Cover image for Deborah Harry
Title:
Deborah Harry
Author:
Che, Cathay.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First Fromm International edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Fromm International, [2000]

©2000
Physical Description:
xvii, 263 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm
Language:
English
Personal Subject:
ISBN:
9780880642187
Format :
Book

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ML420.H168 C4 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

Madonna has called Deborah Harry "the coolest chick in the universe", Andy Warhol named her "my favorite pop star", and Shirley Manson of Garbage said that without her "we'd still be in a state of arrested development in terms of women's forays in the music world". Authorized biographer Cathay Che sums her up as "a '50s bad girl, a '60s freethinker, a '70s punk, an '80s pop star, and a '90s postmodern artist". From her first hit, "In the Flesh", with Blondie in 1976 to the chart-topper "Maria" for their 1999 reunion album, No Exit; from her movies with John Waters and David Cronenberg to hanging out at CGBG, Studio 54, and Warhol's Factory, Che follows Deborah Harry across the worlds of punk, rock, rap, art, film, and fashion.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Harry became famous singing in the band Blondie. Often compared to Courtney Love and Madonna, Harry, as Che portrays her, more resembles Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol, with a dash of Marianne Faithfull. Che is a bit breathless but generally informative about a woman and a band who, like the Clash, are more appreciated in their absence than they were in their heyday. Che delivers sex and drugs and rock and so on in fan-mag style, but at least Harry participated in the book's preparation. "Harry tapped into an established icon," Che opines, an "image that switches off men's brains and turns on their dicks." Exploring that gambit, Che crystallizes the Blondie approach of offering vapidity as social commentary, a successful marketing ploy that was very artsy, very Noo Yawk, and easy to digest. To the Blondie faithful, this is a book long overdue; anti-Blondie others may see it as punk-era history presented Oprah's-book-club-style. --Mike Tribby


Publisher's Weekly Review

A contributing editor at Time Out New York and frequent writer for pop culture rags such as Details and Interview, Che pays fun and frothy homage to multitalented pop icon Deborah Harry. Fans who have read Harry's own 1982 autobiography, Making Tracks, may not find much new grist here (unless you deem noteworthy the kudos of such contemporary hipsters as Shirley Manson, RuPaul and Theo Kogan of the Lunachicks). However, Che does mix her gushing about Harry's sex appeal, artistry, music and film career with some weighted analysis and original interviews--with Harry herself; members of Blondie, the band that brought Harry to the forefront in the late '70s; Blondie's unscrupulous ex-manager, Peter Leeds; and an eclectic cast of fans, friends and colleagues. Che also discusses the impact of Blondie's recent reunion, as well as some of Harry's lesser known feats, including her Broadway debut in Teaneck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap, costarring the late comedian Andy Kaufman. Mostly, though, the book is a breezy, gossipy read. Those who aren't entrenched in pop culture might miss out on the copious references to New York fashion designers and scenesters (e.g., who is Ashley Heath, who notes, "That safety gear, knee-pad look she wore is just so Helmut Lang"?), but Che's lesson on Harry is loud and clear; as Fred Schneider of the band the B-52's says, "She's a goddess, in your face and in your ears." 16 pages of b&w photos. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

On the eve of last year's Blondie reunion, Harry told Che, a contributing editor at Time Out New York, that her physical appearance accounts for 50 percent of her success. Unfortunately, here, Che does not critically assess Harry's other underrated half--her songwriting flare and proto-girl-power feminism. With downtown Manhattan as cultural backdrop, Che rehashes Harry's hippy stint in Wind in the Willows, the formation and breakup of Blondie, her B-movie and C-solo careers, her influential style, and, ultimately, the beatific blondeness of being. Although Che gave much-bad-mouthed ex-Blondie manager Peter Leeds the chance to blow off some steam, this is basically an extended, gushing celebrity magazine profile (indeed, it started as one); photographers (David LaChapelle), writers (Robert Christgau), and other musicians sing their praises between Che's thin entences. Alas, someone has yet to articulate Harry's intelligence--and her real musical achievements--as has been done for Patti Smith or Mick Jagger. This is recommended, however, because it is the first work to acknowledge Harry's tremendous influence on current female and male performers.--Heather McCormack, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One The Deborah Harry Interview PART 1 Interviewing Deborah Harry is hard work. It's not that she's difficult or inarticulate, in fact, she's quite the opposite. The problem certainly isn't a lack of material either. Harry has had an amazing life, full of tremendous highs and lows, with an extremely colorful supporting cast of friends and collaborators. In fact, even her detractors are pretty intriguing -- for example, how many people can claim that they were told to get the fuck out of rock `n'roll by the legendary Patti Smith?     