Music Interviews

Search JoyZine with Google Site Search!

Deborah Harry

interview by Tom Lanham
published in the San Francisco Chronicle

Deborah Harry

There were small gold charms—three of them—hanging from Deborah Harry's neck as the New Wave princess sat down to relax after a recent Bay Area concert. The tokens were for good luck, she explained, slyly adding, "After all, everyone needs a little luck now and then, don't they?"

And then Harry smiled. It was a radiant beam from a photogenic face that in the olden days would have launched a thousand ships, but that night had settled for launching only one.

Performing aboard a yacht as part of a radio cruise series, the singer had just finished proving to a delirious crowd that—although her '70s power-pop band Blondie was no more—she was far from being washed up. After 15 tough years in the music business, the 40-ish Harry is the same bewitching blond beauty who captivated both rock and fashion photographers in her heyday. She literally peppered her set with sing-along Blondie reminders, too, and then threw in some equally energetic material from a new solo record, Def, Dumb and Blonde.

What captivated passengers the most, however, was Harry's invigorating punk-era intensity, a magic many '80s artists are sadly lacking. In a time when most radio hits can be calculated on a slide rule, Harry's return to touring and recording is welcome indeed. "Boy, this sure gives new meaning to the term 'sink or swim,'" she jested later from the ship's bridge.

Longtime collaborator/guitarist Chris Stein sat across from her, fiddling with a toy stuffed monkey. "I do have a few regrets," Harry said, thinking back on her life. "But overall I'm really amazed I did this—had this strange kind of career. I never expected anything."

Whether through luck or by pluck, Harry has made substantial contributions to musical history. When the New Wave movement shuddered out of New York City in 1976, Harry and Stein were right there. They logged one of the form's first No. 1 singles with "Heart of Glass" in 1979, and followed it with a long string of hits, including "Dreaming," "Call Me" and an early rap experiment, "Rapture." But by 1982, Harry had "stopped working and management just fell apart." Blondie, she recalled, "was something everyone generally outgrew."

Then, after nursing Stein through a serious illness, she finally returned in 1986 with a modestly received solo outing, Rockbird. One single, "French Kissing in the USA," hit the Top 10, but the album lacked that certain Blondie effervescence. Deborah HarryToday, however, the leadoff Def, Dumb and Blond single, "I Want That Man," is pure kinetic kick, a jumping, jangling pop anthem that—à la Blondie—pits Harry's smooth vocal delivery against a percolating arrangement.

The track was written and produced for her by longtime fans the Thompson Twins, but Harry sees the LP itself as the real accomplishment: It reunites her and Stein with famed Blondie producer Mike Chapman. "Getting the old team back together was important," she said. "We all really wanted to make the record, so we did."

The "Def" attitude might still be spunky Blondie, Harry added, but inside things are different. "It was a characterization to some degree," she said of her platinum-haired persona, "because Blondie became this total entity when I sang other people's songs that weren't necessarily my point of view."

Her hair is a tad darker now, streaked with a little brown. Harry explained, "I'm working again, but it's not Blondie. It's Deborah Harry, and that makes me very happy." And it's all in the performance, Harry theorizes. In the punk era, she was the very essence of sultry sexuality on stage, usually appearing in alluring dresses and high heels.

For this cruise, she leaped about on a tiny riser in a black jumpsuit and gold flats, but that high-cheekboned, sex-kitten image still came across. It's also a look that works well on screen. Over the years, Harry has landed a handful of roles in such films as Videodrome and Union City. Last year, her acting pursuit shifted into high gear with two plum parts: The shrewish, bouffant-haired housewife in John Waters' hilarious look at the '60s, Hairspray; and a down-on-her-luck lounge chanteuse opposite Ken Wahl in TV's popular Wiseguy series.

"Not bad, huh?" Harry giggled girlishly about working with heartthrob Wahl. She affectionately views Waters as "really quite mad, but in a special way." Harry still lives in Manhattan, but rarely hangs out in the club scene that launched Blondie. She's currently on the go across America to support Def, Dumb and Blond. Touching her hair again, lost in thought for a moment, the New Wave survivor admitted that it's not the same as the glory days. But she remains hopeful. "I think that history does repeat itself, especially in culture," she mused. "You can really see different hot spots or flourishes of movement around the world. These little bursts of energy happen, and they touch people simultaneously.

"And it just continues. People stretch out a little bit, and things happen."


Back to Top
Contact | Site Map | Links | Privacy |
Site designed & maintained by Artist Web Design
Copyright © 1996-2018