band irresistible. New York knew it and it wasnít long before the rest of the world caught on. After the release of Blondie's debut "Parallel Lines" in 1976 and its hit single "Heart of Glass", the band was catapulted to success and Debbie Harry's impact was already becoming that of legend.

However influential, it is 30 years since she first stepped into the limelight with Blondie and the last thing Debbie Harry wants is to be considered a token of yesterday. While many of her punk peers have faded into obscurity or become over-glorified icons of their former selves, she continues to write music and push new ground. With the release of ďNecessary EvilĒ, her sixth solo album and first in over a decade, Debbie Harry proves that sheís still got what it takes. Out now, the album is some of her more original work to date, a collection of songs that string together like snapshots from the eyes of a woman who has loved, lost, and loved again, and doesnít regret a damn thing.

SuicideGirls caught up with her for an afternoon chatÖ


Erin Broadley: Hello. How are you? 

Debbie Harry: Hello. Iím good. How are you? 

EB: Very busy [laughs]. 

DH: Oh, I know! 

EB: How has the reception been so far to Necessary Evil? 

DH: Itís good. Itís going crazy, really. Iíve been talking to so many people. Iím surprised, actually, that so many people are interested, but itís great. Iím feeling very encouraged. 

EB: Good! Youíve said that the music youíve been listening to these days is much more left of center and that was something you really wanted to bring out in this album. Do you think you succeeded, perhaps compared to your previous solo releases? 

DH: Well, I think I was more involved with actually writing the music on this one than the others. I was much more deeply involved in the creation of the songs from A to Z, really. Since I was working with two other people, it was such a small group. Usually with Blondie, working with six people and a producer, itís a lot of heads, a lot of opinions and styles and stuff to make it to one thing. This was sort of a lot simpler, a little bit more basic, really. 

EB: Fewer cooks in the kitchen? 

DH: Yeah, yeah. 

EB: One thing you said was that you wanted to get away from your cute girl sound and get a bit more aggressive and darker with your vocals. I think this album really plays up your devilish sense of humor. Why was that a choice you decided to make this time around? 

DH: Well, it just seemed very natural to me Ö a very comfortable place to be. I just sort of followed my [instincts]. 

EB: A lot of the focus on you has always involved your groundbreaking role as a woman running a rock band in the Ď70s. Your partner Chris Stein once said that, in the late Ď70s and early Ď80s, the male rock establishment was really sexist and you got knocked around heavily. Are there any particular recollections from that period that stand out? Do you think itís much different now? 

DH: Well yeah, I do. To some degree, thereís a lot more girls and women actually doing stuff in the industry and in many industries, for that matter. Things have really changed in that respect. [When it coms to] selling sexuality, compared to what goes on today it looked like I was selling shoes or something! 


EB: [Laughs] 

DH: I was doing hardly anything compared to the stuff that is revealed today. You know, so I feel like Iím sort of behind the times when it comes to that. 

EB: Right. You once said that it was the age-old persona of innocence mixed with sexuality that really worked for you Ė that mysterious combination. Do you think that seductive mystery of innocence is even possible anymore with the way the media exploits female sexuality? It seems more fleeting than ever. 

DH: Yeah, I think youíre right. I would imagine it would be very difficult to sort of make that happen today in a big way. Itís a much more sophisticated world. Even with very, very young performers itís [like that]. I mean, just take for example those baby beauty pageants. 

EB: Oh, man [laughs]. 

DH: That exemplifies it in a nutshell. 

EB: Those are creepy, huh? 

DH: I know itís just weird. 

EB: Yeah. Well, earlier this year you were part of Cyndi Lauperís True Colors tour. It was hilarious because the other day my friend told me about a dream she had where you and Cyndi Lauper collaborated on a duet. 

DH: Ah [laughs]. I havenít spoken to her but I sort of got the idea that she wanted to make [the True Colors tour] a regular event, which I think is dynamite. As far as us doing a duet, I totally would love it. I think sheís such a mad woman, you know, sheís done some great songs. I think it would be quite something if we did that. Shirley Manson and I once started to record a song together but we never actually finished it. 

EB: Yeah, she seems like a real blast to work with. 

DH: Sheís so good. Sheís so talented. 

EB: At this point in your career, is it nice not to have that pressure that younger musicians face in between albums to put something out right away once they wrap a record? Do you find it more creatively rewarding to embrace other art forms in your down time and let an album evolve naturally? 

