[Editor’s note: In this week’s cover story, five NYC icons look back on their first year in New York City. Here’s Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry on dipping her toes into the East Village’s mid-60’s music scene.]
The band thing may not have started till the end of 1966 or 1967. I’m not the kind of person who keeps chronological track of stuff like that, although I probably should be. This was before I got the job as a bunny for the Playboy Club, where I served a man with lazy, curly blond hair named Gorgeous George. I had always been a wrestling fan as a kid, and there I was, serving a drink to Gorgeous George.
But when I moved here in 1965, I was living as an independent young adult. I was no longer at home with my family, and my time was my own as I saw fit. And that can be a major adjustment for a lot of people. I had to find a job. I had to find an apartment. Those are pretty major things. Once I did that, I felt my way around and met people and went to concerts.
For my first job, I worked in a wholesale houseware market space in a building that was called 225. It was 225 Fifth Avenue. My first apartment was at St. Mark’s Place and Avenue A. I lived across the street from Tompkins Square Park. At that time, there were always bands playing free concerts in the park. I saw a lot of bands that didn’t turn into anything. I wasn’t trying to be a musician at that time.
I went to jam sessions, and I did a lot of listening—sang harmonies and backup for a couple of different people that never materialized into anything. In those days, New York had things called happenings that were open to the public. People could come in and play music or hang out. It was a very freewheeling kind of marketplace. A lot of different people from a lot of different genres: teachers, photographers, artists, dancers. It wasn’t strictly bands or people that were obviously famous. I was obsessed with the idea of it. But at that point I was on the shy side, although I was very determined. I was trying to see what I really wanted to do, and I sang for different types of bands too—free-form jazz, then in different rock groups. But I wasn’t jumping into the spotlight yet.
As told to Ilana Kaplan
Blondie’s latest album, Pollinator, was released in May. A mural of Debbie Harry by Shepard Fairey is currently on view at 316 Bowery.