Debbie Harry returns with first solo album in 14 years
Fashion-forward musicians seem easy targets for media attention; stimulating all five senses will get you even further in the industry these days. Whereas glam’s forefather, David Bowie, made it cool for men to wear glitter and eyeliner, new wave’s blonde bombshell Deborah Harry of Blondie made it stylish for women to lead bands and hang around punk bars like CBGB’s in off-the-shoulder, striped T-shirts and mini skirts. But rubbing elbows with socialites like Andy Warhol will only get your foot in the door. It takes more than just a mod personality and good looks. You’ve gotta have confidence and skill, and Harry’s had it all.
A platinum movie star gaze, a downtown Manhattan attitude and the chops to back it up, Harry’s one pop-punk, rock-rap crossover that won’t soon be forgotten. This October, during the 30th anniversary of the birth of punk, she released her first solo album in 14 years, Necessary Evil, bringing the star out from the undertow and into the limelight again.
Harry’s a fashionista, a trailblazer and a member of the New York punk scene “lifers,” in the same circle as The Ramones. The pop queen’s now 62 years old, but her lust for life remains. The former Playboy pin-up unleashes her newfound glory at the Vogue Nov. 24 — one of only 18 tour stops this year, competing with big markets like L.A. and Miami. Fortunately, this is one concert fans can be proud to embrace. Harry talked to NUVO recently about her new CD, her tour and the social issues that make her tick.
NUVO: What song from your new album, Necessary Evil, have fans been reacting really well to so far?
Harry: Primarily the first single [“Two Times Blue”]. We’ve been pushing that a lot, and I’ve been hearing good reports about the title song and “Dirty and Deep.” … [It’s] about scandal and the “feeding shark” frenzy of the media. I’m guilty of it, too.
NUVO: I know you’ve supported AIDS awareness in the past (through Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors tour in June, for example). Are there any other issues that you feel strongly about and would like to share with your fans?
Harry: I’m really active in [fighting] ecological problems, getting away from pollution and getting into greening. I just made a public service announcement for a conservation group in New Jersey, and I’m part of a group that stops industry from dumping into the Hudson River. [And] I recycle … Another issue I’ve touched on slightly is religious fanaticism. Our country is based on freedom of choice!
NUVO: How do you think the music industry has changed for female-fronted bands since you began performing?
Harry: It’s evident girls are making good music. At one time, it wasn’t part of the industry at all. Now, it’s more in evidence.
NUVO: What musicians do you listen to regularly?
Harry: The beauty of rock and roll is we all listen to different things and [then] amalgamate our influences. So, it’s pretty much current: Bats for Lashes, LCD Soundsystem, Smashing Pumpkins [and] M.I.A.
NUVO: Does it ever irritate you that some media outlets focus more on your fashion forwardness than on your music? Do you think life would have been different at all for you if you didn’t know how to dress?
Harry: (Laughs) I’m really surprised about that. I love fashion and clothes. It’s part of rock and roll … In a way, I was there at the beginning of a trend and became famous without even trying.
NUVO: So what would you say your personal style consists of nowadays?
Harry: I think I just try to feel good about what I have on … Then I try to forget about it. I don’t want to be conscious of what I’m wearing, after a point. That’s one of the rules of performance … so I can concentrate on the music.
NUVO: When you sing Blondie songs, does it ever seem like you’re reliving moments in your life? Is the Deborah Harry today the same as the one who first sang those songs, or does she seem like a stranger now?
Harry: When I’m performing these songs, I don’t really have the luxury of reminiscing … It’s more about technical things.
NUVO: Are you enjoying working with Chris Stein again and being godmother to his children?
Harry: Always! He’s a very funny guy, and I’ve always enjoyed his company and the things he writes. He does have a uniqueness.
NUVO: You were recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; how do you feel about that honor?
Harry: I’m really proud they recognized us. We made some vital contributions to pop music, [like] how we combined different [musical] styles. A lot of that credit should go to Chris. He’s the one who wanted to do “The Tide is High” and the rap song [“Rapture”].
NUVO: How do you feel about Internet networking and how the role of the musician has changed over the years, thanks to technology?
Harry: I think the final verdict on that is not in yet, really, but it’s given a lot of people the chance to communicate and do things they may never have … The downloading thing is a real problem, though … I understand why people feel music should be shared with the public, but from a writer’s point of view, I think you should get paid for your work.
NUVO: Lastly, what other projects are you currently working on?
Harry: Primarily, I’m looking forward to putting this tour out for Necessary Evil. And, we wrote a song for the musical version of Desperately Seeking Susan. Hopefully, if people like it, they’ll bring it to New York from London.
WHAT: Deborah Harry (of Blondie) with Kristoffer Ragnstam
WHERE: The Vogue
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 24, 6:30 p.m. doors, $27/$30, 21+