Debbie Harry


- H. R. G I G E R

The Koo Koo art by Giger represents a great deal to Debbie and myself. A period of time in the course of fresh ideas, breaking through the stale shell that crusts over the arts, ideas always rejected before being embraced, the schizophrenic relationship of the artist to society, the reaction of the media (all too often subject to the identity crisis of people or things close to creativity) which frequently considers itself an art form rather than the buzzing of so many angry insects biting a fresh bit of prey (though perhaps a poor analogy, bugs being a superior form to most journalists).

The happy time watching Giger work up close as he plunged into the project never considering for a moment the crass commercial way "Album Art" is presented (would Goya or Bosch do record jackets for musicians they admired?) Many things. The record itself, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, more masters, everyone confident of the breakthrough nature of the project which of course was virtually ignored by all but a select few devoted fans and media elite, the image of Debbie's face pierced (Brian Aris' photo painted by H.R.) not being allowed on the walls of the London underground.

So now let us consider what myself and other "Artists" are always moaning about, again, the wall of bureaucracy that surrounds the art world always getting higher and wider will it ever be breached and as I always say, the businessman shark succeeds in the arts and the artists cut off their ears."

Chris Stein, 1991

My second trip to America, which I made in the company of Mia, my wife at the time, gallery owner Bijan Aalam, and my manager, had in its purpose the Academy Award nomination of Ridley Scott's film, Alien. On the return trip from California we made a stop in New York City and stayed at the Chelsea Hotel. Due to the lack of a safe, the freshly conquered Oscar had to spend the night in a refrigerator.

The next morning we visited the Hansen Gallery on 57th Street,

Which was showing an exhibit of my Alien paintings. There I was introduced to a very beautiful woman, Debbie Harry, the singer of the group Blondie, and her boyfriend, Chris Stein. 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. I found both of them immediately likeable; so I readily agreed and was greatly pleased to be allowed to create something for such an attractive woman, although I had never heard anything from the group. This was due to the fact that I was more interested in jazz.

They invited me to their apartment, which made upon me the impression of a furniture warehouse, that was only passable through narrow, dark walkways, but held much promise. They both felt very at home in their nest but were planning to move to a single, four story house. During this visit Debbie explained that she had had enough of Blondie, had colored her hair brown, and wanted to pursue a solo career, using the name Debbie Harry, singing with the black group "The Sheeks". I asked exclusively for a few black and white front portrait photos. When I was back in Switzerland, I picked up some excellent shots (from Brian Aris) in which Debbie wore her hair combed sharply back. Since I had just had acupuncture treatment from my friend and doctor, Paul Tobler, the idea of the four needles came to me, in which I saw symbols of the four elements, to be combined with her face.

I submitted the suggestions by phone to Debbie and Chris. They liked the idea and, in addition, they commissioned me to make two videoclips (music videos) of the best songs. For the title of the album I had thought of something like "Akku Akku," calling to mind (Thor) Heyerdahl. From that Debbie made Koo Koo. Conny de Fries, who had already finished the models of the needles, took over the work on the set décor and special effects of the clips. Then, on the day of the filming, the director did not show up, so with the help of the cameraman/editor, Urs Thoenen, I took over the directing and production. Thus the cover and clips came into being while Debbie and Chris took a vacation in Switzerland.

H.R. Giger, 1991

Debbie Harry (Blondie) during the video production of the
"Koo Koo" project in Switzerland. Photo: © 1981 Chris Stein

The Talented Mr. Giger
By Romy Ashby

I was introduced to H.R. Giger by Chris Stein at the opening of the Giger Room at New York's Limelight club. Chris has known him for years, and has one of Giger's skull chairs in his house.

To me Giger seemed very mysterious and fragile and remarkable all at once. I was too awestruck to say anything, so I just shook his hand.

Thinking that this hand had created the Alien monster, which I first saw in
Japan at a big cinema, wearing my high school uniform. Japan flipped over Alien, and there was a special program printed to go with the movie. I've been a fan ever since.

Chris Stein's house is itself a museum of horror and curiosities, with the Gigerchair right in the middle of a sort of wonderful chaos. When I called him to talk about Giger, he had just come from the Forbidden Planet, where he bought a bunch of knockoff biomechanoids made in China. 

None of those would have ever happened, he says, if not for Giger.
Over the years he's always spoken so warmly of the artist, with so much
admiration, I hardly knew where to begin with my questions.

Meeting the alien's father

"Debbie [Harry] and I met him right after he won the Academy award for Alien," Chris says. "The original prints of the Alien artwork were on display around the country, so we went to the gallery in New York and by coincidence he was there and we met him. We brought him over to the house, and we've been friends ever since, pretty much."

As part of that friendship, Giger produced art and directed a video -- he is credited for "concept and design," among other things -- for Debbie Harry's 1978 solo debut album, Kookoo.

"The idea to do Debbie's record and the video was kind of mutual," Chris remembers. "It just came up. He actually did paint on her face, I think, but I don't really remember, you'll have to ask her."

Chris bemoans Giger's lack of recognition in the "serious" art

"What happens with guys like Giger and Robert Williams is that once they have an association with Hollywood or with cartoons or any kind of sci-fi fantasy art, they lose a lot of connections with the real art world, which is really pathetic," he says. 

"Especially for Giger, because he has been such a major influence on modern style in general, in art and design and style. . . . Giger should be in the [Museum of] Modern [Art]. It's really crazy, and a perfect example of what happens to artists in this society, because the guy should be a multimillionaire billionaire and he isn't."

Stylistic plunder and a surprise word from John Hurt

Chris is convinced that Giger's brand of xenozoology has infected the world, reaching fevered levels.

"I'd like to see someone even vaguely compile how many versions of the Alien are floating around the world in models and stuff," he says. "There must be close to 100,000 -- little toys, things. All the Japanese horror comics just plunder his style."

"Some stuff is a direct rip-off, some of it not so direct, but it's his mentality. It's all stuff that he did first. After the first Alien movie came out, the Bally Pinball Company made an Alien pinball machine without even asking him. When he tried to make an issue of it, they gave him two pinball machines."

While I'm sitting there plugging in what Chris is saying, Debbie calls. I tell her I'm transcribing Chris talking about Giger and she says she ran into John Hurt the night before at the Oscars.

"You know, he was the one who had the Alien pop out of his chest," she says. "We talked about Giger, and he told me that he had visited Giger's house and seen his garden and the little train, and just how wonderful and macabre it was."

Giger was involved with an abortive early attempt to film
Frank Herbert's Dune. Harkonnen designs like these are now

Airbrushed by Giger

"Did Giger actually paint your face?" I ask, wanting to know about Debbie's experience being a live piece of Giger art. Advertisements bearing that cover image were banned in England.

"Yes," she says. "For some things he painted on photographs, but for the video he used different stencils and an airbrush and he painted my face. I wore a painted body suit. So, yes, I was airbrushed by Giger!"

Nowadays, Giger's artwork is mostly sculpture, with countless other projects in the works.

The artist must work constantly in order to create so much. When I ask Leslie Barany, his agent, whether he ever rests, Barany says "there is very little else in his life" except work.

"Which to some people might sound strange," he continues. "But to him or to me or other knowing artists, it's not strange at all. He has no social life, he hardly ever did. He doesn't leave the house for any real reason that's not work-related. "

Photographs by Chris Stein were taken in 1981 during the filming of the videos, 
“Now I Know You Know” and "Backfired", with artwork and direction by H.R. Giger.

Link to Official Blondie Website