No, the reason that one of the most unconventional and enigmatic pop icons of all time is hard to interview, is that her least favorite subject of discussion is herself. With a celebrity, this is an unexpected challenge. This reluctance stems, in part, from having to respond to the same dozen preposterous questions and statements for the past twenty years. Ask her, `How does it feel to be a sex symbol?', probably her least favorite of all questions, and you can literally see the lights go down behind her eyes. Autopilot! Ms Harry has left the building.     Good manners play a role as well. For example, ask Harry a question about her relationship with her mother, and she may turn around and ask you about yours. Harry's intelligence drives her to be curious about new subjects, which means that she is always interested in hearing about other people. So you find yourself giving information about yourself to get information about her. To make matters even more awkward, she's genuinely interested in you, which is very flattering, but of no interest to anyone reading this book.     But the most shocking of all realizations is that Deborah Harry isn't wholly convinced that her life's accomplishments and artistic achievements, as yet, are worthy of a volume such as this. In fact, when she was approached about cooperating with this book, she took a look at the outline and pronounced, `I'm sure it'll be a fascinating book. If only my life was that interesting that'd be really great.'     Always one to crack a joke at her own expense, Harry remains somewhat detached from her own fame. It's not naiveté or a lack of self-esteem as much as a healthy sense of perspective and an instinct for self-preservation. After all, for Harry, success has ebbed and flowed over the years, and at this point, everything good and everything bad has been said about her a hundred times.     What she's most comfortable being lauded for is her contribution to Blondie's ground-breaking sound and her other artistic collaborations in music and acting. As clichéd as this may sound, what has always been important to Harry is creative self-expression. Although this is what all artists say, Harry can back it up -- she's been at the top of the game and she's turned her back on the fame. Even with the Blondie Reunion in full swing, she's a reluctant pop star.     Harry learned early on that success didn't solve any problems. In fact, success compounded them and made them worse. For example, the more money she made, the more money she seemed to owe -- to her record label, to her various managers and former managers, to her band mates and former band mates, and finally, to taxes. Next, new friends and old friends who were falling on hard times came asking for financial help, which she accommodated as best she could.     But then, no amount of success, beauty or fame could help Harry when her partner and Blondie co-founder, Chris Stein, was struck with a rare and mysterious life-threatening skin disease in 1982. Stein recovered by 1985, but in retrospect Harry and Stein could see that the illness was related to the pressures of being in Blondie -- the stress, the life on the road, the excesses of rock `n'roll. Harry and Stein got a big wake-up call.     But the hardships haven't managed to sour Harry. She'd even go through it all again, which is perhaps why she never got bitter. She remains a survivor with a superb sense of humor, tremendous character and integrity, and of course, a face so beautiful, any interviewer might lose their train of thought while speaking with her.     The following excerpts are taken from a series of interviews conducted over a period of a year from February 1998 to February 1999 in New York City. The first interview was done for an article in Time Out New York magazine, and the revealing insights it provided into Deborah Harry's character formed the basis of this book. Harry intends to pen her own memoir in the future, and as this generous glimpse into Harry's persona suggests, it will be well worth waiting for.     Regretfully, what can't be captured here is all the different textures of Harry's speaking voice, which range from sexy and breathy to nasal with a slight New Jersey accent, to giddy and childish to really, really, tough and slightly menacing. Her laughter also erupts in multiple tones, from silent chuckles to horsey snorts, to measured heh-heh-hehs to a single, sharp Ha!. But it's important to know that when talking about herself, Deborah Harry laughs a lot. BREAKING OUT OF THE SUBURBS (1945-69) Some of the facts of Deborah Harry's background are still unknown, even to her. But the basics are that she was born on the first of July, 1945 (that makes her a Cancer) in Miami, Florida and adopted at the age of three months by gift shop proprietors, Catherine (née Peters) Harry and Richard Harry. She grew up in the suburbs just outside Patterson, New Jersey, a prototype working class neighborhood embodying all of the conservatism and repressed morality of America in the 50s.     