Metamorphosis–The fortuitous pairing of Alien artist H.R. Giger and Blondie’s Debbie Harry

Review by C.J. Bunce

It may seem odd or unlikely, but it actually made a lot of sense.  At the Academy Awards in 1980, H.R. Giger took home the Oscar for his groundbreaking sci-fi horror designs on Ridley Scott’s movie Alien.  But before he actually went home, he stopped off in New York City, where he took that Oscar to an art museum show of his work.  That show was attended by Deborah Harry and Chris Stein, lead singer and guitarist for the four-time Billboard #1 punk band Blondie.  Harry was looking for an artist for her first solo album and Giger signed up instantly, infatuated with the beautiful musician.  It was a match of rock and sci-fi, something the MTV generation had seen everywhere from a Dire Strait famous music video to David Bowie’s Starman and Major Tom and nearly everything about Devo.  Merging sci-fi and rock just made sense.

Chris Stein documented the meetings he and Harry had with Giger along with the creation of the album cover and two videos for Harry’s 1981 debut solo album Kookoo, and he’s put them together in the new book H.R. Giger: Debbie Harry–Metamorphosis: Creating the Visual Concept for KooKoo, a rare and incredible find, a coffee table art book for fans of sci-fi and rock history available now here at Amazon.

It helps to know that Debbie Harry already was plugged into the 1970s art scene, the subject of artworks by Andy Warhol, and as friends he shared with her the idea of opening your mind to new types of art.  H.R. Giger had already created artwork for an album for the band Emerson, Lake, & Palmer.  As we discussed in our review here at borg of the documentary Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World, Giger didn’t leave his designs at his office, but lived in a home that was a museum of horror and fantasy, including every iteration of his dark visions in every medium from paintings to sculpture.  Think Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters, but much darker and creepier.

The artwork for Harry’s 1981 debut solo KooKoo album cover was deemed so frightening it was originally banned on the London Underground.  The fantastical music videos for two of the tracks on the album, “Backfired” and “Now I Know You Know,” co-star Giger himself as a sci-fi wizard/magician–something straight out of Logan’s Run, The Black Hole, or Planet of the Apes–piercing an Egyptian sarcophagus.  His star was a newly brunette Harry re-imagined as a cross between a Xenomorphic Giger monstrosity, the Bride of Frankenstein, and the legendary borg creation of Metropolis.

Chris Stein’s photographs and words provide a unique time machine to 1979-1981.  As Harry’s then-boyfriend, partner, and long-term collaborator, his insight is perfect for such an unusual chronicle (Harry and others provide recollections in the book, also).  With an introduction by Debbie Harry, the book is a must for fans of Blondie, the punk rock scene, science fiction history, and all things 1980s.  You can see how Harry’s album fit into the history of the marriage between rock and sci-fi, especially seeing its legacy a few years later when Anjelica Huston would dress as another Frankensteinian, beautiful cybernetic being in Michael Jackson’s 3D rock movie Captain EO.

Here are the two music videos created by the Giger and Harry collaboration:

Dismissed for decades by the mainstream art scene for Giger’s popular status in Hollywood, Alien indeed made Giger famous just as Giger made Alien famous.  He also created the famed Alien bars, one shown in the film, and a museum that bears his name, run by his family.  Stein’s photographs expands on the previously released peeks into Giger’s lavish, fabulously creepy home, built like an old abandoned grotto, centered around Giger’s horror paintings and statues, complete with dark corridors, and those eerie squeaky doors and stairs of a recluse’s hovel in a vine-covered corner where the artist acknowledged being scared by his own Alien creature while walking at night in the dark.  His “biomechanik” artwork, sculptures, and storage drawers are wall-to-wall, his book collection haphazardly stacked on shelves and in the bathtub, (real) skulls are tucked into nooks and crannies, a set of doors inside the modest front door is covered with paintings of his trademark human-alien hybrid characters, and an Academy Award is filed between dusty objects on another shelf.  A mini-train ride through the vines outside the house take visitors on a haunted house ride through birth, life, and death.  This is a haunted house, but devoid of spirits.  Ray Bradbury’s attic in every way, only it wasn’t.  It was Hansruedi Giger’s house.  And Chris Stein provides a new look at it from the perspective of two Americans living with Giger there for a few weeks in 1980.

It’s a unique chronicle of a unique event and a glimpse into the creativity of two icons of the 1970s and 1980s.  Highly recommended,  H.R. Giger: Debbie Harry–Metamorphosis: Creating the Visual Concept for Kookoo is available now here at Amazon.  Don’t miss it.

Leave a Reply