No doubt about it – Debbie Harry is the Marilyn Monroe of punk: she has a hot voice that could sock you in the gut or coo you into a trance, and she had the looks to transcend rock star cool and shoot into iconic status. She inspired so many creatives in music, art, and fashion. She even hosted TV shows with Andy Warhol!
But behind the glossy album covers (and not-so-glossy music videos) there are the photos taken by friends and fledgling rock photographers of Debbie and the boys, backstage on tour, meeting with friends, and just hanging out.
Away from the art director’s imperative, these photos offer a glimpse of the real lives of rock icons.
Well, sort of: some of these photos are staged on the fly, so there’s an unreality as well as spontaneity. And rock star cool is an art and a craft – and the best rock stars are always practicing.
And when the photographer is a friend – or a lover, as is the case with these photos of Debbie Harry by bandmate Chris Stein – there’s a lot more opportunity for the subject to just “be” – without the fear of having her most foolish moment published in the tabloids. The English tabloids of the day were pretty racy too:
Chris Stein photographed lots of his friends during the early days of punk. He had studied photography at SVA, and even though he’s mainly known for being in Blondie, he kept taking pictures throughout the crazy days of Blondie’s rise to superstardom and beyond. He also took some really tender, not-so-punk photos:
But even just hanging out on a balcony, Debbie is cool as, well, insert swear word __here__:
And how did Debbie end up as a housewife on a Mad Max set? Her and Chris’ apartment building had a fire while they were on tour, and when they went in to clean up, they staged this photo, which is insane:
And while Debbie was being photographed by Andy Warhol for a series of his iconic silkscreen portraits, Chris was photographing the both of them. Very meta:
This story doesn’t have a sad ending, either: Blondie are celebrating their 40th year, with appearances at parties a book release, and even a concert or two. And the pictures? There are two ways you can see more of them:
No, you don’t have to join the fan club. But if you’re in New York City or nearby, run-don’t-walk to the popup Blondie 40th Anniversary exhibit at the Chelsea Hotel Storefront Gallery. Jeffrey Deitch has assembled a collection of Blondie photos from most of the major photographers who worked with them – from Bob Gruen to Roberta Bayley to Mick Rock to Chris Stein, whose new book you can also buy there. Also, there are tons of Blondie and punk memorabilia items on display: tee shirts from Debbie’s personal collection, fanzines, backstage passes…all of which have probably been sitting in boxes for years, and which may have to go back into boxes when the show is over:
A Blondie newsletter & passes from the Chelsea Hotel Blondie Exhibit
And if you don’t live near NYC? And can’t hop on a plane? All is not lost: Chris Stein / Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk, Chris Stein’s new book of photos from the early punk days has just been released:
And if you need some classic Blondie now, I’ll leave you with this…the first rap video shown on MTV: