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Debbie Harry on Blondie’s Staying Power

Blondie is the coolest, sexiest, most luscious band to tumble out of New York City back in 1974, but its most impressive attribute is itsstaying power. There’s a reason Blondie’s current romp across the globe is called the Endangered Species tour — name another band from the city’s punk-heyday that continues to release new, original material. Vulture caught up with Debbie Harry on the road where she’s promoting Blondie’s ninth studio album, Panic of Girls (due in 2011). Harry spoke about the vital importance of expressing herself in the here and now, missing her peers, and the ins and outs of naming songs.

Panic of Girls is a great, evocative album title. Where’d it come from?
We were recording a song, it’s sort of a story of a street person, and I had a question at the end that said, “Is it really the end of the world?” You know, because those people who get out on the street and they’re yelling about the end of the world coming, their lives are sort of miserable (laughs). I was just saying that and Chris [Stein] just popped up and said, “Oh, change it to the ‘Panic of Girls.’” The first version was, “The Panic of Truth.”

The tour is called the Endangered Species tour. You’re very involved in animal welfare, so I’m guessing there’s a correlation to that, but Blondie is one of the very few pioneering NYC punk bands still in the game. Do you feel a responsibility to this city, to your peers who have passed on, to continue making music?
I don’t know if I feel a responsibility. I feel a definite urge to not just do old songs. I really want to have a voice in the present so I’m very happy that this is all going on because we’ve been stuck in a position for a couple of years where we weren’t recording and it really is awful having to go out and do the same old songs over and over again. It’s not completely awful because you get a great response from the audience, they’re happy to hear the songs, but it’s not what you’re thinking at the present. I feel much more comfortable performing and singing about things that I feel are much more present. As far as the other bands are concerned, I feel badly that they’re not here. I would really love it if our former contemporaries were still around because I feel they were definitely part of our inspiration. It would have been great to hear Johnny Thunders playing guitar at this point, what kind of stuff he would be writing.

You’re playing the Nokia Theatre tonight. After all these years, how does it feel to play a hometown show?
Well, it’s great. New York is New York. There’s no place like it.

You’re one of the most visible music icons around. You can be seen in the crowd at Goon Squad shows, acting in The Mystery of Claywoman, and in comedy videos with John Roberts playing Fran, a drunk lady. You genuinely look like you’re getting a kick out of it.
I guess I just enjoy it. I just enjoy the process. I’m a fan of these people and part of the scene. I wish that some of the people that were active in the early days were still active but most of them aren’t. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of people that are doing stuff. It’s just part of the evolution, I guess.

Photo: Johns PkI/Splash News