THE SEPTUAGENARIAN, (STILL) PLATINUM-HAIRED PROGENITOR OF PUNK CHIC DEBBIE HARRY RELEASES A MEMOIR RECOUNTING HER “VERY FULL” LIFE AS A CULTURAL TRAILBLAZER THIS MONTH. MUSIC JOURNALIST KEVIN HO REFLECTS ON HOW SHE TRULY EMBODIES THE PUNK SPIRIT.
Before the Pussy Riots, Robyns and M.I.A.s of our generation, one feisty phenom was already turning the music industry on its head, showing an insular milieu that she could rock even harder than the boys. At 74 today, her raw legacy radiates with inimitable bravura and badassery – ingredients that have concocted a real Molotov of a career. As a punk legend, Debbie Harry is definitely one hard act to follow.
To be an icon is to be celebrated and remembered. Of course, most would already know her as the charismatic frontwoman of era-defining band Blondie. I prefer, however, to see Harry as something more. A fighter. A rebel who faces adversity in the maelstrom of life. This, in my opinion, is what makes her partly self-penned autobiography Face It – published by Dey Street Books, the pop culture arm of Harpercollins, and out Oct 1 – even more compelling and pertinent.
In a male-dominated gig-scape, Harry paved the way for female rock stars by becoming one of the regular performers at iconic New York club CBGB during the punk-fuelled ’70s. Standing out among outfits like the Ramones and Talking Heads, she blazed trails with her motley crew of musicians, leaving her spunky, sassglossed vocal signature on hit singles like Heart Of Glass, Atomic, Call Me and numerous others. The immortality of these anthems was further cemented by her infectious on-stage persona and amplified by a gung-ho style that would resonate through the tenets of fashion – from her ripped halters to bold one-shoulder jumpsuits.
As the face of Blondie – a moniker that transformed a catcall on the street into an epithet of empowerment – Harry faced misogyny head-on, alongside the other struggles of being a female fronting a prominent band.
True to form, the defiant spitfire also never denied her dual sexuality in a time when such issues attracted unforgiving stigma. There was also her courage to come out in light of her near kidnapping by the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy – despite being attacked by disbelievers who tried to discredit her. A full-blooded feminist, Debbie Harry has never backed down.
Then, there was the dissolution of Blondie in the ’80s, that the platinum-haired, smoky-eyed siren endured with grace and aplomb, turning that into yet another defining milestone by embarking on a solo career that eventually spawned several chart-toppers. She also maintained a steady profile as an actress, appearing in over 60 film amd TV roles, like the 1988 version of Hairspray. All the while, she never let the glamour of fame distract her from the things that mattered – she had been accomplishing all of this while caring for Blondie guitarist and her lover of 16 years, Chris Stein, who suffered from a rare autoimmune disease. Despite breaking up with him back in 1989, she remains a good friend and the godmother of his daughters from his subsequent marriage. (As for Harry herself, she gave social norms the finger and never married.) Today, Harry and Stein are still united by an irreplaceable bond, borne out by the string of albums that they’ve released since the reformation of Blondie in 1999. For a new generation, Harry continues to be a revered authority in whatever realm she dabbles in, whether it’s her capsule collection with streetwear brand Obey or her collaborations with indie band Future Islands, or her strident fight for fair payment for musicians in the sphere of streaming. Decades later, hers is a voice that is unconditionally adored and respected. And is that really so surprising?
Face it. It’s Debbie f*cking Harry.
COURTESY OF WILLIAM KANER