Revisiting the vintage Debbie Harry interview discussing Patti Smith, Andy Warhol and more: “Supposed to be about fucking punk man”
Debbie Harry was sitting at the mountain top of the music industry in the 1980s as the unrelenting and brilliant lead singer of Blondie. At the same time of her musical success, Harry was balancing headlines and photoshoots while emerging at the style icon pin-up girl of the decade.
While the celebrity status continued to take up a large portion of her time, Harry was much more than just a pretty face and, in this 1982 interview with Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, the singer openly speaks about the moment that formed her as an aspiring artist in New York City and it makes for an uber revealing piece about the icon.
Harry, being interviewed alongside her Blondie teammate Chris Stein for the book Please Kill Me, The Uncensored History of Punk, discuss the band’s opinion on several prominent figures who have shaped the punk genre as well as the New York scene the band were triumphing from 1982.
Despite the odd awkward moment here and there, take for example the moment the conversation drifts away from the agreed topic and Harry blurting out this “supposed to be questions about fucking punk, man” as she becomes momentarily disillusioned by the rambling interview. Largely, however, the conversation is full of fascinating moments as we revisit Harry at her bubbling best.
Their conversation, at one point, meanders towards a discussion about the Andy Warhol crowd which frequented the New York hangout spot Max’s Kansas City. Harry, who waited tables at Max’s, never appealed to her as a place to be. She revealed to McNeil: “Some of them were nice, some of them were just real bitchy, most of them were very cliquish at the time because they were so hot. I was more afraid of them because they came in so late at night and they were so wild and I was such an asshole, you know… I was such a… I didn’t really know anything or anybody so they were kind of scary.”
The discussing then turns to a life-affirming moment for Harry when she witnessed the New York Dolls perform at the Mercer Center, an experience which she described as “instant love at first sight”. She expanded: “They were just like a really… they weren’t really very punky, they just stood there and were either just blind drunk or stoned or just without being stoned they were stoned, staggering around in those huge shoes and trying to play, you know, it was very funny, it was the best thing that David… of course, swishing around like god knows what. It was just funny, the whole thing was funny but it was great and everything was clever about it and colourful and they were good.”
McCain, somewhat bizarrely, intervened to ask Harry if she thought the Dolls were gay, to which she nonchalantly responded: “I didn’t care. I really didn’t care, I just thought they were hilarious and wonderful and I went to every show.”
Another particularly uncomfortable moment occurs when Harry is asked about the harsh realities about the music business, to which she initially stays silent before McCain bellows: “She’s not answering”—a comment that leads Harry to sharply respond: “I think that growing up and accepting reality and accepting responsibility like that some people can roll with it and others reject it completely and whatever else. I mean, the length of time people really withstand the pressures of being in the business and realizing that they’re either equipped or not equipped to deal with it… I mean, look at the number of people that have been in bands and now are not, you know what I mean. So that speaks for itself, don’t ask me for a fucking answer.”
The conversation, more lively now, returns back to Harry’s time of working at Max’s when she is asked to detail any memories of Patti Smith from this period, to which the vocalist candidly responded: “I probably saw her around Max’s, but I was more a follower of like Lou Reed’s and sort of straight rock bands at the time, not the poetry scene. I adored Janice Joplin and people that were actually recording and playing around.”
The whole interview is a captivating look at such an important part in the history of alternative music and what shaped one of its great icons, read it in full here.