Deborah Harry's mother loves to tell the story of her daughter's singing debut. It seems that Debbie's sixth-grade class in Hawthorne, New Jersey, once staged a "Tom Thumb" wedding. "One kid would be the groom, one the bride and one the bridesmaid. Debbie sang the solo at the end; she sang 'I Love You Truly' all by herself!"
Richard and Catherine Harry run a gift shop called Around the House in Cooperstown, New York, a sleepy little burg best known as the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Harrys are a tightknit family. "The only Christmas she wasn't here was the time she was on tour in Australia," says Mrs. Harry of Debbie. "She was so depressed, and I was so depressed. She said, 'I'll never be away for Christmas again.' Debbie's a wonderful daughter."
When Mrs. Harry – or Cag, as she prefers to be called – is asked if Debbie was popular with the boys, she erupts with laughter. "Are you kidding?" she asks. Mama tells about the time Debbie was approached to enter the high-school beauty pageant: "She didn't particularly want to go in; they called her in. And she asked me, 'What do you think?' And I said, 'I think it's ridiculous.' Her remark was, 'I have no talent. All I can do is twirl a baton.'
"She was always beautiful," Cag Harry says with pride. "When she was a baby, my friends used to tell me I should send her picture in to Gerber's, because she would be picked as one of the Gerber babies.
"But I didn't send it in," she adds solemnly. "I didn't believe in her being exploited."
Debbie Harry, 34, is the star of Blondie, and she looks the part. However much it rankles the band members, however much their past press releases strived to ignore it, Blondie's initial notoriety stemmed directly from the public's response to Debbie. To put it another way, she's the only one in the hot new rock package who can't be replaced. That big, wide, angular face, with its innocent pout that somehow combines worldly glamour and naiveté, is the group's most familiar symbol. Many people think Blondie is Debbie's nickname, a confusion that infuriates the band. There are even lapel buttons that announce, BLONDIE IS A GROUP. But so long as they work in a musical genre still dominated by men, she will remain the focal point.
Blondie is one of the big success stories of 1979. After releasing two well-regarded but sparse-selling albums (1976's Blondie and 1977's Plastic Letters), the band shattered the New Wave's stigma of noncommercialism with Parallel Lines, an epic sleeper that was released last September and spent six months inching up the charts.
The album's first two U.S. singles, "I'm Gonna Love You Too" and "Hanging on the Telephone" (a hit in Europe), sank without a trace, but "Heart of Glass," a sexy, pulsating love lament propelled by Debbie's stark vocals, became a surprise favorite that hit Number One nationwide in late April. The record, issued as both a 45 and a twelve-inch extended-play version, pleased the fickle disco crowd as much as the band's die-hard rock devotees. As a result, the members of Blondie have become important figures, if not heroes, to the dozens of New Wave acts seeking widespread acceptance in this country, and the latest overnight sensations in a diverse late-Seventies rock boom that includes Elvis Costello, the Police, the Cars, Dire Straits, Van Halen and Supertramp.
As for Debbie Harry herself, the underground "punk Harlow" is not only a bright new star, but also the first rock pinup in recent memory. Since Blondie's inception in 1975, Debbie has been a fashion trend-setter as well as a sex symbol. She contributed to the vogue of the thrift-shop look as much as anyone, once appearing onstage in a tacky wedding gown and telling the audience, "It's the only dress my mother wanted me to wear." Joan Rivers goes punk.
At that time, Patti Smith was the other big female rock star in New York. Patti's bedraggled guttersnipe look was much more fashionable in those circles. There was pressure on Debbie to go dirty, but she stuck by her miniskirts and spike heels. With the passing of hard-core punk, it was Debbie's campy, Sixties nostalgia trip that came out on top, the strong visuals complemented by some of the best rock on the radio in a good long time. As Debbie warns in the band's new single: "One way or another, I'm gonna find ya/I'm gonna getcha, getcha, getcha, getcha."
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