Don't Stop, Do Punk Rock
NYLON|June/July 2017 - The Music Issue

At 71, debbie harry bringa her inimitable, iconic style to a new blondie album - their 11th - and an international tour because what else is she going to do, retire?

Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello

LIKE THE QUINTESSENTIAL NEW YORK GIRL THAT SHE IS, DEBBIE HARRY ARRIVES AT A WEST SIDE MANHATTAN REHEARSAL STUDIO RUNNING LATE, LOOKING GLAMOROUS, AND FEELING FRAZZLED. “IT’S JUST BEEN A LOT OF PRESSURE,” THE SINGER, SONGWRITER, AND ACTRESS SAYS OF HER LIFE LATELY, AS SHE DEPOSITS SEVERAL OVERSTUFFED TOTES IN THE MAKESHIFT LOUNGE AREA AND LETS OUT A WEARY SIGH.

Harry and her band Blondie have a new album, Pollinator, for which they solicited songs written by a mix of peers (Johnny Marr, Laurie Anderson) and artists they’ve influenced (Charli XCX, TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, Dev Hynes). As tends to happen in the lead-up to a big release, everything is going on all at once: The grueling European press tour just ended, Harry has barely had a second to hang at home with her dogs, and now it’s all about what to wear at tomorrow’s video shoot and getting the new material properly rehearsed and, oh yeah, figuring out what to play onstage during the upcoming world tour. Harry flings a handwritten set list—“That’s the third one”—onto the coffee table and collapses into one of several grotty leather couches.

“We have over 40 years of music and only an hour to satisfy the audience and also play the new music. There’s absolutely no way to do all that,” Harry explains. “It doesn’t compute, really.” The 71-year-old singer adjusts her giant shades and unzips her thrift-store jacket, revealing a Vivienne Westwood T-shirt (a gift from the designer herself) featuring a photo of a pair of bare breasts in their anatomically correct location.

“They’re almost in the right spot,” she jokes. “I’ll hike this one up a little. Come on, girls.” Then it’s back to managing expectations: “I’m just going to get up there at the beginning of the show and say: ‘No tears. You’re not going to hear “The Tide Is High.” You’re not going to hear this one; you’re not going to hear that one.’” This is the version of Harry that is familiar to most: the jaundiced, bawdy punk vixen—sexy, pissed-off, charismatic, and intimidating. It’s the version you’ve seen staring back at you, through countless photographer’s lenses, since Harry and her then-boyfriend Chris Stein formed Blondie in the burned-out wasteland that was 1970s New York City. It’s the version you could have been electrified by if you were hanging out at CBGB around that time. While the Vietnam War raged on interminably, Nixon was being impeached, and Son of Sam was on the loose, Harry was taking the club’s stage for the first time, alongside the other founding members of the CB’s arm of the American punk-rock world: Television, the New York Dolls, and the Ramones. Blondie became the scene’s breakout superstars, going on to sell a staggering 40 million albums (and counting) and outlast, in many cases by decades, nearly all of their peers. But Harry occupied an uneasy cultural space: Her unabashed sexiness made her controversial in the punk world, where androgyny reigned and prettiness was suspect, but her favored hem length, hair color, and general edge (plus those strong New York vowels) made her too Pink Ladies for the mainstream. By the late ’70s, however, when New York City, followed by the rest of the country, was looking for a face and a sound to both tap into the era’s dirty beauty and defy its paranoid ugliness, Harry and Blondie were right there. And that’s where they’ve remained, avatars of beautiful weirdness inhabiting their own corner of the rock ‘n‘ roll universe for four-plus decades.

“Debbie Harry featured heavily in my childhood as a badass beauty with balls, which, of course, is what I wanted to be when I grew up,” says Sia, who, alongside the Strokes’ Nick Valensi wrote the synthy but gritty “Best Day Ever” off Pollinator. Newcomer Maggie Rogers, the latest Next Big Thing rock girl to be launched from the New York scene, puts it even more directly: “Debbie Harry is the ultimate queen. I mean, she’s a pop icon, a punk icon, a rock icon, a dance icon, and a style icon. Just, like, how does one person shine so powerfully?! Seventy-one and still balling? Fuck, I wanna be her.”

Of course, the members of Blondie don’t consider themselves iconic. “We’re a cult phenomenon!” half-jokes Stein, who’s joined us on the gnarly couches. Harry chuckles. You know how elite racehorses prone to debilitating nervousness are often paired with calmer natured companion animals? He’s the soothing pony to Harry’s high-strung thoroughbred. (I mention this as someone who has more than once fled a West Village bodega in awe after seeing Stein inside with his kids buying something exciting like soap—I consider his coolness to be paramount.) She rarely does interviews without him by her side, and you can see why. The guitarist’s wry geniality works like a tonic on her.

“He’s such an artist and he’s so brave,” mocks Stein, digging into a good-natured rant about a piece critic Bob Lefsetz recently wrote, in which he praised Drake for pushing boundaries and taking risks. “Drake has a mega fucking fan base and a mega push! Of course he can do anything he wants!” he exclaims, shaking his head. And Blondie? “No way!” Harry chimes in, finally taking off her sunglasses and smiling. “We’re indie!”

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