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Debbie Harry Face It Memoir Rob Roth fan art photographs 1
“When Debbie gave me access to her private photos this is one of the first images I was blown away by. A Polaroid of her in the woods, so private and candid, so natural and seductive. I knew it had to be one of the first images of the book” – Rob RothCourtesy of Debbie Harry and Rob Roth

Fearless punk icon Debbie Harry’s life has been anything but dull

The musician, cult movie star, and pop culture legend’s new memoir ‘Face It’ is a wild trip through her technicolour life – with none of the juicy bits left out

Debbie Harry’s new memoir Face It is a wild, visually-led ride through the punk icon’s life, featuring hand-selected fan art and illustrations by longtime collaborator Rob Roth – click through the gallery above to discover more about his favourite images.

Meghan Fredrich’s short film, Deborah Harry Does Not Like Interviews, takes its name from the pithy response the musician, cult movie star, and pop culture icon aims at a French presenter when he asks for her thoughts on the subject of interviews. Over the course of 12 minutes, Harry, the model of restraint, only subtly rolls her eyes or clenches her jaw, as she’s endlessly questioned on her hair colour, her status as a so-called pin-up, or perhaps the most dreaded: what it’s like being a woman in the music industry. Even with a bunch of questions that pointedly avoid all of those topics, walking into her Savoy Hotel suite and sitting down opposite her is a wildly daunting prospect. But as it turns out, Harry is more than up for a conversation – even when it’s the last interview of many she’s given throughout the day, and she’s fresh off the back of a late night at an awards ceremony which saw her reunited with old friend Iggy Pop.

Aside from presenting Iggy with GQ’s Lifetime Achievement Award (“I still get nervous about things like that, actually,” she tells me when I ask how the night went), Harry is in London to talk about her newly released memoir, Face It. Starting off with her adoption and ending up here, in 2019, the book is a characteristically no-holds barred trip through the fearless punk artist’s vivid technicolour life – not that she’s entirely convinced it’s actually been all that interesting, despite having travelled the world with Blondie, hung out with everyone from Divine and David Bowie to Talking Heads and Television, starred in a series of leftfield movies like Videodrome and Hairspray, and forged her own glittering solo career (not to mention the time she briefly became a wrestler). “I felt like I had to put some juicy bits in it, otherwise my life is going to sound so dull!” she laughs.

This is your first book, but you mention in Face It that as a child and teen, you loved to read. Is that something that you’ve carried through to adulthood?

Debbie Harry: Yes. I actually came prepared and brought my reading list because I love it so much (laughs).

What are you reading right now? And is there a particular book that has had a profound effect on you?

Debbie Harry: Most recently, it was Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (by Yuvan Noah Harari), but what I’m reading right now is Chronicles by Bob Dylan, which is fabulous. Another one I think is really so much fun is Raised in Captivity by Chuck Klosterman, which is this funny little story. Another outrageous one was Memorias Póstumas de Blas Cubas, which is by a Brazilian author, Machado de Assis, and it’s all these tiny, tiny chapters. It’s just a terrific read.

Face It is really visually led, and features lots of fan art and illustrations by artist, director, and longtime collaborator Rob Roth throughout. Why was this important to you?

Debbie Harry: I think I just felt like it was a twist on facing your life and facing your reality, and then having your fan’s idea of you as a reflection of that. I don’t know, I just thought it seemed quite beautiful to have both of those elements.

How did you go about selecting which pieces of art made it into the final book? And do you have a favourite one?

Debbie Harry: No, I have so many favourites I couldn’t narrow it down. Some of them are so sweet and so childish and pure, while others are very sophisticated and clearly by very talented people. I think it’s amazing that somebody would go to that kind of trouble for me: I like to imagine how they were doing it, how their hands were, if they had music playing in the background, and if it was Blondie they were playing. It’s very romantic in my mind. 

The pieces that are included do the people that sent you them know that they are in the book? 

Debbie Harry: No. Surprise! And I think it’s something of real value, with the internet and all the fan accounts that are set up dedicated to artists or whatever. It’s not easy to genuinely surprise people now. And I love surprises! I think a lot of people are going to be very happy.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever received?

Debbie Harry: I once got a letter with a braided ponytail in it. He said he was on his way to jail and they were gonna cut his hair, so he wanted me to have it before they did.

“I once got a letter with a braided ponytail in it. He said he was on his way to jail and they were gonna cut his hair, so he wanted me to have it before they did” – Debbie Harry

Okay, wow. What did you do with it?

Debbie Harry: It was a long time ago, but I know I have it in a box somewhere. It makes me almost feel like crying thinking about it. Hopefully he’s out now and was able to grow more hair (laughs).

Was there anything you were worried about including or that you kind of thought twice about?

Debbie Harry: Practically everything! Well, you know, the sensational parts I sort of felt like, ‘Well, I’ve got to put some juicy bits in it, otherwise my life is going to sound so dull!’ So I added all the juicy bits and now everybody’s really focused on that. But in truth, I actually feel like it’s a very feminist book.

There are a few points in the book where you talk about psychic connections and strange dreams depending on your environment. Is this something you think you have a gift for?

