After riding the crest of the new wave/punk movement in the late '70s as the lead singer of Blondie, Deborah Harry has landed, for now, on a very distant sonic shore. The 51-year-old songbird is chanteusing part-time for the Jazz Passengers, an avant-garde ensemble whose new CD, Individually Twisted, features a remake of her hit "The Tide Is High," a duet with Elvis Costello on "Doncha Go 'Way Mad," and Harry's impressive beboppy chops throughout. But her heart of glass still belongs to rock, as senior writer Peter Castro found. Harry is currently recording with the original Blondie lineup—including her ex-boyfriend, guitarist Chris Stein, whom she years ago helped recover from a rare, near-fatal skin disease—for a tentative late-spring release. "It's nice to get back," she says, "and have that piece of my brain functioning again."
Do you at all miss the new wave/punk era?
It was pretty damn exciting. I don't know that grunge has had the same cultural impact—a real stop-stand-and-turn change of direction. Punk had a wide are of people—photographers, artists, journalists—that had established work in the style of punk.
Did you have anything to do with the current surfeit of woman-fronted bands such as Hole and No Doubt?
In a way, yeah. It was an idea whose time had come. I always felt that if it weren't me, it would be someone else. It was a tough world. A lot of times my ideas and insights about what we should do would only be heard if they came out of Chris's mouth.
You've done a lot of film work—Hairspray and the forthcoming Copland. Who'd you still love to play?
Doris Day was always a favorite. I don't think I look enough like her, but I certainly love dogs.