Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein appeared at The Town Hall with the band’s visual artist, Rob Roth, to celebrate the launch of Debbie’s memoir, Face It, and to reminisce about their love affair with New York City. Amy Haben was part of the packed house.
Let’s face it: The place to be on October 1st was The Town Hall in Manhattan, hanging out with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein and a roomful of their friends, family and fans of all ages.
The legendary performance artist Penny Arcade introduced Debbie and Chris by celebrating Debbie’s influence on pop culture.
“Debbie of the wicked sense of humor. Debbie the coolest girl in the room that sees everything, but rarely lets on,” Penny declared to the packed theater.
The occasion was part pub-party—for the release of Debbie’s long-anticipated memoir Face It (Dey Street)—part conversation with Blondie bandmate Chris Stein, but mostly a celebration of the pair’s unbroken connection to the city they love.
“We always hear about famous rock stars and movie stars returning to their roots, but Debbie and Chris never strayed from their roots,” said Penny Arcade. “They have always been a part of the fabric of downtown art.”
Penny also celebrated the history of the Town Hall building where we were seated, which was built exactly 100 years ago by suffrage movement fighters, the League for Political Education. The league’s democratic principles are embodied by every seat having a good view of the stage and no box seats. This is where the saying, “Not a bad seat in the house” originated.
Margaret Sanger was pulled off this stage in 1921 for advocating birth control to a mixed-sex audience. Nina Simone and Billie Holiday sang here. So it was entirely appropriate to introduce such a strong female force and feminist like Debbie Harry here.
The event was a talk promoting Debbie’s new memoir, Face It, moderated by Blondie’s visual artist, Rob Roth. The book, which was created with help from the talented writer, Sylvie Simmons, starts before Debbie was conceived. It describes how her birth mother met her birth father and a little of their history (Debbie was adopted by Richard and Cathy Harry as a baby.)
She grew up in Paterson, New Jersey back when it was a bit more rural and woodsy. She describes an idyllic childhood surrounded by a lot of love. There was always an anxiety and fear, though, which she believes was caused by her early abandonment.
Debbie looked svelte in a hot pink outfit with pumps to match. I always forget her age because her spirit is so young. Chris was dressed in black with black shades and his now-regular goatee. He was his usual entertaining self: funny and politically outspoken. He made fun of Trump and his pending impeachment, and imagined New York City seceding from the Union and becoming an island of separatists after a civil war.
The evening began by Chris mentioning a Twitter uproar after the Washington Post reviewed Debbie’s memoir by writing, “In her memoir, Debbie Harry proves she’s more than just a pretty blonde in tight pants.” Why do women in bands always have to be classified by their looks, while men in bands are judged by their talents? I guess this journalist never closely listened to the pipes on this woman. The best Twitter response was by a man named Daniel Benneworth-Gray who replied, “Not a single person thought that’s all she was. Nobody.”
Rob Roth displayed different photos which are featured in the book. One sweet Polaroid of a fresh-faced Debbie and Chris with their heads together from back in the day when they were young and in love was pictured on the overhead screen. Apparently, it’s a mutual favorite of theirs. Chris feels like he resembled Bela Lugosi a bit. Another photo of a sultry Debbie surrounded by a backdrop of the woods came up. Rob asked if they had just had sex in the woods before Chris shot it. To a huge laugh from the audience, they replied, “Yes.”
These two remind me of your artistically-inclined, cool aunt and uncle. They aren’t afraid to speak their minds and get a little crazy in front of the kids, where the parents wouldn’t dare. In a question about Debbie’s attraction to Chris he replied, “I was always wacky and cool. I always made her laugh.”
For Blondie’s first ever Rolling Stone cover, Chris recalled Debbie saying to the journalist, “You suck!” Reading the piece now, Chris thinks it was really good because it captured the turmoil going on in the band at the time. He feels a bit bad about the hatred they spewed on the poor guy.
The dynamic of a love relationship inside a successful band can get tricky at times. While Debbie was acting in the film, Videodrome, she would come home to Chris and tell him that James Woods was trying to make out all the time, which pissed Chris off. Rob’s reply was, “Well he was good in the movie, but he’s an asshole now.”
“If I was a more experienced actor, I would’ve demanded an ending.” ‘It was years later before I realized I was a virtual character.” – Debbie Harry on Videodrome
Jackie 60 was a wacky night spot in the meatpacking district in the 1990s. Chris remembered, “It felt like a throwback to the 1920s. The invitations had rubber knives and skulls. Unique in the universe of late-night club stuff.” Debbie chimed in, “And they had a hidden camera.”
Rob quipped, “You are such a perve.”
The next segment featured questions from celebrities for Debbie. Mary Louise Parker asked, “What are some of the books and records you would take to the moon?” Debbie answered, “It would be so many the rocket couldn’t take off.” Another question was, “What’s the worst question you’ve been asked and how did you handle it?” Debbie answered, “Probably why did you write a book now?” It’s like, “What the fuck?!” Chris inserted, “It used to be: ‘How does it feel to be a sex symbol?”
Hip hop icon, Fab 5 Freddie, was the surprise guest of the evening. “I would come visit them on 58th Street and Chris had that good California bud,” Freddie remembered. “We used to smoke joints on (Glenn O’ Brien’s) TV Party all the time,” Chris recalled, adding that he is shocked they never got in trouble for it. Glenn was an editor at High Times, which resulted in a glossy, cover shot of Chris and Glenn getting stoned.
In a running theme, Freddie spoke of dressing up as a nickel bag for Halloween. He introduced Chris and Debbie to the slang of the time, such as fly boys and girls as well as a dance move named for an actress called, ‘the Patty Duke.’ When the two white Blondie members entered an all-black club with Freddie, he lovingly remembered a kid yelling out, “Yo, it’s Patty Duke!” Freddie couldn’t believe how well Debbie rapped on the song “Rapture,” although he thought they recorded it as a goof until he heard it on the radio while in a cab in Paris with two members of the Talking Heads. The name check was a nice bonus for him.
Blondie won the first MTV award for a music video. Milton Berle was at the Plaza Hotel afterward and Debbie thought he was coming over to kiss her but he kissed Chris instead. The zany stories they shared just don’t stop. A fanatical couple named Susie and Jeffrey plowed into the recording studio accidentally while fighting, taking out a huge chuck of wall. They had the audacity to say, “Do you remember us?” After that incident, Debbie wrote lyrics about them.
While waitressing at the famous Max’s Kansas City, Debbie served Janis Joplin. “She was sweet. She ordered a steak and didn’t eat it, so I took it home.”
A girl in the audience brought Chris a knitted doll she made of him since she had already given one to Debbie. Another patron asked Debbie about feminism in the light of how others treated her back then as opposed to now. Always one to take the lead when he can sense Debbie isn’t ready, Chris said, “Most of Debbie’s harshest critics were men. Lester Bangs was very upset that Debbie used her sexuality. I wish he would have lived long enough to see Britney Spears.”
When it was all over Chris, Debbie, and Freddie signed books for a half an hour on stage instead of running off. They let people take photos with them and shook people’s hands. This kind of genuine love and appreciation of their fans is all too few and far between with other world-famous musicians. It’s as if fame never corrupted this band, and they were just having a chat with a few close friends at their old loft on the Bowery.