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The VICE Interview: Debbie Harry

The Blondie singer talks stalkers and being a survivor.

by Nick Levine
15 May 2017, 7:45am

Debbie Harry (Foto av Alexander Thompson)

You know who Debbie Harry is. New York icon, punk icon and singer of one of the most iconic bands in pop history. That band, Blondie, just released their eleventh studio album, Pollinator, which features songs written by the likes of Sia, Charli XCX and Dev Hynes.

I meet with Harry in a fancy London hotel room the morning after she's jetted in from the States. She's wearing sunglasses and has a bit of a cold, but that doesn't stop her from offering warm and witty company.

VICE: What would your parents prefer you to have chosen as a career?
Debbie Harry: Housewife. Housewife and mother. They did not want me to venture forth – they wanted me to stay right there. They never really accepted my career. Well, I'd say that they probably had to accept it, because it was done, but they would always have preferred me to lead a "normal" life. I mean, they were very old-fashioned. I think they were proud, but it was all so foreign to them that they wondered who I was... as I wondered who they were.

Blondie (Photo by Alexander Thompson)

Blondie (Photo by Alexander Thompson)

What was your worst phase?
I don't really know if I feel like I've had a worst phase. I mean, there's been worst times... I guess there was a time in the second half of the 80s that was pretty awful. It mostly had to do with when the band broke up, when Chris [Stein, bandmate and then romantic partner] was sick, when the IRS took the house. I mean, everything just went "Braah!" That was pretty awful. But I guess I just wiggled through. And I really love Chris, and that was important, you know. I couldn't have walked away from the situation.

Do you think drugs make you happy?
Well, I think you'd have to be more specific about what drugs. If you're on some kind of medication that's prescribed for you, and it's for some kind of a neurological thing, I think that they can help you. If you're a partying fool and you're just trying things, that can be fun for a while, right? But dependency on an illegal substance outlives the fun thing really quickly; it gets to be a real drag.

You're having a conversation with a family friend and they say something unequivocally racist. What do you do?
Oy! I guess it would depend on my mood. But I think for the most part I would probably not challenge this person and never speak to them again. The only way you can change people's minds about that is to introduce them to someone almost without them realising, and then see them sort of really take to that person. And then they might think, 'Oh yeah, this is a person I should hate, but I don't.' And in that situation, some people can admit it, and some people can't.

How many people have been in love with you?
I hope millions. But how could I know.

What's the closest you've ever come to having a stalker?
Oh, I've had several. I've had a couple of ex-boyfriends who didn't understand the "ex", and that was problematic. On the fan level, I've never had anything really seriously bad. But there was one guy who wrote to me endlessly – I had shopping bags full of letters from him. And the handwriting was very tiny and cramped and I couldn't even read them. So I handed them over to a detective and the guy was contacted. It turned out he was this tragic guy who had gone off his meds and nobody was paying any attention to him, so he wrote to me.

Blondie (Photo by Alexander Thompson)

Blondie (Photo by Alexander Thompson)

Where did you go on your first friends holiday, and what did you do?
You mean like Ibiza or something? Well, I think I went to Florida for a midwinter break. I would have had to have been about 17 or 18 because my parents were very strict. I wouldn't have been allowed to travel without adult supervision before then. And they wouldn't have been very happy when I went. And thinking about it, I probably lied about where I was going.

What memory from school stands out to you stronger than any other?
Well, we used to play a game called Pussy in the Corner. Take it from there...

When in your life have you been truly overcome with fear?
I find that hard to answer because I guess I really am a survivor, you know? I would get terribly, terribly afraid and then try to figure out a way to just, you know, get through. But I think some of the times on planes where we've hit rough air have been terrifying, because you have absolutely no control.

What film or TV show makes you cry?
The stupidest, sappiest things. But I just watched that Manchester By the Sea movie. Did I cry? I was sitting there on the plane with my eyes streaming – they kept checking up on me. And then I had to go through customs afterwards.

What have you done in your career that you're most proud of?
I guess just even trying to do it. That was a major step. And I guess, you know, sticking with it through everything, because I've certainly had my fair share of ups and downs – being popular and unpopular. But I've always been convinced about what I liked and didn't like and what I wanted to do. And I know the things that I like best. I really was proud of doing Videodrome and Hairspray. I think those are great movies, and working with John Waters and David Cronenberg was certainly a big plus for me.

Blondie's new album Pollinator is out now on BMG.

@mrnicklevine

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