”Face It” by Debbie Harry
She was a punk. She still is. Breaking down walls, “cutting new paths instead of taking the tried and tested roads”, making music because they wanted to make things happen, being artistically strong because they had something to say.
Debbie Harry calls herself a visual thinker, and her songs, she sees them as moving pictures. She confesses that her “punk bombshell” image was influenced by old movie stars, predominantly Marilyn Monroe, who fascinated her with the fantasy her image projected on screen (much more a character invented by Marilyn herself than a fabrication of the publicity machine behind her), “the mother” of her Blondie character. Only there was also a “dark, provocative, aggressive side” to Debbie Harry’s cool and understated sexuality and platinum hair. A punk aesthetic born in “a special time in New York, with the wild beauty of the decayed and dirty city in the seventies. The garbage strewn everywhere, where you found fabulous things that people threw out and you deconstructed them and you put the pieces together with creativity and irony as the glue.”
The arresting depiction of the New York City punk and cultural scene of the 1970s is one of the best parts of Face It*, the memoir of Debbie Harry, the face and front singer of Blondie (but also solo musician and independent movie actor), the band she co-founded with Chris Stein in the 1970s, pioneers in the American punk and then the new wave scene of the mid-1970s in New York. A dark, dusty and dirty New York City, but ripe with creativity and rich in struggling artists who had no money but who were culturally central to the city’s life. Glory came with no shortage of grime.
How can you explain that to the young people of today raised in an affluent lifestyle, with the personal Mac and companionable iPhone? How can you explain to them that people had to go out there to try and make it (some still do), who did something because they believed in it, who made music to express themselves, before making money out of music became a subject taught in school? How do you explain someone raised on online social media that music and the music scene used to serve as a source of social documentation, revelation, as a way to read body language, as a way of learning how to express and read oneself physically and be comfortable in one’s own skin? How do you explain body language to someone whose only “idols” exist on Instagram? How do you explain to them that fame came only after one had accomplished something truly remarkable? How do you explain all this to someone who hasn’t been exposed to the reality of life and to history?
Through intuitive and intimate storytelling accompanied by striking visuals, including personal photographs, drawings and fan-art illustrations, Debbie Harry comes through as an original, an artist with initiative and strength and grit and a vision, and a whole lot of sense of humour that made it easier for her to navigate this crazy, demanding, extraordinary and once very macho rock music world. A musician, a muse, an icon, a rock star, in a time when each of these things meant something.
“I’ve been trying to think what best of Blondie was for me.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it was the early days of the band
when we were struggling artists scuttling around the Lower Esat Side just
trying to get something going, walking home from work before dawn through
the dark, dusty, sweet-dirt smell of the city. Everybody got by on no money.
Nobody talked about mainstream success. Who wanted to be mainstream?
What we were doing was so much better than that. We felt like pioneers.”
”Face It” by Debbie Harry
* For an easily accessible, official synopsis of the book, I have linked to the publishing house. However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore we will not link to global online book chains or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and placing your order with them. If you don’t have a favourite indie bookstore, here is how to find one you can support.
More stories: Chronicles: Volume One / M Train / It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll But I Like It