Punk rock was not meant to have a face — not at first, when it was all about attitude. Punk distilled the anger of misfit youth at a thrash of electric guitar and a yowling disdain for the slickly packaged, corporate pop that ruled the 1970s. There weren’t any pin-ups in punk.
But things changed once Debbie Harry hit her stride as front woman for Blondie, along with her bedroom-eyed baby confront place the atomic-blond standard for female rockers. She branded Blondie using a trendy glamour, her nearly uninflected vocals giving a subtle strength into the killer hooks of”Heart of Glass,””One Way or Another” and”Call Me.”
Countless record sales later, Harry’s new memoir, aptly titled”Face It” (Dey St., 368 pp., ★★★1/2 out of four stars), is a post-punk bijou that rewards her devotees. In between the prose, there are a lot of color images of the fabulous face, a lot of this fan art collected over time, together with iconic Harry photos taken by the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe and Mick Rock.
However, Harry’s bombshell doesn’t colorize or whitewash the details of her journey from shining Hawthorne, N.J., to the dark side of 1970s New York (a lot of this book is drawn from frank interviews with British rock journalist Sylvie Simmons). As the adopted daughter of Dick and Cag Harry, who doted on her, gave her car and space to move, youthful Deborah was a good student with a artistic yen along with a reverence for Marilyn Monroe.
She dyed her hair platinum as New York beckoned with cheap rents below 14th Street, day jobs at corporate offices, a stint as a Playboy Club rabbit, and a nightlife seething with sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll in the clublands of Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. At its best, the book is a picaresque blur of’70s motions. Andy Warhol and his entourage of gender-fluid”Superstars” set the tone, while celebrities slummed and Harry sought a place inside all.
She remains an unsentimental sphinx about those days, particularly about the sex and drugs:”They were not doing scientific research and methadone clinics; if you wanted to do drugs you did drugs and should you have hung up or got sick, you were in your own.” She also survived the worst of a crime-ridden Manhattan, such as a rape and a harrowing escape from the locked car of a man she believes was serial murderer Ted Bundy.
“I had been playing up the notion of becoming a very feminine woman whilst fronting a man rock band in a highly macho game,” she supports. “I had been saying things in the tunes that female singers actually didn’t mention back then… My first Blondie personality was an inflatable doll but with a dark, provocative, aggressive side.”
A romantic, though, she kept searching for love amidst abusive boyfriends (or a”one-hour stand” with a hot Caribbean denizen) before meeting guitarist Chris Stein, another suburban exile who became her soulmate and business partner. They survived heroin addiction, illness and financial mismanagement together, broke up as a couple in 1987, but stay close. Blondie was their infant — the group itself broke up in 1982, re-forming a decade later and still touring.
Harry is 74 now, yet that face — unlined and unmistakeable — radiates the power of a pop survivor. From cocaine giggles with David Bowie and Iggy Pop to movie roles, solo projects, even an official Barbie doll Blondie, Harry has prevailed, chasing her fantasies in the cost of chased fantasies. But as Blondie tells usstraight up, dreaming is free.