February 04, 2012

Teenage Scribbles: Debbie Harry

Debbie Harry of Blondie, June 16, 1979
Color pencil on 3-hole punch paper

For every serious music fan, there is that one song, that one moment that completely changes their life. It’s such a dramatic, cinematic scene, that in regards to that event, to classify one’s life as B.C. or A.D. is the only way to convey the religious weight of it.

My personal Jesus appeared before me the first time I heard Debbie Harry sing, “Yeah, riding high on love’s true blueish light/Ew ew oh oh.”

At the time, I was a Casey Kasem Top 40 junkie. From the first moment I heard “Heart of Glass” the very first week it hit the Top 40 chart, my antennae started quivering. I knew the song was trying to be disco but it certainly wasn’t; there was a lot more going on under the covers. And I suddenly remembered all the little bits about Blondie that I’d run across previously in magazines, and I could literally feel pieces falling into place.

Debbie Harry, September 16, 1979
Color pencil on letter bond

I rushed out and bought the single, and actually liked the flip side ten times more. “11:59” was urgent and pleading while the singer’s voice was cool and detached and the dichotomy sucked me under. Plus, the label said “Produced by Mike Chapman.” Oh, man, count me in!

I then rushed out to buy the album, Parallel Lines, and there was no going back. Despite the prejudice of my religious conversion, the cover to that album is still one of the most striking examples of album artwork, simple yet effective, able to convey layers of meaning and style with just a few broad strokes.


Deborah Harry, November 18, 1979
Color pencil on ledger paper

That album sounded like a jukebox full of promise, sounds that I’d heard in various forms before, but were now brought together under one umbrella. I heard “Sunday Girl,” and “Pretty Baby” and thought them just as yummy and hook-filled as any of my childhood AM pop favorites, and they did a cover of a Buddy Holly tune! But I also heard hard, chaotic, frantic sounds that riled me up, like “One Way Or Another,” “Hanging On the Telephone” and “Will Anything Happen?” and I asked myself, “Is this punk rock?” Plus there was a slow, eerie tune with this dead and hollow drum beat (“Fade Away & Radiate”), a song that mentioned watching someone shower, and the very last song on the album telling someone to piss up a rope. “Heart Of Glass” was the lamest thing on the album, and I was ecstatic!

I tapped my alien powers of information gathering for a crash course on Blondie. I found new magazines like Circus and Hit Parader, but it was blast to find Blondie popping up in staples such as People, US and Dynamite. I very quickly learned as much of the Blondie M.O. as possible, had a broad overview of what they were about, what they represented and how they were popular all over the world save for America, where they were deemed too odd, too different, too “punk.” When “Heart Of Glass” hit #1, I was as shocked as I was pleased.

Deborah Harry, March 23, 1980
Color pencil on 3-hole punch paper

Blondie were a new and different world of music, a stranger, more varied world, where not all songs were love songs, where there was subtext and layers of meaning behind every lyric, every riff, and every artistic decision. Blondie was the tree trunk that sent me out onto a thousand branches, where I finally learned about punk (checked out dozens of albums from the library; the Sex Pistols’ debut album didn’t sound like Blondie, so I didn’t care for it, but the Ramones were intriguing), Andy Warhol, CBGB’s, underground art and films, early 60s girl group pop, and that there was a lively, exotic world thriving outside the Billboard Top 40. I learned more about the world of culture within a couple months than I had in my previous 13.5 years. It was heady and addictive.

“Blondie is a group,” and then there was Debbie Harry. Say it again, my bruthas and sistahs: Debbie Harry! Amen.

Deborah Harry, May 1980
Water color on bond paper

She was (and is) a goddess! Aside from Cher, I’d never experienced anyone like her. She was absolutely gorgeous, cooler than shit and had the most glamorous clothes, shoes and hair imaginable. In print, she was intelligent and insightful, but very coy about her past, her private life and her age, which gave her an air of mystery. She and her boyfriend, Chris Stein, created and ran the band, and she was an equal partner in songwriting, presentation and direction. Again, I repeat, I’d never experienced anyone like her; she was so beautiful and powerful and talented that she seemed more like a comic book hero.

Everything I needed to know about life, sex, fashion and music, I looked to Debbie. And because American media was now as infatuated with her as I was, it was easy to get all the advice I needed.

Blondie Was a Group, January 1983
Charcoal on sketch paper

Blondie profoundly altered my viewpoint of the world, and I had the utopian belief that it affected everyone else, too. I’m sure it did in many quarters across the nation, but at Kirby Junior High in north St. Louis County, there was no change at all. When I dared speak to someone else about Blondie, it was a bad topic. If someone wasn’t talking trash about them being a disco band, they were thinking they were too punk, too fucking strange, uncool.

But I knew they were all dead wrong, and the “Us & Them” mind set took firm root in my psyche. I’d unwittingly found a way to further ostracize myself from the peer group, but this time it left me with a whole other – and better – world to explore, football fields of things to think about, which made ignoring everyone so much easier to do. 

D.H. a.k.a. B, April 1983
Charcoal on bond paper

1 comment:

Kenneth Walsh said...

I think I love you.