Debbie Harry: Well, I think I have a propensity for it, but I don’t know if I have a gift because it doesn’t go that far. I can’t read other people, but I have a sort of sensitivity within myself, and a lot of times I’ll just inherently know things, you know, little things. Chris (Stein) and I have always actually thought there must be some way you can improve those leanings or natural instincts, or talents, or whatever you want to call them. Ethel Myers, who was a psychic Chris and I went to see many, many years ago, told us her abilities improved after her husband died and that he became her link, and that her ability to connect (to the spirit world) really, really escalated. I think it was perhaps human nature, but it’s something we’ve lost touch with.

Have you ever seen something you couldn’t explain?

Debbie Harry: Probably the way that some people treat each other. That, sometimes, is inexplicable to me.

Blondie and CBGB’s legacies’ are essentially intertwined. Could you tell me a bit about the first time you went there, and what you loved about it?

Debbie Harry: It started out as… just a local, a rough, funky Hell’s Angels bar, and going in there the first time I was like, ‘Oh wow, so they’re having bands now?’ We went down to see Savage Voodoo Nuns, and there was a comedy act featuring Gorilla Rose, Tomata du Plenty, and Fayette (Houser), and it was just this fun, sicky sick stuff. I think it was Elda (Gentile) who was the one who went down there and saw Television, and she came and said, ‘Oh I saw this band and they dress like old men’, so we started going. Chris and I, not with (our pre-Blondie band) the Stilettos but I think an early version of Blondie, we played there for something like seven months straight, but nobody was going there so we would just play to an empty bar.

There’s a part in the book where you speak about how much you hate people who say ‘music is rubbish now’ as they get older and that they stop going out. Where do you like to hang out now?

Debbie Harry: Well, I go to a couple of clubs. I like Coney Island Baby and sometimes I go to Berlin, or to Mercury Lounge to see a band. That’s usually how my nights are, I go out to see a band, it’s not just to hang out in a bar. I don’t do that so much any more. But I do like to go out to a gig.

Who was the last person or band you saw? 

Debbie Harry: I went to Le Poisson Rouge to see a band called Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum. They’re a three-piece on the verge of being minimal, but there’s a lot of synthesiser and the singer does a lot of, sort of, vocalising without lyrics. So it’s beautiful, I love it. I don’t think they’ve recorded anything yet, it’s very early on for them.

You’ve starred in some amazing cult movies, and in the book you talk about wanting to reimagine Alphaville and of course, it’s well-known that you had to turn down Blade Runner. Would you ever like to step back into making movies? And if so, who would you like to work with?

Debbie Harry: I mean, Baz Luhrmann would be amazing. And I loved the latest Tarantino movie (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), but I think he’s stopped making movies now.

Apparently he has one more to go before he retires...

Debbie Harry: Does he?! Not too late then, I can beg (laughs). 

You’ve met and worked with so many incredible people, and what comes across in the book is how much of a fan of pop culture in general you are. Have you ever been really starstruck? Do you still get starstruck?  

Debbie Harry: Yes! At the GQ Awards last night, for example. Nicole Kidman was there and she was so glamorous and so beautiful. Years ago, I was struck dumb by Robert De Niro. And I think, actually, Tarantino had a deep effect on me. I guess I’m just like everybody else. I admire their work and then when I look at them I’m like… (gasps). But I think to be starstruck or shy in my position is a little bit rude, so I try to be a bit more present and more smooth than I feel. To not be starstruck and speechless at the same time – that’s the trick, right? 

You also discuss feeling neither male or female in gender in the book. Was it important for you to talk about this? And are you glad conversations surrounding gender and identity have opened up so much in recent years? 

Debbie Harry: Yes. I’m glad it’s all happening and I’m glad people are being demanding about their pronouns and taking whatever identity that they want. Whatever gets you through, you know. I feel like life is hard enough, we deserve to be the people that we want to be and to understand ourselves. When you explore the totality of your being and you end up with this bigger picture of yourself, you know, that’s extraordinary and very special.

You’re a huge gay icon and an integral part of the drag scene, and you’ve called yourself an Anglophile on multiple occasions. Would you be up for being a judge on Drag Race UK if Mama Ru were to call? 

Debbie Harry: Oh, she’s involved with that? I did the one in the States, but I don’t think I was very good on that. Chris was much funnier than me. But of course, I love RuPaul

“I’m glad people are being demanding about their pronouns and taking whatever identity that they want. Whatever gets you through. Life is hard enough, we deserve to be the people that we want to be and to understand ourselves” – Debbie Harry

You’ve also served some iconic looks throughout your career, in both music videos and on-stage. What pieces of clothing have you held onto, and what holds the most significance, like, you could never part with?

Debbie Harry: I think some of the pieces by Stephen Sprouse, there was this silk jersey dress and… well, a pair of thigh-high boots that I had to give away because my feet got bigger, which was a real surprise. I didn’t think feet got bigger! And there was a black trench coat that made me look like, I don’t know, some sort of secret spy? And, of course, another one would be the Vultures t-shirt and the black bikini bottoms, I love both of those.

You still have them?

Debbie Harry: Yeah! It’s so shredded and fragile now that I had to put it into one of those boxes, like a glass museum box, so it’s frozen in time. It’s in a box in Chris’s loft.

You’ve recently worked with the likes of Charli XCX and Dev Hynes. Is there anyone else that’s exciting you at the moment, or is there someone you’d love to collaborate with next?

Debbie Harry: FKA twigs. She’s extraordinary, she’s so unique. I think it would be phenomenal, we could definitely cook up something really good.

Get your copy of Face It here