DH: Sure, thatís kind of an ideal situation. I think we are all driven by our own demons or compulsions, as it were. Iím probably somewhat of a driven person; I really want to keep working. You know, I would really, really like to do another Blondie CD. That would be my next sort of ďconquering EverestĒ type of thing [laughs]. Itís just something that Iíd like to do. I donít have any kind of schedule or any approximate idea when or if, but itís something that I would like to do. 

EB: Yeah, sometimes as an artist itís like you feel like you have all this time on your hands and then, simultaneously, you feel thereís just not enough time to fit it all in. 

DH: Yeah, touring takes up a lot of time. It really does. You know, I really donít want to stop playing, I think that playing live is one of the most important things. 

EB: I read that growing up you felt too anchored and craved the life of a gypsy. 

DH: [Sighs] Yeah. [Laughs] 

EB: Do you think that roaming gypsy quality of touring was part of what seduced you into the music world? 

DH: Maybe. It made it seem romantic and alluring but I think it was really the music that made me want to do it. I got so much out of listening to other peopleís music that the idea of making my own was just irresistible. 

EB: Right, being in a band can either satiate someoneís restless nature or it can encourage it even more. 

DH: Yeah, yeah, I know. We talked about this on the tour bus, about how you have to be sort of cut out for it. Iíve worked with musicians that really donít like touring; they donít like being on the road. It makes them really nervous and uptight and everything. But most of us just really get into the groove; we really like being footloose, you know. Itís really true. 

EB: In September, at the Vodaphone Live Music Awards in London, you presented Iggy Pop with a lifetime achievement award. 

DH: Yeah. 

EB: In another interview, when asked about maintaining relationships with your peers from early punk scene, you said, ďWell Iíve been to a lot of funerals.Ē 

DH: [Laughs] Iíve made some terrible comments. 

EB: 
[Laughs] What was that like, presenting Iggy with that award? How have your relationships with your peers changed over the years? 

DH: Well, one of the sad things about getting on with your life and your career is that you get really separated from these people and you donít see them very often. It really takes an effort to stay in touch with them because youíre all working and, as you say, traveling a lot. You know, I hadnít seen Iggy for a long time so I was really happy to present him with that award, even though he wasnít there [laughs]. I had a feeling he wasnít going to be there though. 

EB: Yeah, heís been touring like crazy for the past year with the Stooges. 

DH: Yeah, why would he not want to keep playing? Heís so incredible. I mean, you work your whole life to be able to do something great. Why should you stop? Heís just so great. I mean, that voice and that body Ö forget it. 

EB: [Laughs] 

DH: Those songs Ö he writes great songs. 

EB: Thatís how people still feel about you, with or without Blondie. Itís the same as what you said about Iggy, ďWhy stop? Itís a blessing that Iím still able to make music for a living and that I still want to.Ē 

DH: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I totally feel that way. 

EB: Another thing you did this year was interview Tamara Coniff, the editor and publisher of Billboard, as part of New York Universityís ďCEOs in the Arts Speaker Series.Ē What was that experience like, to be the one conducting an interview and turning the tables in a way, after so many years at their editorial discretion? 

DH: Right. Well, I donít know if I exactly interviewed her but she is a very dynamic, well-organized person and she spoke wonderfully. She was talking to an audience of people who wanted to get into journalism and get into the field of publishing. They were really hanging on every word, believe me, it was quite something. I think 
more than anything we were just taking questions from the audience. Sheís got really smart, vibrant ideas and the energy to pull it off, you know. I think people are really attracted to that kind of force. 

EB: Thatís something that you can relate to [laughs]. 

DH: Yeah, definitely. 

EB: Youíre also an actress. You just wrapped a film called Elegy that has a great cast -- Dennis Hopper, Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz. What kind of character do you play? 

DH: Yeah. I play Dennis Hopperís characterís wife. I have kind of a small part but itís a very dramatic scene [that takes place on] Dennisí deathbed, actually. I play his estranged wife of many years. So itís a very sad, very moving scene. 

EB: Sounds intense. 

DH: Yeah, Iíve never played a death scene before. It was really something. 

EB: All the funerals in the world canít prepare you for something like that. 

DH: [Laughs] No, not really. It was a really good experience for me to have to work like that. Being around such powerful actors, I mean, they were all just so down to business, they were just focused on their jobs, very nice off camera, very relaxed, very civil, and couldnít have been nicer. No ďI am the starĒ kind of treatment; nothing like that. Just really great people and then on camera, click, to work, focused like crazy. It was totally professional and a really great experience for me. 

