Her visual potency is also at the heart of this memoir. Portraits by fans who were attempting to catch her high-cheeked beauty are reproduced in glossy glory — some are good, some bad, some touchingly awful. There are myriad photographs, including a 1978 shot depicting Harry as a rock’n’roll glamour goddess, a 1976 photo by her partner and fellow band member Chris Stein in which she exudes punk cool in studded belt and ripped T-shirt, and a photograph of her casually holding a flaming frying pan while wearing a dress once owned by Marilyn Monroe. As the book title shows, Harry is hardly in denial about the power of her face. “How could I know then that this face would help make Blondie into a highly recognisable rock band?” she asks at one point.... Still, this is Harry’s story, and her straight talking — not to mention the wealth of photographs — makes this an appealing, celebratory memoir. “I could never put myself in the position of whining about being a woman,” she concludes. “I just got on with it. As much as it was possible, I found a way to do what I wanted to do.” Blondie may be a group, but it was Harry who turned them into a phenomenon.
This new memoir is also ghosted, by Sylvie Simmons, and is packaged more as a fan book than a piece of writing, with pics and graphics on glossy paper, and a great deal of padding. But there’s lots in it that’s lovely, such as a picture, on page 152, of a tea party Harry gave in London in the late 1970s with X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene, the Selecter’s Pauline Black, Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders, Albertine and Siouxsie Sioux. I was at school in Scotland doing my O-Grades back in those days, when Top of the Pops started filling up with these oddly dressed and raucous women, and I’ve long since learned just to be glad for it, to forgive Patti for having been such an awful old hippie, the Slits for being a tuneless shambles. But no one need forgive Harry anything, because she didn’t overreach: she just knew herself, and was herself, and if it wasn’t enough for you, too bad. And she was so, so beautiful, and her songs were so modern and New Yorky: she was, I think, the only singer at the time, apart from Poly and maybe Fay Fife of the Rezillos, really to get it about phones and plastic and pocket computers, that in the coming world you were going to need them for your love songs, as well as for everything else.
Face It is a very heavy book, and would have benefited from editing. But like its author, it’s a thing of beauty, and the fact that it’s so big is partly because it contains a huge selection of the fan art which Harry has touchingly collected for 40 years (most stars get their ‘people’ automatically to bin such love offerings), and says something very sweet about her.
That one of the most famous women in pop should not have recounted her story until now is hard to believe – that is, until you start reading and learn of Harry’s deep reticence at having to rake over the past. She spends a chapter discussing the marvel that is the opposable thumb, as though straining for the word count on a homework assignment.... Harry’s book is full of pictures of her made by other people, a gallery of fan art the singer has collected over the years, from her Andy Warhol portrait down to children’s scrawls. On the page, she is far goofier than you’d expect. There is a surprising matter-of-factness with which Harry discusses her face: she knows full well people masturbated to posters of her. She acknowledges the weird superpowers beauty gave her and has unapologetic surgery to preserve it.
As Blondie, singer and actress Harry was one of the most original and successful female singers of the 1970s. Her tales of stardom are amusing – Phil Spector’s idea of showing a girl a good time was doing impressions of comedian WC Fields and then running a gun down Harry’s thigh-high leather boots and saying “bang, bang” – but the most affecting parts of her autobiography are about growing up... For Blondie fans, Face It is rich in interesting snippets, fan art and even Harry’s poem about the 9/11 tragedy.
In Face It, Harry, who is now 74, outlines the influences and events that led to her rise to fame. Written with the music writer Sylvie Simmons, the memoir is based on a series of lengthy interviews, which makes for a conversational style, though anyone looking for an excavation of the soul might be disappointed. Harry has rock ’n’ roll stories to burn but the memoir as a confessional isn’t her style. For the most part, the Blondie character remains... But when not resorting to padding, Face It makes for an engaging and occasionally surprising read. It’s a shame that Harry passes up the chance to dig deeper into her experiences of objectification and the nature of fame, but more disappointing is that we learn so little about her interior life, and how she really thinks and feels. Perhaps that’s to be expected from a notoriously private star with such an acute understanding of image. Rather than expose her inner workings to the world, Harry has determined to stay mysterious to the last.
Still she remains aloof, made of steel but strangely maternal to all around her. She likes a cigarette these days and appears to be having more fun than at the height of her career. Fame, she says, was about wanting to make things happen – Harry did that all right, with her off-kilter dancing, her ability to radiate cool, her sheer presence.
She is one magnificent broad. The worship continues.
Unveiling the intriguing history of Debbie Harry, frontwoman of Blondie, this is an entertaining reveal-all read.
While there's also an enticing music memoir by Elton John this month, I'm looking forward to this one even more-but then "Hanging on the Telephone" by Blondie was the first single I ever bought. Harry invites us into the "complexity of who she is" and how her life and career have played out over the past seven decades. "Upending the standard music memoir, with a cutting-edge style keeping with the distinctive qualities of her multidisciplined artistry", it includes an introduction by Chris Stein, rare personal photos, original illustrations and more. "The text is incredible," HarperCollins tells me.