“We have over 40 years of music and only an hour to satisfy the audience and also play the new music. There’s absolutely no way to do all that,” Harry explains. “It doesn’t compute, really.” The 71-year-old singer adjusts her giant shades and unzips her thrift-store jacket, revealing a Vivienne Westwood T-shirt (a gift from the designer herself) featuring a photo of a pair of bare breasts in their anatomically correct location. “They’re almost in the right spot,” she jokes. “I’ll hike this one up a little. Come on, girls.” Then it’s back to managing expectations: “I’m just going to get up there at the beginning of the show and say: ‘No tears. You’re not going to hear “The Tide Is High.” You’re not going to hear this one; you’re not going to hear that one.’”
This is the version of Harry that is familiar to most: the jaundiced, bawdy punk vixen—sexy, pissed-off, charismatic, and intimidating. It’s the version you’ve seen staring back at you, through countless photographer’s lenses, since Harry and her then-boyfriend Chris Stein formed Blondie in the burned-out wasteland that was 1970s New York City. It’s the version you could have been electrified by if you were hanging out at CBGB around that time. While the Vietnam War raged on interminably, Nixon was being impeached, and Son of Sam was on the loose, Harry was taking the club’s stage for the first time, alongside the other founding members of the CB’s arm of the American punk-rock world: Television, the New York Dolls, and the Ramones. Blondie became the scene’s breakout superstars, going on to sell a staggering 40 million albums (and counting) and outlast, in many cases by decades, nearly all of their peers. But Harry occupied an uneasy cultural space: Her unabashed sexiness made her controversial in the punk world, where androgyny reigned and prettiness was suspect, but her favored hem length, hair color, and general edge (plus those strong New York vowels) made her too Pink Ladies for the mainstream. By the late ’70s, however, when New York City, followed by the rest of the country, was looking for a face and a sound to both tap into the era’s dirty beauty and defy its paranoid ugliness, Harry and Blondie were right there. And that’s where they’ve remained, avatars of beautiful weirdness inhabiting their own corner of the rock ‘n‘ roll universe for four-plus decades.