Legally blondie: pop icon Deborah Harry is enjoying herself too much in the underground to worry about fame and fortune – music – Brief Article – Interview
Madonna gives props to her on a regular basis. Gwyneth Paltrow told Harper’s Bazaar she fantasized about having her life. Fashion designers, including Dolce & Gabbana, have dedicated collections to her. Gwen Stefani simply stole her look. No comeback necessary for rock goddess Deborah Harry, 56–she’s got legs. References to Blondie’s front woman pop up on the cultural landscape as frequently as the band’s confectionary hits from 20 years ago, which seem to blast randomly and with abandon from popular film soundtracks and television commercials.
“It’s always fun and interesting to see where the old songs will turn up,” says the droll and still stunning New York-based icon. The results aren’t always expected or predictable: For example, a version of the raunchy stalker ode “One Way or Another” was sung by Angelica in Nickelodeon’s animated The Rugrats Movie. Then “Call Me,” the theme song from American Gigolo, was used in the B-horror flick Bride of Chucky behind a scene that was clearly an homage to the singer–an angelic baby doll (voiced by Jennifer Tilly) transforms into a punkish Harry look-alike. “Yeah, that was a good one,” she says with a chuckle.
In tune with the zeitgeist, Chrysalis/Capitol Records has chosen this moment to reissue the entire vintage Blondie catalog–Blondie (1976), Plastic Letters (1977), Parallel Lines (1978), Eat to the Beat (1979), Auto-american (1980), and The Hunter (1982). The reissues include digitally remastered cuts, bonus tracks, enhanced cover art, and new liner notes from Blondie’s original producers, Richard Gottehrer and Mike Chapman. At the time of this interview, Harry was looking forward to listening to the reissues but hadn’t had a chance yet, as she’s currently consumed with finishing up what will be Blondie’s eighth album. Harry says this as-yet-untitled follow-up to Blondie’s 1999 reunion album, No Exit, has a completely different theme and energy: “No Exit was sort of a cool, watery record. The new one is about fire–heat, anger, passion. It’s a more aggressive record, and I’m really, really happy with it.” Harry and the other three original members of Blondie–Chris Stein, Jimmy Destri, and Clem Burke–have been enjoying writing and recording so much, she says, “I could probably stay in the studio for years.” Luckily for fans, the band has a deadline–album number 8, produced by Craig Leon, is due out from Beyond Records in early 2002.
For Harry, old Blondie and new Blondie represent two extremes in her eclectic career. “The early stuff turned into mass culture–it’s nice to have a foot in that world,” she says. “I mean, I truly admire [pop stars] like Janet Jackson–I think she’s terrific. I sort of started in that direction in the early days of Blondie, and then I suddenly felt I couldn’t actually be that person.” Reflecting on her popularity in the early ’80s and the material she subsequently gravitated toward, Harry notes, “I want to do the things I want to do, and I don’t want to compromise my sense of aesthetic, so I don’t work as much as I should, and I don’t often find myself in the commercial realm.”
Harry’s taste for the twisted and the avant-garde are also reflected in her choice of acting roles. After working with David Cronenberg on Videodrome and John Waters on Hairspray, Harry has favored quirky indie films like James Mangold’s Heavy. Recently she turned down a role as Reese Witherspoon’s mother in the blockbuster Legally Blonde and instead made three films she hopes will find an audience. Harry plays a strip-club madam in Richard Glatzer’s gay-porn expose, The Fluffer; she portrays a “bull dyke with a mullet” in Spun, the feature directorial debut of Jonas Akerlund, who won an MTV Award for directing Madonna’s “Ray of Light” video; and she has a cameo role in the Martin Scorsese–produced, Scott Kalvert–directed Deuces Wild, which stars Matt Dillon and Brad Renfro.
Harry is still a fixture in the New York downtown scene. The consummate collaborator, she clearly enjoys adventures in the underworld when she’s out of the Blondie spotlight. In the past year she did a short run in a well-reviewed, existentially serious play called Crave at the Axis Theatre Company, recorded a song with the punk cabaret act Kiki and Herb for their album Do You Hear What We Hear? and performed a homoerotic dance set with stripping go-go boys at, the fetish club Click + Drag. “Sometimes I yell at myself, `You fool!’ and I sort of berate myself for not being more successful and famous,” Harry says. “But I cling to being counterculture and cultish. It just seems to suit me better to have more anonymity and more artistic freedom.”
Che is a contributing editor at Time Out New York.
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