Blondie | Interview
Debbie Harry remembers when Dylan went electric.
In 1975 vocalist Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein morphed their previous bands into Blondie, the most eclectic act in the New York punk scene. The band may still be best known for 1978’s Parallel Lines, its most commercially successful album, which added a bit of studio polish to its mix of rock, reggae and dance music. The group called it quits in ’82, but since reconvening in ’97, Harry, Stein and drummer Clem Burke have been recording new music (including last year’s dynamic Panic of Girls) and touring. Harry spoke with us by phone as she prepared for the band’s upcoming tour with Devo.
Nicki Minaj recently canceled her appearance at Hot 97’s annual Summer Jam concert in New York after one of the radio station’s DJs claimed she wasn’t being true to hip-hop. When Parallel Lines came out and Blondie was accepted by the mainstream, did the city’s punk scene turn on you?
There were some people that were really turned off because it was the first time it had been done and it’s very shocking. Sometimes people really don’t like change. It’s terrible to have to admit how old I am, but I remember when Bob Dylan went electric from folk, and the response to that was violent, people got really upset.
Was the reaction you got that extreme?
We got a lot of criticism; some people loved it, some people hated it. But there were people who wouldn’t talk to us anymore.
I got the sense that you weren’t just influenced by musicians, that your vocal delivery also drew from cinema. You were acting your lines as much as singing them.
In general I think Blondie is about leading ladies and film stars, that seductive, innocent, alluring platinum blond coming across the screen and shining out at the audience. I was always affected by that, as many people were.
You and Chris have one of the most enduring partnerships in rock music—you still talk every day. How is that? It seems like everyone else starts to hate each other after a while.
[Laughs] I don’t know if it’s true that everybody hates everybody, I just think that Chris is a wonderful person. I really love him and I hope he feels the same way about me. We’re business partners as well as friends as well as ex-lovers, so we have a lot of life we’ve shared. We talk every day because we have a lot to talk about.
Some of the punk rockers in the early ’70s New York scene note that they never hung around with anyone as beautiful as you; they were accustomed to ugliness. Was that a weird vibe for you?
I don’t know. I’m glad that I’m pretty, but I was trying really hard to be good at what I wanted to do, so it wasn’t like I was standing there wanting people to think I’m nice looking.
Obviously, but when you were just hanging out did anyone act uncomfortable or creepy around you?
[Laughs] Not that I noticed.
Blondie plays the Chicago Theatre Wednesday 26.