As soon as I unpacked my hardcover edition of Face It, the autobiography from Blondie’s Debbie Harry, my heartbeat quickened with excitement. Face It is Harry’s tell-all, and she really does tell all. The book opens before her birth, when “love child” Harry’s biological parents fall for each other, and concludes with her recent adventures touring in support of Blondie’s 2017 release, Pollinator. In between, Harry treats us to all the details of her punky past, the heady days of Blondie’s formation, and the band’s rise to international fame. If you’re curious about Harry’s early glitter-glam performances at legendary New York drag venue, Club 82, David Bowie and Iggy Pop’s backstage antics on tour, or “Beatlemania”-style mob scenes across the globe, you’ve picked up the right book. Harry also includes lesser-known but equally fascinating escapades, such as her turn as a wrestler in a Broadway play and her search for her birth family.
Through it all, I never once felt like I was reading the memoir of a star. There was none of the cool, detached distance I expected from a rock royal. Instead, Harry’s voice remains warm, no-nonsense, and conversational, perhaps because her book is based in part on a series of interviews. As a result, I felt like I was right there with Harry, strolling the streets of New York, collaborating, performing, or just hanging out with the likes of Andy Warhol, the New York Dolls, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. I could practically feel the jostling crowd inside CBGB’s as Blondie took the stage on the same night as the Ramones. I even felt Harry’s frustration as she pushed to try new musical styles and take on projects that spoke to her artistically, while her label and management pushed back.
The book itself is a work of art, full of original illustrations, portraiture by fans, and endless color photographs. When I read the dedication, I almost fell out of my chair. Instead of giving a shout-out to a close associate, Harry dedicates her memoir to “the girls of the underworld.” Perhaps she refers only to the musical women who came up beside her when rock was a counterculture phenomenon and the music industry was a man’s world. To me, though, Harry’s message felt inclusive – like an appeal to all the women and girls in the world who have taken a risk for their art or decided to live outside the mainstream, if only in some small way. Most of all, it felt like a personal invitation to ride shotgun with Debbie Harry through her amazing journey of life.
I have no reservations in recommending Face It, a book that has earned a spot on my desktop bookshelf, exclusive to my most treasured editions. However, I do have one word of caution for prospective readers. In Face It, Harry states that the more harrowing aspects of her life, such as stalking, assault, and drug addiction, did not have much effect on her either in the moment or long-term. While this may well be the case, I can’t help but wonder whether some survivors of assault or addiction might feel like their own distress is invalidated in some way, justly or not. For this reason, I am offering a heads up to go along with my glowing tribute to Face It.
And this review truly is a tribute. For me, Harry’s autobiography elevated her from musical inspiration to personal inspiration because now I know more about her path. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when many women were following a particular script written for them by society, Harry made the bold decision to leave the New Jersey suburbs to live a Bohemian life in New York. Although her early life was mostly idyllic – Harry’s middle-class parents were loving and she adored her little sister – the city and its artists simply called to her. Harry also decided that despite the attention her beautiful face commanded, she would only pursue projects that would prove a pivotal role, rather than hanging back as eye candy. This determination first manifested itself when she quit the Wind in the Willows, a band signed to Capitol Records, to form her own bands with fellow artists from the New York scene. Later, Harry would turn down countless movie offers to pursue more challenging parts in works like Union City and Videodrome and play the brilliantly absurd villain in John Waters’ Hairspray.
As Face It attests, throughout her life, Harry continued to break boundaries and take risks, and never became complacent. Even now, in her seventies, she insists on putting out new music with Blondie rather than relying on their sizable catalogue – and she hasn’t stopped trying to change the world, either. Blondie’s latest album, Pollinator, was created partly in tribute to the imperilled honeybee, and Harry has taken to wearing a cape emblazoned with the phrase “STOP F*CKING THE PLANET.” If that’s not the essence of cool, I don’t know what is.
Face It is an entertaining, pull-no-punches read and is solid proof that Debbie Harry always has been and is to this day an artist, a rebel, and the New York punk she proclaims herself to be.