Book Talk: Debbie Harry @ Sixth & I — 12/4/19

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Debbie Harry and Chris Stein arrive at Sixth & I on Dec. 4, 2019. (Photos by Ari Strauss; Words by Mickey McCarter)

Debbie Harry had a memory to share of performing in DC, recalling that she was at the old 9:30 Club.

Prior to performing, Debbie left her small dog alone in the green room. She returned after her show to find the frightened dog perched upon the furniture, chased to higher ground by rats big enough to challenge her.

Debbie recounted the anecdote at Sixth & I on Wednesday while on a book talk tour to promote her memoir, Face It, which was published in October via Dey Street.

In a discussion moderated by visual arts director Rob Roth, who has long worked with Debbie and Blondie, the “punk goddess,” as she was introduced, discussed topics related to the arts and New York City with her longtime songwriting partner Chris Stein.

Debbie, Chris, and Rob appeared perfectly at ease during their time at the historic synagogue on Dec. 4 — and the sold-out crowd could easily see the rapport Debbie and Chris have maintained since first meeting circa 1974. Rob read a few scripted questions solicited from Washington journalists prior to turning the questions over to the audience for a short round of inquiries.

Those inquiries ranged from the fascinating to the mundane, but all sprang from a common ground where love for new wave chartbusters Blondie was abundant. One man turned out to be a tech from a New York City exhibition where Andy Warhol unveiled his Amiga computer art portrait of Debbie in 1985. He claimed to have the original file on disc, signed by Warhol! One woman recounted how she prank called Debbie in the singer’s hotel room in Baltimore while she was filming Hairspray with John Waters — and Debbie sweetly chatted with her about the music industry for about 15 minutes.

Actual discussion of Debbie’s book was scant, although the reference to Warhol’s Amiga art sparked a digression (included in the book) of how Debbie gave the computer she received that day to Chris, who told an audience member that he took an hour and a half to create a single red triangle with it. The audience chuckled at Chris’ quip, and everyone clearly reveled in the opportunity to share a joke, an exchange, or a single moment with Debbie and Chris throughout the event.

Over the course of an hour, Chris contended Robert Mapplethorpe, who was among the photographers who shot Debbie, would have become an even bigger name had he not died of AIDS. He also applauded Chinatown as a neighborhood in New York that has largely resisted gentrification, which led Debbie to reflect that a stretch of East Broadway in Chinatown seemed largely the same from the days when Blondie issued their first several albums — Blondie (1976) and Plastic Letters (1977) among them.

The book talk was the ninth date on a tour to promote Face It, which could be purchased during the event. Parklife picked up our signed copy, but I actually first read the book back in October. It is an engaging read, easy to follow, revealing a gregarious and kind soul beneath Debbie’s piercing eyes. In Face It, Debbie reflects on the times that made Blondie and fills us in on some of the things that occupied her while she was less in the public eye. You truly come to understand why things happened for Debbie and her band they way they did, and you gain a deep appreciation for her ambitions and dreams.

Debbie continues her book talk tonight, Dec. 5, at home in New York City. In DC, Rob said no two events to date have been remotely similar, so it’s hard to predict what you might expect! But DC did not include a book signing session, while NYC’s Bookmarc at 400 Bleeker Street does include one over a champagne reception. In DC, the book chat closed with a moving reading of Debbie’s poem “Rush of Souls,” written in response to the 9/11 terrorist attack on Manhattan.

Buy Face It by Debbie Harry online.

Here are some photos of Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and Rob Roth during the Face It book talk at Sixth & I on Dec. 4, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of Ari Strauss.

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