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I recently discovered that Debbie Harry wrote a memoir. Well truth be told, I came across this little ditty about a year ago when I was perusing the booklists for purchasing for the library. Then other books came along, and a minor thing called a pandemic happened. So as I was going through my library e-book collection, my eyes alighted on this and it was AVAILABLE (yes !!!). Needless to say … but enough with the pleasantries and such bollocks, and on with the bleedy review.

Growing up in the TV-less land of Guyana during the 70s, by default, had many of us attached to our radios. I may have heard Rapture and Call Me numerous times on our radio, but I definitely remember the reggae-styled The Tide Is High. Actually, it was very popular in the country because of that very reggae-style beat. I always imagined it was a sultry, brown-skinned woman (that probably looked like Pam Grier) with dread-locked hair crooning The Tide Is High over the radio. Yes, I have a thing for Pam Grier (still do) and … bloody hell, I was in for a surprise. Flash forward to the early 80s where television sets (despite no transmission of telly signals in the country still) rigged to Betamax players were popping up in various venues to entertain people. One such location was the local sports club, in our town, that on Saturdays would host free videos for the kids/teens to watch. One such Saturday as I was waiting for the main movie to begin, they were playing a bunch of music videos to fill the time. And then Blondie’s Heart of Glass appeared on the screen … and for the first time in my teeny life the concept of infatuation became a vicious reality. Everything around me seem to disappear (yapping kids, rowdy teenagers, preening girls) and it was just me … and sultry Debbie Harry. My love affair with Blondie had begun. And I know this was a bit of detour here … but there.

A love child (her words) as a result of a liaison between an American woman and a married Englishman, Deborah Harry (not her original name) was placed up for adoption. She was adopted by a childless couple (the Harrys) in New Jersey. Ms Harry’s revisiting of her childhood is quite refreshing and delightfully simple where she, I suspect being quite the tomboy, bravely explored the nearby woods that hosted transient and hobo types, read books (she’s a bookworm) and later on wrestled with her floor rug as she watched wrestling on the telly. In other words, a really decent childhood, despite her tough introduction to the world. Well, there was that odd encounter, at eight years old, that involved indecent exposure and a masturbating pervert. Yes, there were absolute tossers back then. An eight year old kid. Seriously?

Moving through her teens like most typical teens and beyond her college years, with a new sense of independence, she eventually moved across the river into New York City and conception of Blondie begins. We are returned to a New York City where Times Square isn’t exactly the family friendly glitterfest that it is today and lofts on Canal Street and Soho cost $75 – $100 a month for rent (yes, this was a very long time ago). As she sets out to start her musical career we find ourselves revisiting a downtown staple that was once the hub of emerging underground music scene (punk et al): CBGB/OMFUG (which actually stands for Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers … aye, quite a mouthful). Along the way she and her band mates struggle to earn a living as they salvage tossed out clothing to remake into their own stage gear (yes, folks back then real punk clothing was mostly DIY since we didn’t have Hot Topic around with their ridiculous prices). There were a few perilous turns in Debbie’s NYC life: a sexual assault in the presence of an incapacitated boyfriend and a near Ted Bundy moment when she reluctantly accepted a ride from seemingly, “decent” stranger. Needless to say on both occasions, visions comprised of Dexter and Hostel emerged in my mind as I thought of these two wankers. At CBGB, she formed friendships with Joey Ramone (of the Ramones), Fab 5 Freddy, Lou Reed, Joan Jett, Patti Smith, and Siouxie Sioux (of Siouxie and the Banshees) … to name a few. One of the highlights of the earlier parts of her career was being invited on tour with Iggy Pop and David Bowie, where she learned the glaring differences between American and British punk. Let’s just say that the Brits are bit more tribal, physical and spit on groups as a sign of appreciation (a tradition that Iggy Pop claims to have pioneered). Thankfully, these folks never encountered Donita Sparks of L7 that would have rewarded such a (misread) gesture by tossing a “freshly” retrieved used tampon in the crowd (ah, such good times). Then there is that unnerving time that she worked with Phil Spector, who had an unhealthy fascination with guns and was quite the nutter. Not much changed over the years and we all know how that turned out. Though quite brilliant, the writing was on the wall for that one.
The NYC underground music scene was often intertwined with elements of the NYC art scene where both sides sometimes use each other as muses. This was seen in Harry’s relationship with the likes of Andy Warhol, Basquiat, and the controversial Mapplethorpe. Ms. Harry also talked about her fascinating film career and some of those movies that became cult classics: John Waters’ Hairspray and Videodrome. She was actually offered a script for Blade Runner but her record label (bloody tossers) “forbade” it. So now, with this disclosure, my mind is left generating scenarios of her playing Priss (Darryl Hannah) or Rachel (Sean Young). Bloody hell, I guess we’ll never know.
In writing about the paramours in her life, for the most, there are never a dull moment. There was some housepainter chap in New Jersey that liked guns and was a wee bit possessive to point where dear Debbie almost went into a form of witness protection living. Then there were a few interesting ones like Harry Dean Stanton (aye, the bloke from the original Repo Man) and Penn Jillette (yes, Penn from the Penn and Teller duo). There is a bit of an eyebrow raiser story about her collaborating with Penn to modify a Jacuzzi into an aquatic orgasm-delivery system. It is quite the venture and read. For some reason, I like Chris Stein. He is the constant in her life (lover, the other pillar of Blondie, and really good friend), and in my humble opinion, that one that should have rode off into the sunset with the girl. Only in this case, Duckie married Kristy Swanson and left Molly Ringwald by herself (yes, a Pretty in Pink reference). Alas, but good news, they still remain great friends through it all.
Filled with very intimate photographs and fan-generated art (much to my delight) Face It is quite the literary feast for Blondie and punk fans. Though written as a memoir/autobiography, it unwittingly turns Lady Deborah into a guide of the past NYC underground music and art scene and it is quite an education. We also get to see the really petty world of the record industry from the Blade Runner incident to a certain scumbag manager to their treatment at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Surviving being burnt out of several apartments, near-electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning, and many times on the extreme generosity of great friends (since there were many occasions of having no dosh), Debbie Harry and Blondie etched themselves into the psyche of the world of rock and punk. She is delightfully blunt, and is not afraid to put aside the tough exterior and talk about her vulnerabilities. Face It, she’s badass (I couldn’t help it).

And yes, I still have the hots for her.

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