There is no clue in Harry's reasonably happy childhood as to how or why she would grow up and become so remarkably nonconformist. By all accounts, her parents were loving, and she had one little sister named Martha. She always had that beautiful face and she always sang, although she was shy and introspective. She developed her imagination playing make-believe and dressing up, and also claims she had a few psychic experiences as a child and sometimes heard voices. Do you think you'll ever find out about your background and who your biological parents are? No. My father is dead from a heart problem at 74 and my mother refused to meet with me. So you did try to find them. Did your mother know who you were? No, she just wouldn't go into it. The detective tried to ask her a few things but I think her exact words were, `Please do not bother me ever again. I do not want to be disturbed.' He didn't even get anything out about who I was. When did you do this? About seven or eight years ago. In early interviews, you said you didn't want to try and contact your biological parents out of respect to your adopted parents. Well, at one time in my life, it would have been a real emotional thing for me and I hesitated. I couldn't deal with it, but as I got a better perspective on who I was and felt more in touch with myself, I thought, You know, there are some things in life you should not put off. I thought I was doing the right thing, and I still feel I did the right thing for me. An American comedienne named Reno made a movie about tracking down her biological mother, and sort of had a similar experience. Her mother was this upper-middle class woman with a new family who had never told anyone that she had another baby. It's so intense to think of living with a secret like that, but for women in the 40s, pregnancy outside of marriage was a heavy stigma. Yeah, I'm sure it was hard. I think on my father's side, I have seven or eight half-brothers and sisters. My father was already married and my mother was not married. She got pregnant and then found out he was married and had all these children. She was heartbroken and she went away, had me and put me up for adoption. I don't know much more than that. I understand you had a pretty happy childhood but that you hated school. Yes. I still dread the fall and end of summer, back to work and back to school. That's the worst feeling. I didn't mind learning stuff [in school] but I didn't like the pressure and I didn't like that sinking feeling in my stomach, that scary feeling of facing the unknown. Although now, I really like that scary feeling of facing the unknown [laughs]. Yeah, the only fun thing about the end of summer and a new school year was getting new clothes. Did you and your mother get along in terms of clothes? Yes, pretty much. She let me pick whatever I wanted. Well, she was cool. My mother and I never got along in terms of clothing at all. She wanted me to look like I was a preppy WASP from Connecticut -- that was good fashion to her, and I sort of loathed it. I thought it was just awful stuff. I wanted things that were, well, I guess I liked more beatnik stuff. I always wanted to wear black and I wanted things that were tough looking. There was a phase where I wanted to wear big flannel shirts and tight pants, and I always wanted to wear my sweaters backwards. I had clear ideas about what I wanted and it really had nothing to do with the times. So my mother and I never agreed. Sounds like even back then you wanted to put a twist on convention. Yes, definitely. As a girl growing up in the suburbs, often you don't have a lot of outlets to express yourself except through your clothes. Yeah, make-up, hair and clothes. Were you always rebelling against being a good girl, or were you a good girl who just liked to wear freaky clothes? My parents were pretty strict, so I didn't really get to act out too much. I did have regular boyfriends and with them, I could be a bad girl, but I wasn't like a bad girl for the neighborhood or a big slut. I was free thinking and I carried out my free thinking with certain people. Where did you get your free thinking from? If you look at the decade you grew up in -- the 50s, and where you grew up, New Jersey -- it's a mystery. Yeah, I don't know. It was there in me and I just had to be like that, there was no other way. As a kid, I just didn't feel comfortable with the status quo and I was searching for [an alternative] identity. Where you in a rush to become a woman or was puberty a burden to you? I don't know if I have a clear picture of it. I was very turned-on and very sexual. The idea of being normal was going out with boys on dates and having boyfriends. I don't know if I was burdened by puberty per se, but I think was probably burdened by everything, I was so disgusted by the idea of falling into the dating, getting engaged and married thing. I grew up in a very traditional setting and that's what girls did, so I was very twisted around. Did you have any formal vocal training growing up? You have such a great, velvety voice. Thank you. No. As a kid, I sang in church -- I sang in the choir. After that, as a pre-teen, I was really shy and became a closet case -- you know, I'd sing in my room with the radio. I listened to the radio a lot. The radio was a big important part of my life, radio more than records really influenced me. As a kid, I didn't buy a lot of records. I never had much money to spend on records, and radio at that point was really good, really varied. Did you spend much time in Manhattan as a teenager? No, but I was always dying to move to the city. I'd sneak in on a Saturday and walk around. Bus fare was like 90 cents then. I'd get in around 10am and everyone was still sleeping and everything was closed. I'd never been in a club or anything so it was all in my imagination, but I thought the [Greenwich] Village was particularly fascinating. So when did you move to the city? As soon as you could? Yeah, I moved to New York as soon as I finished [college] in 1965. At the time, I wanted to become a