When Debbie Harry Combined Artistic Forces with H.R. Giger

After four years of phe­nom­e­nal chart suc­cess, the band Blondie went on hia­tus in 1981. While Deb­bie Har­ry pur­sued the act­ing she had start­ed in punk rock film­mak­er Amos Poe’s works, she also went the solo album route. On paper, this album, KooKoo, must have looked like a sure­fire hit: Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards from the band Chic were brought in to write and pro­duce, hot on the heels of their suc­cess­ful resus­ci­ta­tion of Diana Ross’s career the year before. Har­ry and boyfriend/band member/guitarist Chris Stein wrote tracks as well, and ful­ly indulged in the Black music gen­res they had already been toy­ing with on Blondie’s Autoamer­i­can, like “Rap­ture” and “The Tide Is High.”

But here’s where it gets a bit weird, and every­thing goes off kil­ter. The choice for the album art and pro­mo­tion­al videos was H.R. Giger, the artist who had rat­tled movie­go­ers’ brains the pre­vi­ous year with his designs for Rid­ley Scott’s Alien.

The cou­ple had met Giger in 1980 at a recep­tion for his paint­ings at New York’s Hansen Gallery.
“There I was intro­duced to a very beau­ti­ful woman, Deb­bie Har­ry, the singer of the group Blondie, and her boyfriend, Chris Stein,” Giger said in an inter­view. “They were appar­ent­ly excit­ed about my work and asked me whether I would be pre­pared to design the cov­er of the new Deb­bie Har­ry album.”

Though he didn’t know the group–Giger pre­ferred to lis­ten to jazz–he agreed to the cov­er and to the pro­mo videos, even direct­ing when the orig­i­nal direc­tor didn’t show.

The album cov­er is prob­a­bly bet­ter known than the music inside, and no won­der: it fea­tures Harry’s face pierced hor­i­zon­tal­ly by four spikes. Her expres­sion is ambigu­ous, pos­si­bly ecsta­t­ic. It was in one way a throw­back to Giger’s oth­er famous record cov­er, the one for Emer­son, Lake, and Palmer’s Brain Sal­ad Surgery. But the cov­er also would see its influ­ence in films like Hell­rais­er, the rise of what was called the “mod­ern prim­i­tive” move­ment, and help cul­ti­vate the dark masochis­tic char­ac­ter Har­ry would play in David Cronenberg’s Video­drome. It was a feel­ing that would flour­ish in the deca­dent ‘80s.

Har­ry wrote about this in Heavy Met­al mag­a­zine, which often fea­tured the artist, say­ing “Giger’s work has a sub­con­scious effect: it engen­ders the fear of being turned into met­al.”

The cov­er was a taster for more men­ac­ing things, how­ev­er. It’s the videos where Har­ry goes full Giger. First of all, the blonde hair is gone, replaced by black. And Giger puts Har­ry in a body­suit, half flayed-human, half machine. The music videos are sim­ple, per­for­mance based, though the sun­ny, allur­ing Har­ry has dis­ap­peared and a pro­to-Goth being has tak­en her place.

But that leaves us with the music, which one has to admit, is com­plete­ly unsuit­ed for this design. If Har­ry had made an album clos­er to Danielle Dax, for exam­ple, then we might have seen one of the odd­est mid-career shifts in ‘80s music. Instead the com­mer­cial flatlin­ing of the album threw Har­ry off-track, while Giger went on to be the go-to album artist for met­al and punk bands, from the Dead Kennedys to Blood­bath.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Blondie’s Deb­bie Har­ry Learned to Deal With Super­fi­cial, Demean­ing Inter­view­ers

Watch Iggy Pop & Deb­bie Har­ry Sing a Swelli­gant Ver­sion of Cole Porter’s “Did You Evah,” All to Raise Mon­ey for AIDS Research (1990)

Hear Deb­bie Harry’s Stun­ning Ethe­re­al Vocal Tracks from “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” “Rap­ture,” and “One Way or Anoth­er”

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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