Longtime fans of Harry and Blondie will find much to enjoy in her more often than not candid approach to her life in written form.
It’s only fitting that Debbie Harry should title her memoir Face It. Not only does it work in terms of her reckoning with her past – from her early years growing up in a working-class family, up through her time in New York in the late ‘60s through to her breakthrough with Blondie and the whole crew of influential punk and New Wave artists that sprang from the CBGBs’ scene of the mid-to-late ‘70s – but also with the iconic nature of her very face. Never once does she shy from the latter, going so far as to devoting a handful of sections throughout the book to assorted fan art offering up everything from highly photorealistic paintings to abstract works, all of which are based on Harry’s immediately recognizable visage. Yet Face It goes well the look(s) on which her reputation has been forever cemented within popular culture, both on her own and, more resoundingly, as the face of Blondie.
Yet what becomes most immediately apparent is how Harry’s life and experiences transcend the immediate associate with the CBGB crowd. In fact, hers is a story that spans the three major, formative post-war eras: the cookie-cutter 1950s suburban upbringing with her parents in New Jersey; the bohemian-cum-hippie 1960s New York scene that encompassed both the East Village and Andy Warhol’s Factory scene; and finally the 1970s punk explosion that, as Harry shows, was essentially the logical extension of the scene started by Warhol and his myriad acolytes and eccentrics engaging in a wholly artistic existence.
Recounting her time spent as a waitress at Max’s Kansas City, Harry crosses paths not only with the whole Warhol retinue, but also the members of the Velvet Underground, Miles Davis and a handful of other rebels of that era. It’s these formative stories that help shape the Blondie persona she would adopt and eventually take to the world with in an era perfectly timed to her audio/visual aesthetic. Indeed, it isn’t even until the 1970s that Harry begins pursuing music with any sort of passion or determination (she had previously been a part of Wind in the Willows, an archetypal ‘60s hippie/folk-rock band who managed an album and little else). Her recollections during this time help ground the more mythic elements of the CBGB set and the assorted personalities coming in and out of that particular scene.
Understandably, the bulk of Face It builds towards and inhabits this particular period of her life as it remains the time during which she made a name for herself as a cultural icon. But it’s all the surrounding elements that help put forth a more complete picture of how and why Blondie came to be. Granted, the bulk of the narrative surrounding the CBGB years has been recounted elsewhere and in greater detail – see Please Kill Me and Harry’s involvement in that project and other assorted memoirs and scenester diaries from that time – but it’s still nice to have that firsthand account of what it was actually like living day to day in the filth and grime that was mid-‘70s New York before nearly every band who graced the stage at CBGB ended up with a record contract.
More rambling recollection than chronological or linear narrative, Face It reads more like a long form interview transcribed nearly verbatim rather than any sort of literary effort. But this approach helps make Harry’s recollections feel all the more organic and genuine, forgoing any sort of long-winded artifice in favor of a more raw and informal sit-down conversation with the punk rock icon. Harry herself acknowledges this following Blondie’s initial brush with rock stardom: “How do we edit our life into a decent story?” she asks, “That’s the rub with an autobiography or memoir. What to reveal, what to keep hidden, what to embellish, what to downplay, what to ignore?… What’s going to compel and what might bore?” It’s a concern she clearly wrestles with throughout, sparing certain events and individuals any sort of personal opinion in favor of a more generalized overview.
Even still, longtime fans of Harry and Blondie will find much to enjoy in her more often than not candid approach to her life in written form. Through the good and the band, success and glorious personal and professional failures, Debbie Harry does nothing if not face the facts of her life, taking stock of where she’s been, what she’s accomplished and how it’s all panned out. In this, Face It is a warts and all portrayal of the life of an icon.