Stories and observations from a memoir packed full of them
Jessie Atkinson
17:45 1st October 2019

Writing as she speaks, in a soft, somewhat despondent voice that compels the listener to lean in, Debbie Harry has produced her absorbing first memoir. FACE IT, out today with Harper Collins, is an urgent, addictive account of the life of Deborah Harry, from her adoption aged three months, up to the recent 2017 album Pollinator. 

As you might imagine, quite a lot has happened in between. 

Gigwise read FACE IT in a flurry of life-changing and fame-filled anecdotes, written in such a momentous blur that you could easily miss stories that others would rinse at parties for the rest of their lives. 

Below, we’ve retold you some of those, and thrown in a couple more observations too. 

1. She’s always been sexualised…& still is

Early in the book, Harry says that “even as a little girl, I always attracted sexual attraction,” with examples that include a doctor telling her she had “bedroom eyes” and perverts exposing themselves to her. Buddy Rich invited her out on a date when she was eleven years-old, she writes. Later on, as an adult, she says that “there were many times when people would review how I looked instead of how our music sounded,” a complaint that holds true now: in a review for this very book, the Washington Post originally went with the headline “In her memoir, Debbie Harry proves she’s more than just a pretty blond in tight trousers.”

2. She was in a band called the Wind in the Willows

In the sixites, Harry joined her first band, the Wind in the Willows, named from the children’s book. She only sang on one song, and was otherwise “something pretty to stand in the back.” Her second band was a trio formed with two other women. The Stilletos had an ever-changing, all-male backing line-up that once included Marky Ramone.

3. Her stage persona is a style of drag

A lot of Harry’s drag queen friends have told her that the persona she exhibited on stage in the seventies and eighties “definitely” counted as drag. On the act, Harry says: “My Blondie character was an inflatable doll but with a dark, provocative, aggressive side.”

4. She was a waitress at Max’s Kansas City

The storied NYC restaurant and bar Max’s once boasted a pre-fame Harry as one of its best waitresses. The most famous people of the day would hang out there, and Harry came into contact with most of them, including Miles Davis, Janis Joplin - who was “a big tipper” - and Jefferson Airplane, who Harry served food to a couple of days before they played Woodstock. 

5. She played sitar

Harry mentions in passing that during the sixties, she was learning sitar from a teacher called Dr. Singh. 

6. Blondie was originally called Angel and the Snake 

After The Stilletos, Harry formed a new band with her new boyfriend Chris Stein. It was called Angel and the Snake, and it included future Television bassist Fred Smith. Soon, the band changed its name to Blondie and the Banzai Babies before it reverted to the simple Blondie moniker so recognisable today.

7. She’s Suffered From Anxiety

Though she doesn’t mention any kind of diagnosis, Harry details several moments in which she has felt “anxious.” As a small child, she identified separation anxiety from her parents (“I would be a nervous wreck”) and reports terrible stage fright, from performing in school performances to being on stage in The Stilletos. She also reports obsessive compulsive actions, particularly surrounding self-cleaning, that suggest OCD: for example, she admits that she would collect "every strand of hair" as well as all of her nail clippings, and "flush them down the toilet."

8. ’Heart of Glass’ was inevitable from Blondie’s very creation 

In the earliest formation of Blondie, when it still had backing singers, and costumes and props were a big part of their shows, Harry said that her “idea was to bring dancing back to rock.” In 1979, ‘Heart of Glass’ combined disco and new wave, peaking at number one. 

9. Clem Burke was the fiftieth of fifty drummer try-outs

The man who still drums in Blondie, Clem Burke, was the final person to try-out for the gig. During his audition, Patti Smith checked in uninvited, sensing that the blossoming band would soon prove to be a point of competition…she didn’t think too much of Burke’s drumming.

10. She still insists the close-call she had was with Ted Bundy

Walking barefoot through glass-strewn Manhattan, Harry eventually agreed to a lift - her first ever hitchhike - from a man she described as “in fact, good-looking.” Inside, she realised that there was no window crank or handle, and that “the whole car had been stripped of everything.” Through a small crack in the window she managed to reach the outside door handle and escape. Fifteen years later, she connected the man in the car with a news story on Ted Bundy, who had just been executed. “My story has been debunked since,” she writes, “but it was him.” 

11. Blondie supported Iggy Pop and David Bowie on their first tour

Described as Blondie’s “first real tour”, Debbie Harry remembers opening every night for Iggy Pop, who had Bowie as his keyboard player during his tour for The Idiot. They hoovered up her cocaine supply sharpish, and Bowie exposed himself to the room “as if I were the official cock checker or something."

12. Her and Chris Stein bought the first ever Basquiat painting

Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was “homeless at the time,” sold a painting called Self Portrait with Suzanne - a rendering of his then-girlfriend - to Harry and Stein. The artist thought that he’d swindled the pair out of more than the painting was worth, though they handed over just $300 for the piece. 

13. Jean-Luc Godard conned her out of $1000

Debbie Harry and Chris Stein wanted to remake Alphaville, so they contacted director Jean-Luc Godard to purchase the rights. He sold them for a grand, though it later came to light that he didn’t even own them. 

14. Andy Warhol would have liked to have had Harry’s face

When the idea of doing Harry’s pop art portrait came up, Warhol commented that if he could have “anyone else’s face” it would be Debbie Harry’s. The pair became close, and the artist even put on a disco party at Studio 54 when ‘Heart of Glass' went to number one. 

15. She wanted to star in Bladerunner, but her record label blocked it

Having starred in other films during Blondie’s break from music, Harry found that she could not star in the 1982 Bladerunner because her record label at the time blocked it. 

16. She started smoking in her sixties

After years of heroin use, Harry never fully enjoyed a full smoking habit. When she reached her sixties, she took up the “nasty habit,” though she tries to keep the intake down to a few a day. Now, she most enjoys a post-show cigarette with a glass of wine.  

17. Debbie Harry did not leave Chris Stein

Though it’s been said in interviews (to Harry’s quiet indignation), it was not Debbie Harry who left Chris Stein, but Stein who split up with Harry after thirteen years together. In fact, the split occurred on the same day that Andy Warhol died - a double loss that affected Harry for two more years. 

FACE IT by Debbie Harry is out now on Harper Collins. 

Photo: Press