Tuesday 22 August 2017

Debbie's still hanging on the telephone

As Blondie prepare to support Phil Collins tonight at the Aviva Stadium, our music critic heralds the ageless goddess Debbie Harry

Iconic blonde Debbie Harry: 'I always say my instincts saved me'
Iconic blonde Debbie Harry: 'I always say my instincts saved me'
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

She is, inarguably, the most iconic blonde since Marilyn Monroe. Not Madonna or Margaret Thatcher, or even (God forbid) Lady Gaga. No, it is Debbie Harry aka - obviously - Blondie...

She and her band's cultural influence is deeper than the fact that One Direction covered Blondie's One Way or Another for Comic Relief in 2013. Or even that her pal Andy Warhol featured her in silk-screen portraits once upon a long time ago. Or, as The New York Times put it, that she was wearing dresses made of double-sided razor-blades decades before the aforementioned Lady Gaga artfully plied a piece of beef. Even allowing for myopic hyperbole, Blondie were one of the greatest bands of the late 1970s and 1980s and Debbie Harry paved the way for subsequent superstar blondes (and others).

With her street beauty and general otherness, Debbie (born on July 1, 1945 in Miami) and her group embodied punk's do-it-yourself philosophy; and having emerged almost fully formed from the radical mid-to late-1970s CBGB's/Max's Kansas City underground milieu, they were hardly going to be remotely corporate. So it proved. Released in 1978, Heart of Glass remains a New Wave classic of neo-disco eclecticism. 1980's Call Me, produced by genius Giorgio Moroder, is just as unforgettable, as is the pioneering disco, funk, and hip hop va-va-voom of Rapture, and what some critics believe was the first commercially successful pop song to incorporate a rap: Fab Five Freddie told me everybody's high/DJ's spinnin' are savin' my mind, rapped Debs.

Blondie co-founders Chris Stein and Ms Harry, who had met in 1973, played a show in August 1974 under the name Angel and the Snake, officially starting Blondie in October of that year. By 1978, their third album Parallel Lines, subversive for the time, made them a global super-power in alt.pop. It went on to sell 20m copies. With various long gaps along the way for different reasons, Blondie have kept flying their fabulous freak flag ever since.

Debbie was asked by Time magazine in 2014: "When you started this band, did you expect to still be doing it in 40 years? Did you expect to be doing it in 10 years?" Her answer said as much about her personal sense of empathy as it did about the band that made her one of the inspired singers of her generation. "No. I don't think that we had any criteria for that," she said. "The vagaries of the industry and show business itself would not lead one to conclude a lengthy career - because things change. It's just one of those things. Popularities come and go.

"The tragedy of it is that somebody like Robin Williams should suffer from that, and be driven to commit suicide. If ever there was an untimely, unfair death, it was him. I mean, he entertained people so well for so many years, and then to have a TV show not make it and to have financial problems and to be so affected by it - it's a real tragedy."

Of course, Debbie once averted what would have been a very real tragedy of her own in the early 1970s on a rainy night in New York on her way home from a club. "It was two or three in the morning," Debbie once recalled, "and I couldn't find a cab. A car kept coming round and offering me a ride, so I accepted. Once in the car I noticed there were no door handles on the inside, which made me wary. I don't know how, but I managed to put my hand through the window and open the door from the outside."

Legend has it that Debbie somehow managed to project herself out of the moving car.

Serial killer Ted Bundy was driving the car and he would later confess to murdering more than 30 women. "I always say my instincts saved me," said Debbie Harry.

Your instinct should be to go to the Aviva Stadium tonight.

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