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Debbie Harry - and "Blondie" - Both Have a Say in Memoir

The now 74-year-old Debbie Harry in Havana, Cuba, 2019.EXPAND
The now 74-year-old Debbie Harry in Havana, Cuba, 2019.
Photo by Nick Wiesner/Courtesy of Dey Street Books
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Face It
By Debbie Harry
368 pp.
Dey Street Books

As the front woman of Blondie, Debbie Harry combined both vixenish sexuality and a tough, take-no-shit attitude, captured in concert and videos. And they had massive hits with songs like “Heart of Glass,” “Rapture,” “The Tide is High,” “Call Me,” “Dreaming,” “One Way or Another” and “Hanging on the Telephone.” Harry tells the story of her life in and out of the band in this wide-ranging memoir.

Readers who are looking for stories on the writing and recording of Blondie’s music might be disappointed in that the word count on this topic is relatively light. But as a memoir of her life, Face It certainly creates an awfully vivid portrait of one of rock’s most prominent women, told in a very distinctive and entertaining voice.

Some of the book’s best parts are when Harry reminisces about her time as a free-spirited young adult in ‘60s/’70s New York City. But this era was a far cry from today’s Disneyfied and Gentrified town, and even areas like the Bowery, Village, and Lower East Side. It was an alternately dangerous and exciting place to live. Harry recounts many of the characters and situations (and a surprising amount of near-death experiences).

She’ll recount thrilling times hanging out at clubs and parties, while relaying stories her and boyfriend/bandmate Chris Stein’s sometimes squalid living early on, including finding an actual dead wino outside their apartment doorstep.

When a “Jimi Hendrix”-looking man robs Harry and Stein at knifepoint, ties them both up in the apartment, rapes Harry, and walks out with all of Stein’s guitars and cameras, she offers that it was more upsetting to lose the band’s equipment than be sexually violated.

As for that sexual element, Harry says that she created the character of “Blondie” as an outsized and flamboyant sex kitten, after her cinematic heroine Marilyn Monroe. And that it is a character and not truly her. Yet, she’s aware of the power that it gave her, and how it skewed how she was viewed.

“I would be onstage and there’d be five thousand people pulsing their desire at me. You could feel the heat of it. The raw, animal physicality,” she writes. “Feel them transmitting this strong sexuality. Picking up on it, then working to turn them on even more. And the frenzied feedback cycle would keep building and building.”

She was chagrined to see herself in a TV Guide ad for bedroom posters of the day’s platinum bombshells: One could pick Farrah Fawcett, Suzanne Somers, or…”Blondie.” The images that undoubtedly tugged at the heartstrings of boys and young men while they tugged on themselves. Still, at a time when many still asked the question "Can girls rock?" Harry was leading the charge against this sexism as a prominent women in the industry.

Debbie Harry and fellow rocker Joan Jett with the famous "Blondie" poster of the era.EXPAND
Debbie Harry and fellow rocker Joan Jett with the famous "Blondie" poster of the era.
Photo by Chris Stein/Courtesy of Dey Street Books

There are plenty of stories of quintessential NYC characters and places: CBGB’s Max’s Kansas City, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, William Burroughs, Fab 5 Freddy, Joey Ramone, John Waters. When David Bowie and Iggy Pop meet Harry backstage and are jonesing for drugs, Harry offers them some of her own cocaine. After partaking, Bowie pulls out his reportedly sizable cock – which sends Harry scampering out of the dressing room.

Harry is also succinct about her and Stein’s drug use, noting that near the end of Blondie’s original run, they were both hooked on heroin and cocaine. So much that when Stein was in the hospital being initially treated for an auto-immune disease that would go on for years (and find Harry acting as faithful nurse and pop star), she still smuggled in smack for him to take in his bed. And through a series of bad management, lawyers, tax advice and contracts, Harry and Stein – whose band had sold millions of records – found themselves bankrupt when Blondie broke up.

Harry is not exactly clear on why she and Stein abruptly broke up themselves after 13 intense years, but it’s clear she’s still enamored of him, calling him probably “the most important person” in her life.

“I have never stopped loving Chris, or working with him, or caring about him, and I never will,” she writes. Stein’s wife of 20+ years must be OK with it as well – Harry is godmother to both of their children. And the pair have been recording and touring together again as Blondie for about the same about the same amount of time.

There is one journalistic bone to pick with Harry. It’s her name alone on the cover as author, yet inside, the book notes it’s authored “in collaboration with” longtime British music journo Sylvie Simmons, and based on her interviews. Simmons does not get even a “with” or “as told to” credit on the cover.

Harry briefly recounts the debacle of Blondie’s 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. While it’s understandable that the Harry, Stein, and drummer Clem Burke would not want to play with former members – two of whom sued them. But it seems pretty petty that they would also try to block them from even going on stage to accept their awards, which did not happen and led to a very awkward exchange.

Overall, Face It has one of the best senses of place and time of any musician bio of recent memory, and it’s written in a succinctness that’s appealing. Throughout the book, Harry also includes reproductions of fan art of her she’s received over the years. They range from the amazingly accurate to child’s drawings. In truth, they’re all facets of “Blondie” – though the book itself is pure Debbie Harry.

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