Don’t call her an acorn: five reasons to love Deborah Harry

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Deborah Harry, best known as the lead singer of Blondie, is prominently featured in the most recent print edition of The Advocate. The article is part of the magazine’s fall entertainment preview, and Harry is featured because her first solo album in 14 years, Necessary Evil, will be released in the U.K. this month and the U.S. next month.

The author of the article, Brantley Bardin, is somewhat annoying and repeatedly refers to Harry as “pouty.” (First he mentions her “permanently pouty lips that could give you a smooch as easily as wolf you down for dinner.” Later he describes her as “faux-pouting like a sexed-up Shirley Temple.”) Regardless, he presents an appealing picture of one of the most influential female performers of the last 40 years. He highlights the ups-and-downs of her long career, her versatility (punk to jazz) and her activism. And he elicits why she doesn’t like to be called an “icon.” Harry says, “It sounds like ‘acorn.’”

Of course, one of the most amazing things about her is that she’s still going strong. Check out the video of “Two Times Blue,” the first single from her new album.




But besides her longevity, there are other reasons to love Deborah Harry. Here are five of them.

5. She put her solo career on hold to care for Chris Stein, and then came back.

In 1983, relatively soon after Blondie disbanded, Deborah Harry stopped recording and performing to take care of former band member/boyfriend, Chris Stein, when he came down with pemphigus. The skin disease is stress-related and aggravated by drug abuse — a problem for both Stein and Harry at the time — and is often life-threatening.

As a general rule, I don’t laud women putting their careers second to the men in their lives. But this instance demonstrates remarkable priorities. When Blondie disbanded, Harry was the band member with the most potential for a successful solo career. (Her first solo album Koo Koo (1981) had reached number six on the U.K. charts.) She sacrificed that initial momentum to do what was necessary. But then she came back. She released two more solo albums in the ’80s and one in the ’90s, then reunited with Blondie in the late ’90s, spawning an amazing career comeback.

Which brings us to the next point.

4. She’s in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Deborah Harry holds the record of “Oldest Female Singer to Reach No. 1 on the U.K. Chart.” On February 13, 1999, the Blondie song “Maria” hit number one. Lead singer Deborah Harry was 53 years and 227 days old at the time. How cool is that?

3. She was the original Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray.

From the moment she donned rubber gloves to pop her daughter Amber’s zit until she hid the bomb in her hair in case Amber did not win Miss Auto Show 1963, Deborah Harry embodied the ultimate one-note, racist, cartoonish stage-mother-from-hell in John Waters’ Hairspray. Her successors onstage and on-screen (including a wonderful turn by Michelle Pfeiffer) made the role their own, but Deborah Harry was the first — and the best.

A typical Velma Von Tussle exchange:

Velma Von Tussle: Hey you. Can I ask you a personal question?

Edna Turnblad: No, you may not…

Velma Von Tussle: Is your daughter mulatto?

Everything about her character was so wrong, and so wonderfully John Waters.

2. She’s a consistent supporter of GLBT rights.

Deborah Harry was one of the performers in Cyndi Lauper‘s True Colors 2007 tour in support of GLBT equality. In fact, she performed at the finale in Los Angeles on her 62nd birthday. She recently discussed her activism (among other things) on the NewNowNext blog. When asked why she was so supportive of GLBT causes, she replied:

“I guess it’s really a two way street. They’ve always supported me. I’m interested in human rights and not-so-conservative things. But I do a lot of different things. I performed at an ACLU function recently … I don’t write a lot of political lyrics. I write things that are more entertaining and fun and so the only way to contribute is to perform and appearances and that sort of thing. And I feel like it is definitely my responsibility to do that.”

She feels a responsibility to act. I love her.

1. She rocked out on The Muppet Show.

I make no secret of my Muppet fandom. If I already like someone and she performs with the Muppets, she’s gold in my book. Deborah Harry guest starred on The Muppet Show in 1981. She sang two Blondie songs (“One Way or Another” and “Call Me”) and sang a duet of “Rainbow Connection” with Kermit.

Here she is singing “Call Me.”



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