Deborah Harry holds an unusual position among female musicians I’ve admired over the years. She was the first woman I ever wanted to have sex with. Pat Benatar rocked out a few years later, and Grace Slick was scary. Carol King was already “that lady I used to hear on the radio” by the late 70’s. But Debbie? She appeared at a magic time in my life.
See, in the heady days of Jimmy Carter and gas lines and stagflation, most of us did not know about sex until we were 10 or 11. In my case, my parents handed me a set of three books that told you, in cold, clinical terms what sex was, what it did, and how it worked.
When I got to that part, I was puzzled. It sounded kind of gross, and I worried that I would never get my eventual wife to do that with me. We would have to adopt. How do people talk each other into that?
And then I heard Debbie Harry sing “Heart of Glass” and saw her on television right about this time. Instantly, I knew I wanted to be with Debbie Harry. Never mind that I was 12 years old. This woman was beautiful and sexy and inviting. When I saw those blue eyes glitter and those luscious red lips move as she sang, I wanted to make love with her.
Over time, of course, I grew to appreciate Blondie, the group, and Debbie Harry, the singer, as the musicians they were. In fact, they were the first band of the American punk scene that I liked. I was not a fan of the Sex Pistols, and I didn’t become aware of The Clash (that’s another blog post) until a little later, when someone played “Should I Stay or Should I Go” at a party.
So while Debbie was still my fantasy woman (not that I’d know exactly what to do with a force of nature like her. Probably faint. I was so sheltered back then.), it was, ironically, the sexually charged “Call Me” that made me appreciate Blondie’s music and their ability. These weren’t those idiots who believed if you learned to play your instrument, you had your priorities screwed up. (If you can’t play, get the hell off the stage and off my radio, dammit!) This was one of the alumni bands of the legendary CBGB’s. These were bands that put that roll back into rock and roll, counterbalancing the arena rock that was taking over at the time.
Go back a couple of years, and you have their roots rock classic “One Way or Another,” which had that dirty three-chord guitar churning while Debbie growled a tale of stalking you. It was fun and scary all at the same time. They also played the first top 10 rap song not long after the Sugar Hill Gang liberated rap from its Brooklyn home. They did the bizarre “Rapture” which had Debbie singing this ethereal vocal before she rapped about the man from Mars who shoots you dead, then he eats your head.
The song came from Autoamerican, when Blondie started getting experimental. Robert Fripp, who is the opposite of punk’s early “smash the shit out of your instrument” approach, makes a couple of appearances on this album. Its other hit was “The Tide Is High,” a foray into reggae. But it was the big band turn, “Here’s Looking at You” that really caught my attention. Some might write the song off as a pastiche, but over the years, I’ve come to appreciate this song as something written thirty years after it should have been. It’s a really well-done jazz effort by a punk band, and Debbie Harry proves herself to be more than just the sexy mouthpiece to a rebel band.
After the disappointing The Hunter, Blondie called it quits. Part of it was the album’s dismal performance commercially and critically, but other bands have come back from worse. What kept Blondie from waiting out the new wave and new romantic movements was Chris Stein, Blondie’s guitarist and Debby Harry’s partner. Stein took ill for several years in the mid-1980’s, and Harry took time off to nurse him back to health. They eventually split, but toured as Harry’s solo act until the end of the 1990’s, when they released new music.
It’s that short spate of songs in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, though, that really cemented their place in rock for me.
And it doesn’t hurt that the young Debbie Harry bore a passing resemblance to my wife when I met her.