Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cherie Currie: The Runaways

You can't always control the situations you find yourself in, but you can control how you react to them. This is a lesson that Runaways frontwoman, singer and rock & roll icon Cherie Currie learned the hard way.

After a chance meeting with vocalist/guitarist Joan Jett and demented pop n' rock Svengali Kim Fowley (a producer whose credits at the time included the novelty hit "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa"), Currie found herself at the eye of the storm that was The Runaways at age fifteen. The year was 1975, and the male-dominated industry was keen to dismiss the fledgling Los Angeles-based all-girl quintet (which, during Currie's tenure with the group, featured Lita Ford on lead guitar, Jackie Fox on bass, and the late Sandy West on drums).

Under the guidance (or, it could be argued, misguidance) of Fowley, who was a formidable taskmaster, the girls relentlessly rehearsed until they were a beyond tight unit and a force to be reckoned with. Creatively and musically, Fowley's berating and bullying - his primary motivational tactics - paid off. Over the course of the next two very hectic years The Runaways would leave an indelible mark on the music industry, smashing the misconceptions of those who ever doubted that women could rock.

Though Jett thrived on the challenges laid down by Fowley, his abrasive divide and conquer management style took an emotional toll on the more vulnerable Currie, who had never sung before and was the product of a recently very broken home. Ultimately the band was torn apart by the festering resentment fostered by Fowley; the tragedy of The Runaways' considerable legacy being that they stopped far short of their true potential.

Post-Runaways Currie's career was like a leaf blowing in the wind, succumbing to forces beyond her influence. Fowley shaped her first unfulfilling solo album, and pressure exacted by her father turned the second into an ill-fated family affair, with Currie's unseasoned twin sister Marie sharing vocal duties - and creative input.

While recording this second album, Currie also bagged her first acting role, starring opposite Jodie Foster in a film called Foxes. Though not a huge commercial success, Foxes, Foster - and Currie - received very favorable reviews. However accomplishment in this one area was not enough to save Currie from herself. Mourning the loss of her rock & roll dreams, Currie, who had been a casual cocaine user, sought solace in drink and highs from freebase.

Her addiction killed her career and threatened to do the same to her being. After hitting rock bottom, Currie fought to get her life back on track. Having learned how to make healthier choices on her road to recovery, Currie turned addiction on its head and became a drug counselor. Continuing the healing process, she subsequently wrote a book about her experiences with The Runaways, and her journey to the edge and back. Published in 1989, Neon Angel was considered to be an instant classic in the rock biography genre.

Over two decades later, the book serves as the backbone to the highly anticipated biopic about The Runaways, which stars Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. However the film is far from the final word on Currie's story. The original version of Neon Angel was published by a family-orientated company looking for a vehicle to launch a new young adult literary division. Though well received, the nature of the teen orientated book meant Currie had to skip several key chapters in her own story. As a companion to The Runaways film Currie is therefore releasing a more definitive, completely revised and re-written version of Neon Angel. In it, among other things, she talks for the first time about a childhood rape and a harrowing knifepoint kidnap ordeal that happened several years later.

Currie has taken on many roles during her dramatic and varied life - trailblazing woman of rock, actress, drug addict, drug counselor, author, chainsaw artist, wife and mother - but perhaps the most important of all is that of survivor. I caught up with Currie at a recent film junket for a one-on-one chat about The Runaways, redemption, and forgiveness.

Read the exclusive interview with Cherie Currie at

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