Behind the disfiguring punk hairdo and the current disco-ish hit Heart of Glass is a smart, funky beauty named Deborah Harry, 34, who is fairly serious about New Wave music and about nothing else. Oh, yes, one other thing: Don’t call her Blondie. That’s the name of her six-member, otherwise all-male group. But sexist exploitation is not the problem. Debbie actually enjoyed a tour as a Playboy Club Bunny, philosophizing: “The idea of a sexist job is absurd and old-fashioned—everything is sexist and sexual.”
The fact that she’s the cynosure of more male groupies probably than any other woman rocker in the world is no bother. “Non-rock people underestimate groupies,” declares Debbie. “They’re polite, they give rather than get, they’re really sincere—they’re the ultimate fans.”
From all that laissez-faire talk, Debbie would seem to be a handful, but she’s found an equal partner in Blondie lead guitarist and co-founder Chris Stein, 29, who admits, “Everybody takes it for granted rock’n’roll is synonymous with sex.” Though she’s the cynical versifier behind their first platinum single, Heart of Glass (“Once I had a love/and it was a gas/ soon turned out/a pain in the ass”), Debbie and Chris have been steadily together since they formed Blondie six years ago.
So much for the stable part of her life. Debbie was born in Miami but was raised in the Big Apple suburb of Hawthorne, N.J. as a “typical American girl” who occasionally zipped into Greenwich Village for flings. Her mother was a secretary, her father a garment center salesman, and they enthusiastically financed Debbie’s experiments with piano and ballet. She considered her junior college “a reform school for debs” and lit off for Manhattan’s East Village at the height of the flower-power period. She hung around outfits like the Fugs and eventually sang with a folkie group called Wind in the Willows. “I felt like an adventuress,” says Debbie, who supported her singing (and desultory painting and writing) with odd jobs as beautician, secretary, barmaid and Bunny. When the group folded in 1968 she went into a tailspin that led to depression and drugs, including some hard ones. “I was stoned lots of the time,” she’s admitted. “I used to cry and cry. I wanted to blank out whole sections of my life.” But, she notes now, “I did no more drugs than anyone else, and at least I don’t have a prescription. for Valium.”
By 1973 Debbie was singing with a three-woman group, the Stilettoes, and one night a friend introduced her to the Brooklyn-born Stein. “When I saw her in that smoke-filled room, it was love at first sight,” recalls Chris. Forming their own band, they took their name from the tresses Debbie began peroxiding in eighth grade. “I go back and forth—black, brown, red, green, blue. I finally settled on blond. You couldn’t really call a group Hair Dye.”
For all her current success (their LP Parallel Lines is also platinum-bound), Debbie hasn’t forgotten the hard times when “people used to laugh at us and say give it up.” She and Chris once lived in a former child-labor sweatshop on the Bowery. “We had cats, dogs, strays and poltergeists of the children who worked there.” They now. entertain a stream of musician and artist friends in the three-room penthouse they share on New York’s West Side.
Marriage is deferrable for the moment, though Chris says, “If we ever had a kid, we might.” Right now they’re talking about branching out into TV and movies. Debbie’s already finished a film titled Victim’s Tuxedo, in which she plays a Jersey housewife, and they’ve bought the rights to Jean-Luc Godard’s classic Alphaville, which they hope to reshoot in Harlem. Musically, she is eyeing another kind of commercial remake. “What we’d like to do,” cracks Debbie, “is a disco version of The Star-Spangled Banner.”