First off, I enjoyed Debbie Harry’s book Face It, it was a breezy read and had a bit of filler, but also some sweet ideas. We just saw Blondie with Elvis Costello recently (tinyurl.com/zubbeastly) and ordered the book at the gig. In sum, the 74 year old singer of Blondie has a lot of rock stories, but she doesn’t give much away.
I’ve always liked Blondie, never been a super-fan, but I know a bit about their story. I know they were considered the ’worst’ of the CBGB’s bands and that it took them a while to get their sound together, unlike bands such as the Ramones and the Talking Heads. The band adopted a DIY attitude and made things happen for themselves, which is something Adrienne and I did with the Beef People. Harry and Stein are fueled by the lifelong partnership that endures well beyond their romantic past, a closeness forged by their common vision.
Harry talks about her childhood adoption and this seems, as you would imagine, a big factor in her life. She is always worried about abandonment. She was aware of her looks early on, and is frank about her ability to use them to get what she wants. She moved to New York City early on for the beginning of the punk era, and it’s truly amazing the names she drops, from Andy Warhol to The New York Dolls, to Jean Basquiat, Stephen Sprouse, everyone who was anyone in New York. She offers a thumbnail of the growth of the band but not really offering much in-depth detail. Working with Mike Chapman and Parallel Lines, with ‘Heart Of Glass,’ was their big break.
For a memoir, there are not a lot of dirty details. Chris Stein loved to photograph her and they would always end up in bed after a shoot, which to me is kind of sweet. She does debunk the oft-repeated story that she and Chris were caught in the act in the horrendous johns at CBGBs. Kind of prudish to make that point, in some ways. Still, Debbie is not all coy; she really appears to enjoy sex, briefly mentioning fetishes and sex toys, but again avoiding the details. For someone not afraid to use sex to sell her music, the memoir is fairly reserved.
But we are mainly here for the music. There is much talk of the band falling apart, mostly due to Chris Stein’s major auto-immune illness that almost killed him. Debbie still offers no light on their romantic breakup, which is odd as Chris is the one constant in the book. She speaks of lawyers and bad business deals, but again offers no details. Also she gives the impression of a long heroin addiction, but no filling in the facts on that one either.
It’s good to remember that Debbie has had a pretty strong acting career, including Videodrome, Union City, and of course Hairspray. John Waters is a big fan and friend. She also had a number of interesting solo records and worked with The Jazz Passengers. But at her core, Debbie is a punk and a true New York woman.
I believe much of this book was taken from in depth interviews with British journalist Sylvie Simmonds, but again there is a bit of filler here. Two things I learned about Debbie and Blondie were that they wanted The Specials to play on ‘The Tide Is High’ and that after Chris Stein she was involved with magician Penn Jillette(!) Who knew?
It’s a good read but a guarded one for a memoir. Debbie keeps it close to the vest, talking about daily routines, her dog, thumbs, and other nonsense. I’ll always love her and Chris’s music, and along with Patti Smith, Debbie is the most iconic female figure in punk. She is so much more than her looks, and some book reviews have focused on her as a pretty lady, failing to recognize that she and Chris were the prime creative engine behind the most popular band to come out of the CBGB’s scene. I do hope there's a follow up with a bit more of Debbie in the story when she is really ready to Face It.