AS BLONDIE, THE BAND turn 40 and, against all odds, prepare to release their 10th studio album, Ghosts Of Download, singer Debbie Harry relives the trial-by-chauvinism endured by the post-punk icon who made the mistake of being both female and attractive.
As the group first crawled from the New York Bowery’s punk scene at the end of the 1970s to beam their transcendental pop to millions, the reaction of their hometown peers was not universally supportive. In a burst of misogyny not atypical of the milieu, legendary New York-based rock scribe Lester Bangs wrote of Harry: “She may be there all high and mighty on TV, but everybody knows that underneath all that fashion plating she’s just a piece of meat like the rest of them.”
In an exclusive interview that graces the cover of the new MOJO magazine (street date: Tuesday, March 25), Harry relates how she was initially traumatised by the flak.
“Y’know, I have to say, I got smart,” she tells MOJO’s Tom Doyle. “After the first touring experience and the first real criticism we got, I actually hid under the covers for a couple of weeks. Then after that I just didn’t read it. It was too upsetting and I was too unused to it. It didn’t do me any good in performance because I would be on-stage and all of a sudden one of those lines would flash and completely destroy my focus and concentration and make me not enjoy it. It’s a matter of opinion. There’s no accounting for taste, so f**k ’em! Poor Lester was so confused. He was definitely part of the male conspiracy.”
In a sparky Q&A augmented by exclusive unseen photographs from the archive of Blondie songwriter and guitarist Chris Stein (see above), Harry reveals how she dealt with the group’s early-’80s crash, mixed reactions to her solo albums, and her much-mythologised “retirement” as she nursed boyfriend Stein through a debilitating immunity illness...
“It was a very difficult time. All I can say is that I did move on in the mid '80s.”
“All of that stuff has been totally misconstrued,” Harry bristles. “It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I set the record straight. It was a very difficult time. All I can say is that I did move on in the mid '80s and I started doing a series of solo albums which Chris wrote on and helped me with. I did not give up my career. I had a lot of tours and I had some smaller hits. I really think that there’s some great material on those solo albums that I feel to a degree has been overlooked.”
Elsewhere she recalls being hit on by Iggy and Bowie and immortalised by Andy Warhol. Despite the knocks, she declares herself satisfied with Blondie’s place in musical history and a life “being blindly drawn like a moth to a flame.”
“I can make a long list of things I would do differently,” she tells MOJO, winningly. “But if I were actually thrown back there, I’d probably do it all the same.”
MOJO’s Blondie issue hits the shelves in the UK on Tuesday, March 25. Watch out for in-depth features on David Bowie’s 1974 transformation from glam icon to soul boulevardier, Jake Bugg’s irresistible rise and Al Kooper’s portfolio of pop prestidigitation. Damon Albarn, Terry Hall, Jeff Beck, Ben Watt, Pixies, Metronomy, Slint and Death Disco – a free 15-track CD of post-punk greats – also await.