Deborah Harry bringing her own style to Cleveland
Blondie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
By JOHN BENSON
Three decades after punk-inspired, new-wave-sounding act Blondie first arrived on the shores of Lake Erie, its singer, Deborah Harry, can’t stay away.
Currently touring her fifth studio effort, “Necessary Evil,” the New Jersey native returns to Cleveland for a Wednesday show at the Agora. Just as Blondie has become known as an oldies group from a different era, Harry’s memories of Cleveland hearken back to a different time.
“Swingos was the place to go, and we did,” laughed Harry, calling from Upstate New York. “It was a party period, and it was one big, long party.”
Northeast Ohio — thanks to then radio powerhouse WMMS-FM 101 — quickly warmed to Blondie’s sound, which encapsulated the New York City vibe of the times being heard out of legendary club CBGB, which is now closed.
“I think Cleveland liked us because of the [David] Bowie hookup,” Harry said. “We came through town with Iggy [Pop] and Bowie, and they had a firm foothold in Cleveland. So because of that introduction, I think people really took to us.”
From disco (“Heart of Glass”) to hip-hop (“Rapture”), Blondie pushed the boundaries of music, with Harry and company becoming the toast of the music scene. In the years that have followed, the success of the group has pigeonholed its singer. This leads us to the notion of a solo album, where expectations are lifted and her individuality shines.
“I wrote most of the material myself, so I think it’s more personal and up to date, which to me is very important because when you get stuck in a band that’s famous for oldies, it’s like being in a gigantic rut,” Harry said. “And to be able to do new material that has to do with the way I’m feeling today, it’s very contemporary and much more exciting.
“So I’m very happy to have the chance to do that for people. I know a lot of people only want to hear the old stuff, but they can stay home and listen to that, and when Blondie comes out on the road they can see Blondie, but this is a special chance for me to do stuff that’s on my mind, current and is very important to me. It’s very important to be creative.”
Decidedly sounding un-Blondie like, “Necessary Evil” features a minimal approach that successfully bounces between pop and rock styles. In fact, she said its stripped-down feel is more like early Blondie. From a lyrical standpoint, Harry comments on the ills of society in such songs as “School for Scoundrels” and “Paradise.”
Still, Harry understands she’ll forever be known as the singer of Blondie, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 2006. Even more impressive is the fact the group was inducted the first year its name was on the ballot. The accolade is not lost on Harry, who understands the importance of the Rock Hall nod on Blondie’s legacy.
“We knew some of our contemporaries had been brought in, and I honestly didn’t think we’d get in that quickly,” Harry said. “They nominated us and got us in the same year. Usually people get nominated and don’t necessarily get in.
“So it’s pretty major really, considering the company we’re keeping. I think it’s wonderful, and makes us very, very, very legitimate.”