Rockstars' Garage: Debbie Harry's cars

In 1979, the pop world was agog over a New Wave band fronted by an aggressive and slightly loopy blonde female singer known as Debbie Harry. The band was Blondie. Their hits were legion. From the breakthrough album "Parallel Lines" in 1978 alone they had "Hanging On the Telephone," "One Way or Another," Sunday Girl" and "Heart of Glass." Blondie's band accrued several more hit songs before the decade was over. It wasn't an easy road to the top. Blondie was formed after the fall out of Debbie's previous band, The Stilettos in the summer of 1974. Debbie Harry and her partner/collaborator, Chris Stein, were Stiletto band members but the girl fronted doo woop band wasn't having much success getting gigs, let alone a record deal.

Blondie was a new start, christened by the nick name passer bys always called Debbie. She liked it, thought it was catchy and suitable for the kind of music she envisioned the new band playing. The Punk rock scene from England was starting to affect New York City clubs and Blondie was hanging around with early fans of the music including Richard Hell, The Ramones and Television. Blondie also remained friends with the New York Dolls and The Magic Tramps who represented the Glam Rock scene. Through this entire period of transition and growth towards becoming major music stars. Debbie Harry drove a classic pony car; a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro coupe.

Of course back in the early 1970s, it was just a used car. Debbie described it as "an inheritance from her Mother." She didn't have enough money to properly take care of it and living in apartment buildings in the roughest part of New York City didn't do the car any favors. Debbie owned it from her arrival in New York in 1971 all through the Stiletto band era. She mentions the car in a poem she wrote during this time. Debbie's car contributed greatly to keeping body and soul together. She mentions how convenient it was to have transportation for gigs and the luxury of enjoying trips to the beach or Coney Island during the summer. The sport coupe was often parked on Washington Street in Tribeca in 1974. Debbie had to hustle the car around to avoid being towed by the city for vagrancy. It meant waking up at 6.30 AM to get out and move it before the tow trucks ambled down the street.Later on it spent time in the Bowery district and on 17th Street. Not real pleasant places for a car to be parked out doors.

From 1974 through 1977, Blondie rehearsed, did club dates at places like CBGB's, performed strings of one-nighters and eventually flew out to Los Angeles California for an important meet and greet with music legends, David Bowie, Ray Manzerek and record producers. They signed with Private Stock records and made a few albums before signing with Chrysalis Records. The band was often touring and they rented station wagons and Winnebagos for road trips as far away as Montreal, Quebec. For their tour of England, Blondie went by jet of course. the cold hard reality of traveling is bus, plane, tractor trailers or train. Blondie used all of those. The 1967 Camaro was used when Debbie was back in New York City, by this time living in 17th Street apartment which had suffered a terrible fire. The Camaro came through once more by providing a place to wait while Chris Stein opened the apartment windows to get rid of soot and gas fumes that had flooded their apartment in the Bowery. This near death by smoke and gas inhalation happened in wintertime at night. So a Camaro's heater was a very good thing to have!

All good things come to an end. Debbie's car was in poor health. The front end caved in from parking mishaps. The transmission was none too healthy and prone to miss shifts, failed on May 16th 1977 just before Blondie was to leave for their Tour in England. The front clutch pack had failed completely leaving just Reverse and Park. Debbie drove backwards down the Avenue of the Americas into a garage. Later that day Debbie had someone named Vinnie tend to the car and get it repaired while she was on tour. Blondie was in England from May to June 3rd. When they returned she asked what happened to the car. Vinnie said it was towed to a scrapyard for destruction as it was too far gone to repair. The scrapyard wouldn't take the car without an ownership title. Debbie didn't have it with her so the car was driven off a cliff. Debbie was sad to see that part of her life vanish. She wrote a song called "I'm On E"about it. So all those years fans listening to it thought it might have been about the club drug Ecstasy? Wrong, it was about her car! You really should've been listening to the lyrics. She mentions her car and trip to England, her loaning it to a guy named Vinnie, the repair bill.

Yes, about the car. Debbie's Camaro was a base model 1967 sport coupe. It had the standard interior door panels, bucket seats, AM radio with fixed antenna, full wheel covers, and a column shift transmission.I can't even tell you if it was a six cylinder or V8 because the one picture Debbie has of it she's parked her butt where the engine call out emblem is on the front fender. Although it was pushed off the edge of a cliff somewhere in New Jersey in 1977, I doubt it was left there for long.Most likely it was parted out and pieces of it are in other Camaro owner's cars. New Jersey is so fanatical about licencing issues that there's no chance of it being replated and driven in that State. It'd have to go back to New York or some other State to get a second chance at life. Only, who would bother with a used up Camaro in 1977? I think it's safe to assume this is another Lost Star Car. Somewhere in the fens of New Jersey.

The weird thing about Debbie Harry is a strange tie in with Marilyn Monroe.Debbie Harry was adopted. She didn't know her real parents. She had a strong liking for Marilyn. After her high school years, Debbie modeled and became a waitress in Max's Kansas City, a well known restaurant featuring lots of celebs and underground stars like Andy Warhol, Nico, Ultra Violet and Candy Darling. It's almost as if she was being groomed to enter a seamier 1960s version of the avante garde film world. Debbie quit the waitress gig not long after Woodstock's famous festival happened. She eventually returned to music making in NYC around 1972. She dyed her hair blonde. The World got to know Debbie Harry as Blondie, the New Wave Sex Goddess. Like Marilyn, Debbie posed for pictures in and around an awful lot of cars in the 1970s. This might lead some to think she owned them. These were for the most part, jolly japes taken for fun and as a punk rocker's version of tourist shots.

article copyright 2013 by Patrick Smith. Pictures by PHS Media Archives.