painter, but I eventually gravitated towards music. I read somewhere that you rolled in the mud at the original Woodstock? Yeah, I did actually, I went to the real Woodstock. It was really, really something to have everybody there. Those were such different times, people were able to mobilize under one momentous idea -- Peace and Love. It was a simple enough thing. There were shades of difference, but to pull something that big off -- it really was something. There really were no hassles, it was unlike anything I've ever been to. And there were no computers then, it just went out over the line and people came. SEX, DRUGS AND ... A POLTERGEIST (1970-74) So what first gave you the confidence to get up on stage? I think the thing that really drove me was my fear of having a nervous breakdown at 40 [laughs]. Oh my God, I'm going to really hate myself if I don't at least try! There is no way to get over being shy or afraid unless you really force yourself. So fear was a big motivation. And a good one. But I had other motivations -- I wanted to express myself and I wanted to reach out somehow ... You and your band mates in Blondie used CBGB's in the 70s as your playground and your workshop. That was a time and a scene that we love to romanticize. It seems like everyone knew each other and were inspired by each other ... And hated each other [laughs]. Were you conscious of how important it was then? I don't think initially we were convinced of that. We really became more aware of it when it became press worthy. In the initial stages, everybody was just trying it out, then it became encapsulated and documented. We did a lot of stupid things in that scene, but we had fun. I think it's just like now really. New York City has always been a place where people come and try to get exposure. Musicians come here and play. They play cheaply, they play well, they play badly -- they experiment with their performance style. It just so happened that we hit it right. The style of the music was different, politics were changing, the media was changing -- a lot of things were changing, and we were right there, doing it. Is the Ramones song `Something in My Drink' about you? Gee, I don't know?! Music writer [and MTV News anchor] Kurt Loder said that Dee Dee Ramone said that he got drugged one night at CBGB's and someone put something in his drink. Then he wrote a song about it. And Dee Dee thought it was me?! Really?! He thought I put something in his drink?! Well, he never said anything about it to me. He told Loder he was hitting on you and the next thing he knew, someone had put something in his drink and he got kicked out of the club for passing out. God, no. Especially having had it happen to me, I would never do that to anyone else. Someone did it to me once at Studio 54 and it was the most awful experience of my life! It was this horrible, endless night of vomiting and hallucination. I don't know what it was, but it made me really sick, just like food poisoning sick. I wouldn't do that to Dee Dee. I love Dee Dee, but I wouldn't do that to anyone. Tell us about your poltergeist experiences living in that loft on the Bowery when Blondie was first starting out. Well, I think the building -- it was down near Prince Street on the Bowery, had been a factory, like for child labor in the 1800s. The building had no heat in it and it was sort of a cruel environment. It was never fixed up for living. There was one bathroom in the entire place -- it was pretty awful. The ground floor had been turned into the liquor store on the Bowery and we all lived upstairs. You had some wild times there, like when you found that 200-pound bum taking a 300-pound shit in your doorway? That was horrible! That was on the bicentennial -- that was the bicentennial dump. Boy, that stank! We had to clean it up -- it was right on the door step and that was nasty! Anyway [about the poltergeist], Chris said he saw a little boy out of the corner of his eye several times. At the time, we didn't have any money and I use to solder these leaded glass belt buckles -- like piece work. I use to do it on the top floor, when it was warm enough, and once something came along and pushed my hand. The hair on the back of my neck just went up -- whew! I ran down the stairs and I was like, that's enough of that! From then on, I wouldn't go up there alone. We also had a couple of fire things happen there that were very dangerous. There were bad elements there, and that place was clearly a little haunted. Other people who stayed there said some pretty strange things happened to them too. So it was specific to that place, it wasn't something that followed you around? No, nothing like that. I think that you have to be party to something like that. Although, since my mother died [last year], I've felt like she was with me, and a few times, I've felt like she was helping me. I don't know, maybe that's just wishful thinking. What about psychic experiences? Well, I've always had this thing where I'd know how something was going to happen, like, Oh, this is going to happen like this, and then it would. That kind of thing happens to me quite often. Like I know how things are going to go. It didn't especially give me a sense of calm though, as I was more nervous back then. It's usually small events, not major things. I'd rather be participating on a sensual level than on a metaphysical level anyway. Now I feel like, I'm living, I'm now, I'm organic -- let's be that. That's what my resolve is after all these years of debate. Copyright © 2000 Cathay Che. All rights reserved.