There's Something About Harry
By Michael Martin
Photography by Ruven Afanador
In a photo studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Debbie Harry is sitting on a couch, looking fantastic — as she does; that’s her thing — talking about Beth Ditto of the Gossip, with whom she duets on the new Blondie album, Ghosts of Download. “She is a terrific girl. I love the fact that she’s crazy — an independent spirit.” She smiles wryly. “And, you know, I like tough girls.”
“She’s a fabric of her own imagination, not somebody else’s,” she continues. “Which is really important.”
And just like that, the pop legend with a silvery soprano, who was labeled the Marilyn Monroe and Garbo of punk, draws a direct line from herself to a zaftig mascara fetishist with a Mack-truck yelp. But it makes complete sense: Harry is a pop legend because she was also a fabric of her own imagination, and her group, Blondie, is one of the all-time great pop bands — the strands of their craft and experimentation are woven into so many other bands it’s impossible to count.
Blondie formed on New York City’s Lower East Side in 1974, a foursome led by Harry and her boyfriend, guitarist Chris Stein, after Harry did time as a secretary and Playboy Bunny. Their first album, Blondie, was a brilliant straddle of pop and parody, a tough, ironic update of ’60s girl groups, featuring Harry singing from the perspective of a street hooker trying to seduce the cop who busted her (on “X Offender”), telling a lover “I could give you some head / And shoulders to lie on” (on “Look Good in Blue”), and celebrating kung fu and monster movies. It all was arch, uncommonly smart, and incredibly catchy. The band was aware that they had a significant gay audience “from the very beginning,” says Harry proudly, recalling how they played one of the early Gay Pride events in New York City.