Let me preface this by saying that when I say “rare” I mean “not widely-seen” images of Debbie Harry. Let’s face it, if it’s already on the Internet… it ain’t rare.
Admittedly, I secretly love looking at those “before they were famous” photos of rockstars and movie stars because they’re always so damned awkward! I find comfort in knowing “Hey, they were once just like one of us!”
However, this is not the case for Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry. Apparently, she was always perfect.
A young Debbie Harry reading a book, early 1950s
Debbie at the beach
Debbie looks to be around in the 10th grade here
Debbie in a marching band or cheerleading outfit
Debbie Harry’s senior photo from the Hawthorne High School yearbook, 1963
“Rip Her to Shreds” faux pulp romance novel cover. Title taken from a song found on Blondie’s eponymous 1976 debut album
These clever faux pulp romance novels featuring Debbie Harry by Atlanta-based pop artist, Zteven are pretty much the best things I’ve seen this week. And I see a lot of cool stuff on a daily basis.
Not only did Zteven manage to portray Harry as one of the coolest salacious sirens to ever grace the cover of a smutty, old school pulp romance novel, he also incorporated the lyrics of songs from Blondie’s catalog in the titles and descriptions. There are even a few sly nods to Blondie co-founder and guitarist Chris Stein, as well as songwriter and producer Mike Chapman who worked with the group on their breakthrough 1978 record, Parallel Lines as well as Eat to the Beat (1979), Autoamerican (1980) and The Hunter (1982). The set of four prints, framed, will run you $40.
“One Way or Another” faux pulp romance novel cover. Title taken from a song that appears on 1978’s Parallel Lines
The first time I saw Blondie was on an episode of chart music show Top of the Pops sometime in February 1977, when they performed “Denis”—a cover of the old Randy & the Rainbows’ number “Denise.” The promo footage caught fire from its opening shot of a beautifully backlit Debbie Harry flicking her golden candy floss hair, dancing in oversized jacket and red striped swimsuit. Chris Stein wore a black shirt and what looked like a leather tie, and the rest of the band seemed confidently cool playing in the background. It was one of those epiphanic moments that hold fast in the memory, like seeing Alice Cooper sword fence a camera during a performance of “School’s Out,” or David Bowie put his arm around Mick Ronson during “Starman,” or the Sex Pistols blankly performing “Pretty Vacant” (“no shocks shock” ran a headline in the NME.)
TOTP was the main outlet for most British teenagers during the 1970s to watch bands they liked or discover someone new—most youth music shows didn’t really kick off until later in the decade. Much of TOTP‘s 30-minute running time was clogged with middle of the road bands, novelty acts and the kind of songs your granny liked to hum—like ones sung by Johnny Mathis or Brian and Michael, the latter duo unbelievably kept Blondie’s “Denis” off the UK top spot.
Unlike a number of bands at the time who were either dreary and lumpen or overly earnest, Blondie made music that was enjoyable, clever, infectiously upbeat and un-fucking-believably exciting. Here’s Blondie setting fire to the studio and burning down the house. Record date: Sometime in 1977. Transmission date January 19th 1978. And that, ahem, is a loooong time ago…. which just goes to show how very, very good Blondie were live and the utter brilliance and durability of their songs.
02. “Little Girl Lies”
03. “Look Good in Blue”
04. “Man Overboard”
06. “In the Flesh”
06. “I’m on E”
07. “Love at the Pier”
08. “I Didn’t have the Nerve”
09. “Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45)’
10. “ Kidnapper”
11. “Youth Nabbed As Sniper”
Debbie Harry, fronting Blondie, on The Midnight Special—October 5, 1979
Noted for its live, rather than lip-synced, performances, The Midnight Special was a late-night musical variety show, airing on NBC between 1973-1981. The show tended to feature up-and-coming acts, and an appearance on The Midnight Special was generally a sign that a band had finally “made it.” With only three major television networks at the time, even at its late hour, an appearance on The Midnight Special guaranteed a large, hip, young audience. For those born later than the 1970s, it must be understood that The Midnight Special was a very big deal. To fuck with the conventions of The Midnight Special was a very, very big deal.
On October 5, 1979, Blondie made their second appearance on The Midnight Special. They had appeared earlier in January of that same year performing live versions of “One Way or Another,” “Hanging on the Telephone,” and “Sunday Girl.” On their October 5th appearance, the band performed “Dreaming,” “Slow Motion,” “The Hardest Part,” “Accidents Never Happen,” and “Heart of Glass.”
Debbie Harry and drummer Clem Burke on the Midnight Special stage.
For their second Midnight Special appearance, Blondie lead singer, Debbie Harry, draped in a simultaneously stunning and ridiculous (backwards?) blue romper, exudes a mesmerizing, other-worldly, “don’t give a shit” sex appeal. Her demeanor is confidently aloof, yet at times straight-up dorky, but what she does at 2:20 into “Heart of Glass” is one of the most awkwardly cool things that ever happened on network television. It’s as bizarre as it is on point. The band goes into the instrumental break of the song, and Debbie launches into a brief diatribe on nuclear power:
The use of nuclear power is merely a symptom of our troubled times. It is time for all Americans to take control of their own lives and stop being pushed around and poisoned. The race for nuclear superiority can only end with the destruction of civilization.