EB: With acting and performing in general, is it a challenge to be able to turn it on and off without losing your head? 

DH: You know, itís a process and I think that you sort of get used to doing that. Not all scenes are complete, bust out, dramatic deep scenes. A lot is kind of normal and youíre just tying the links of those emotional moments together. Itís not like youíre going full tilt all the time, every single day. There is that spread Ė you make a map about how youíre going to work your emotions and how youíre going to spend your energy, so to speak. 

EB: Right. Well, in the Ď70s with Blondie you said that, above all, you thought of yourself as an actress playing a rock singer. 

DH: Yeah, unfortunately. 

EB: Why so? 

DH: [Laughs] I feel like that so much itís ridiculous. I know that Iím actually singing and stuff like that but I somehow feel that, more than that, Iím spreading a kind of an emotional feeling. I feel like I tell stories to music. And you know, my singing has improved but Iím not a natural singer. Iím not naturally an incredible great singer, but I get by. My best thing is that Iím really able to tell a story and make emotion come to life. 

EB: Thereís been talk about a biopic about you and Blondie but I know that youíve really come to dislike traditional biopics. What do you think it takes to truly capture an artistís life on celluloid? 

DH: I donít know, I really donít know. I think the things that I object to about portraying musicians or music in films, they sort of whitewash things a little bit too much. I think that really everybody really knows -- well, maybe not everybody -- but a lot of people really know whatís going on and these sort of depictions, these cleaned up versions of peopleís lives, itís just kind of boring and stupid. 

EB: Do you have plans for New Yearís. I know you always prefer to work on New Year's. 

DH: Yeah, we donít have a booking right now, but maybe something will turn up. Itís either that or find a good party. 

EB: Thatís always the hard part about New Yearís because you always end up not having fun because you party hop and you keep waiting for something. 

DH: Yeah, youíve got to choose something anyway, to settle into it, you know, youíre right because party hopping can be a complete drag. 

EB: Yeah, you know, all of a sudden itís 4 AM and you havenít had your New Yearís kiss and youíre drunk in your party dress and you didnít have any fun [laughs]. 

DH: Oh God. 

EB: [Laughs] 

DH: [Laughs] 

EB: Now, you took the photos for this album yourself, correct? 

DH: Yeah. 

EB: You do a bit of painting as well. Have photography and painting been a big passion of yours? 

DH: I think Iíve always been interested in painting although I havenít done it regularly in a long time. Every once in a while Iíll have a minute or two or get the urge. Photography is kind of a new thing. 

EB: Theyíre amazing photographs, the self-portraits. 

DH: Yeah, I lived with a photographer for almost 15 years so I think I must have picked something up. He was always talking about F-stops and speed. With a digital camera itís kind of simple, you know, I didnít have a huge budget but I wanted to spend the money as much on the music as I could. So I took the picture [laughs]. 

EB: On another note, I read that you went topless bungee jumping in New Zealand. 

DH: Oh, that was years ago. 

EB: Was it? You said you probably wouldnít do it again, that it was not necessarily the sanest thing youíve ever done. 

DH: No [laughs] but it was the end of a really long tour. We all just hopped into this van and went down to the bay. You know, they had a huge crane hanging out over the bay and all the guys were going to go. I just wanted to watch but then, I donít know, I just sort of said, ďOh hell.Ē 

EB: Why the decision to go topless? I mean, youíre a brave woman. 

DH: I figured if I was going to go I should just be prepared. 

EB: Just go all out. 

DH: I figured, if Iím going to die I might as well go big. I probably didnít whip my top off until the very last minute. 

EB: Any other crazy hijinks youíve gotten into lately? 

DH: No, not really, not too crazy lately. I mean, I guess Iím so used to crazy that it doesnít seem crazy anymore. 

EB: Right, crazy becomes the norm then youíre an artist. 

DH: Yeah. I guess the most sort of funny thing I did recently was rent a bike and ride around London for a while right along side of the road. That was pretty reckless I guess. 

EB: How long did you ride for? 

DH: A couple hours. 

EB: [Laughs] You crazy, crazy, lady. 

DH: It is kind of nutty, believe me.

Look for Debbie Harry on tour for the remainder of the year.

Link: SuicideGirls - 23rd October 2007


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