Debbie Harry proves her music is as timeless as her inimitable style.
She is our goddess—straight off Mt. Olympus— who never seems to stop or run short of energy. At 71, Debbie Harry is the quintessential eternal female rock star. More than 40 years after Blondie first jammed at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, forever linking its frontwoman, Harry, to New York’s gritty music scene, 2017 has Harry and the band performing across the U.S. and Australia, in London and Dublin, and beyond. Blondie also released a studio album, Pollinator, their 11th, earlier this year.
“Anybody who survives in the arts has to be insanely obsessed with doing it, and they have to not mind working hard,” Harry says. “It’s never a ‘gift’—it’s never ‘given’ to you— it’s inching and crawling into your situation.”
These days, Harry spends most of her week at her house in the country, where she moved years ago to look after her ailing father. It’s not far from the city, where she still maintains a home. “It’s a short drive,” she says. “I need to see my friends.”
What has remained unchanged, other than her work ethic, are her platinum hair and her sexy, haute thrift-shop style. In the mid-1970s, she became a fashion icon dressed in her prototype punk–Goth look. “I got noticed, famous,” she says, “when things changed from the hippie years and glam rock to that punk, shredded, minimalist, deconstructed, mod look.”
Today she can afford to shop more but continues to choose pieces for herself that fit her idea of a uniform. “I do love clothes!” Harry says. “I pretty much like to wear the same things. When you find out what makes you feel comfortable, beautiful, sexy—I always admire people who know from a young age, but for me it was a discovery, peeling the layers down.” Recently, she bought a Vivienne Westwood pantsuit (“I’ve always loved her”) that harkens back to London’s influential ’70s punk shop, Sex, and wore it to the Billboard Women in Music awards. “The jacket had bones all sewn across—fabulous,” she says, adding shyly, “Actually, I think my being considered a fashion icon is something of a mistake. It’s all in the timing.”
Many creative people in all fields, as they mature, can get stuck in the past, repeating the same out-of-date art. “One thing I object to: When people stop going to clubs at a certain age and say there’s no good music now,” she says. “This always shocks me. There is so much good music.” Riffing on the idea of cross-pollination, the new album features collaborations with Joan Jett and Laurie Anderson, plus an eclectic group of newer contemporary artists, including Sia, Charli XCX, Devonté Hynes, and the Canadian singer-songwriter Adam Johnston, as well as the Gregory Brothers and Johnny Marr.
“In music, the only thing that changes is the technology,” Harry says, “but the artistic incorporation of that technology is a gradual building process.”
If Blondie continues to sound fresh in part because they embrace what’s current in the music world, Harry is still thrilled by those belonging to the “establishment.” She reminisces about a show she did in London not that long ago. Harry was heading down a corridor at the BBC when Cher came along, going in the opposite direction.
“She just walked past me and said, ‘You go, girl!’” Harry pauses. “All I could say was, ‘Wow.’ It was like a blessing from the pope!” For Harry, the moment was an acknowledgment from a fellow idol—another woman, at that—up there on Olympus because for all their obvious differences, they no doubt have plenty in common.
Harry notes that while she was lucky to have had supportive bandmates, including Blondie cofounder and guitarist Chris Stein, who was also her romantic partner for 15 years, music was a tough field for a woman back then. “Nowadays the girls have proven themselves as entertainers, musicians, and writers,” she says. “There are so many great female artists. Now it’s become standard. It’s no longer a boys club. Times do change.”