...And then she goes straight back into the ditty. She gives a split second look right after, that seems to indicate “I just did something really cool on this dumb TV stage.” The audience eats it up, and you can audibly hear their reaction over the music. This was the same year as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, so her rant is especially timely.
Geez, Debbie, as if we needed one more reason to love you.
Here’s the entire song; the “nuclear power” riff is at 2:20:
I’ve been waiting forever to find high quality video of this commercial! I set a Google alert for it, because it is my absolute favorite punk rock non sequitur, and it’s just too absurd to be viewed with inferior video. It was just uploaded by what appears to be a Harvard square gay bar called Videodrome Discothèque—perhaps a nod to Debbie’s performance in Cronenberg’s Videodrome? Not for the last time am I thanking a gay bar for its contribution to the world!
Before you get all huffy, I post Debbie Harry selling French bread not to mock or disdain her, but to show our faithful readers what an insanely sexy person she is. She freaking unsheathes a loaf of Sara Lee bread and with a series of advantageous close-ups (she absolutely works the camera), she somehow actually convinces me I want to buy Sara Lee French bread! A product which I know to be crummy! Such is the power of Debbie Harry!
Her foray into domestic product endorsement reminds me of my favorite Debbie Harry quote:
“I could be a housewife… I guess I’ve vacuumed a couple of times.”
In December of 2010, I visited the Andy Warhol Enterprises exhibit then being held at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It was an excellent full-career retrospective, loaded with rare goodies, and generously tilted toward his early, pre-Factory commercial work, which I prefer to his more famous silkscreens (commence calling for my skull on a pike, I don’t care). But as much as I was enjoying the early books and the blotted-ink drawings of shoes, I was surprised by a trip down amnesia lane that came at the end of the exhibit, a video installation of one of Warhol’s last projects, the show he produced and co-hosted (with Debbie Harry) for MTV called Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes. The name of the show referred to Warhol’s famous quip “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Episodes of the program were actually 30 minutes in length. #themoreyouknow
Warhol with Debbie Harry, dressed by Stephen Sprouse.
I was an arty kid, so I knew perfectly well who Warhol was (some of my friends only learned of his existence from that show, believe it or not), and so I never missed it. Though it wasn’t too hard to catch them all—as the series was prematurely ended by Warhol’s 1987 death, there were only five episodes, the last of which was mainly a memorial. But while it was on, it was glorious. Although the program featured lots of marquee names, befitting Warhol’s obsession with celebrity and celebrities, it also highlighted NYC downtown fashion, art, and music phenomena. Mind-expanding stuff for a midwestern kid, and stuff which would have otherwise been entirely inaccessible, since Warhol’s previous television ventures, Fashion and Andy Warhol’s TV, were limited to NYC cable.
And unless you visit the Warhol Museum or a traveling retrospective, the program itself is now pretty well inaccessible. Few things have been more damnably hard to find streaming than episodes of 15 Minutes, and to my complete bafflement, the Warhol Museum store doesn’t offer a home video. Much of what little can be found is fuzzy VHS home recordings, but it gives an adequate taste of how deep the show could go—and remember, this was on MTV.
It gets a good bit better with this clip of Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes taking the viewer on a tour of Manhattan nightclubs The Palladium and AREA (note future Twin Peaks actor Michael J. Anderson as the garden gnome.)
KONK were an amazing dance-punk band of the era. You may recognize the drummer, Richard Edson, an original member of Sonic Youth, and co-star of the Jim Jarmusch film Stranger Than Paradise.
Sad news is spreading this morning: Swiss surrealist artist H.R Giger has died. Giger is famous as the designer of the eponymous creature and bizarre sets for the film Alien, and for a lifetime’s worth of beautiful and disturbing organic/machine hybrid body-horror paintings (he called them “biomechanoids”). He also became a part of the music world when his works were used as album covers for the likes Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Magma, Celtic Frost and Danzig, among many others. Notoriously his “Penis Landscape” was included as a poster in Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist LP, setting in motion an avalanche of censorship and legal difficulties which derailed the band.
Here’s a 1981 British television interview with Giger and Blondie singer Debbie Harry. The occasion for the seemingly odd pairing is Giger’s portrait of Harry for her debut solo LP, KooKoo. Giger also made videos for the album’s songs “Backfired” and “Now I Know You Know.”
The music videos are seriously dated by a quaint, acutely ‘80s video cheapness, but they’re still pretty damn cool. They’re by Giger, after all.
Many thanks to the ever-resourceful Beth Piwkowski for this find.
When Commodore released the Amiga (which was the highest-quality desktop computer out there for a little while), they got a really good get for the product launch press conference in late July of 1985: none other than Andy Warhol. Rather remarkably, according to Technologizer, the launch event was “a black-tie, celebrity-studded gala at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York’s Lincoln Center.”
The Amiga always was a funny duck, but at the time, it offered better graphics than Apple or PCs, and it also offered a fantastic thing called multitasking. People who owned Amigas were known to be evangelical about the subject. As New York Magazine told it, Warhol murmured into a microphone, “It’s such a great thing. I’ve always wanted to be Walt Disney. I’m gonna tell everyone to get one.” (The bulk of that article is a rave review of the newly unveiled Amiga.) It’s apparent that the pixelated version of the Blondie lead singer qualifies as a “Warhol” “original” on the strength of Warhol executing the fill function a couple of times, but still.
Warhol isn’t exactly synonymous with forward-thinking technophilia, but in a lot of ways, computer-generated art fits in perfectly well with his sunny, democratic, and somewhat automated take on the world. After all, this is the guy who in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, penned, in what is one of my absolute favorite quotations of the twentieth century, “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
Warhol also made the cover of the third-ever issue of Amiga World (blurry PDF), which also scored an interview with the pop art master. In the introduction to the interview, it is made painfully clear how entirely crazy it was that the magazine got Warhol to agree to it. The interview is predictably amusing, and Warhol is epigrammatic and opaque and inscrutable in his oddly accessible way, but what does shine through is his genuine enthusiasm for the Amiga and computers in general. Also, out of nowhere Warhol uncorks this pithy gem: “Mass art is high art.” It’s definitely worth a read.
New York, 1999: Blondie’s first show in their home city for 17-years.
Having split-up in November 1982, Blondie’s started reform as a band in 1996, when Debbie Harry and Chris Stein contacted original members Clem Burke, Jimmy Destri, and Gary Valentine. This tentative re-grouping led to a tour and eventually a mixed-bag of an album No Exit, which was recorded without Valentine, who was once again out of the band by 1997. No Exit gave Blondie, their first UK number single, “Maria,” in 20-years.
Blondie: Live in New York 1999 mixes old favorites, with new songs from No Exit. The show was originally recorded for VH1, and a longer version was later released on DVD.
02. “Hanging On The Telephone”
03. “Screaming Skin”
04. “Forgive And Forget”
06. “Union City Blue”
07. “Sunday Girl”
09. “Call Me”
10. “Boom Boom In The Zoom Zoom Room”
Blondie are currently on tour, playing the Isle of Wight Festival next weekend, details here.
In my book, Debbie Harry can do no wrong. Whether with Blondie or as a solo artiste, Ms. Harry has made this little planet of ours a much better place—even if it is for just for 3 minutes of pop heaven at a time. Here the talented and iconic singer gives an excellent interview to Annie Nightingale—who is no slouch herself, and was the British first female DJ on BBC radio 1. Interviewed for the series One to One while promoting her album Def, Dumb & Blonde, Ms. Harry allows access to all areas of her career, and gives Nightingale some very honest and revealing answers.
Caitlan Clarke, Andy Kaufman and Debbie Harry,1983
Teaneck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap was a 1983 Broadway play that starred Debbie Harry as “Tanzi,” Caitlan Clarke as “Tanzi” and Andy Kaufman as the “referee.” Debbie Harry and Caitlin Clarke had to alternate in the lead role of “Tanzi” because of the strenuous nature of the wrestling.
Apparently the play didn’t do too well, though. Despite its success in London, Teaneck Tanzi closed on Broadway after just a single performance.
From a 2007 Gothamist interview with Debbie Harry:
What can you tell us about your Broadway debut alongside Andy Kaufman in Teaneck Tanzi?
The Venus Flytrap? [Laughs.] Well, it was a very interesting little musical play. At the time, way back in the beginning of the ‘80s, Chris [Stein, co-founder of Blondie] and I were very big wrestling fans and we used to go to the Garden all the time because we had a friend who did all the promotion there and she would get us ringside seats. We had a great time and started going to wrestling many, many years before Cindi [Lauper] starting hanging out with Lou Albano. So then all of a sudden I got this script and I thought it could be really fun. So we did the show for about three weeks in previews, downtown in a nice sort of loft space Off Off-Broadway. And it was great; the audiences were loud and everybody was shouting at the wrestlers just like a real wrestling match. And then they decided they were going to open it on Broadway and it opened and closed almost instantly! So I guess it was a little bit premature for Broadway.
This is rather special - pages from John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil’s revolutionary Punk magazine, as held by The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection and the Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.
These pages come from issue No. 6, which featured The Legend of Nick Detroit, a fumetti or photo-story written and directed by McNeil and edited by Holstrom, with Roberta Bayley as director of photography.
The fictional Nick Detroit was a “...former top international Agent and super-killer now become world-weary mercenary battling the infamous Nazi Dykes and their schemes for world domination.” The strip starred Richard Hell as Nick Detroit, with David Johansen as Mob King Tony, and Debbie Harry as Debbie Nazi Dyke. There were also appearances by Lenny Kaye, David Byrne, and “a ton of others including Terry Ork, Anya Phillips, and Nancy Spungen (in a crowd scene).”
Another great piece of rock history from The Merv Griffin Show. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein adapt to the role of talk show guests with the ease of the cool New Yorkers they are. And this cements Merv’s place in the Hipster Hall Of Fame. Totally.
It’s 1980 and Blondie has gone from Bowery punks to pop stars. You can tell Harry and Stein are struggling a bit with the whole fame thing.