Tag Archive | Kim Fowley

Must Read Book: Neon Angel, A Memoir of a Runaway By Cherie Currie

“Neon Angels On The Road to Ruin…”

Few true tales have the power to compel and transport the reader quite like the life story of a bona fide Rock & Roll Survivor. Of Rock’s innumerable legends with stories worth telling, so many of them – Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison; the list is endless, really – never lived long enough to write their histories in their own words. And of those that have written autobiographies, no one ever really gets – or takes advantage of – the opportunity to go back and revisit his or her life on the written page, updating the tale or adding details that were perhaps forgotten or too painful to tell the first time around. Cherie Currie, former lead singer of the teenage all-girl rock band The Runaways is an exception to that rule. In 1989, Cherie published her autobiography, Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story. Admittedly unable to even read the book herself until 2000, Currie – now more than two decades on the right side of recovery from a drug and alcohol addiction (she had to get a private detox room in Sacramento) that nearly took her life – decided that her story needed to be brought up to the present, and that certain traumatic experiences she’d lived through as a young woman, but wasn’t yet ready to re-live in the book’s first installment, needed to be told. Serving as the source material for the new film The Runaways, Neon Angel has been updated and recently republished by It Books/Harper Collins as Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway. For any true rock fan, and even those who read the 1989 edition of Currie’s book, I would strongly suggest checking out the updated version, because it is a pretty wild ride.

Because Currie quit The Runaways after less than two years in the band, and considering that her post-Runaways music career failed to take off like that of her band mates Joan Jett and Lita Ford, who enjoy successful musical endeavors to this day, not many people even know what happened to Cherie Currie once she left the band. What makes Neon Angel such a great read is the authenticity and vulnerability with which Currie imbues her narrative. While she engages the reader with fantastic and vivid tales of rock stardom enjoyed as a member of The Runaways, playing to hysterical audiences wherever they went, having their pictures plastered in rock magazines all over the world and meeting their own rock heroes such as David Bowie and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, the true story of Cherie Currie’s time spent fronting this history-making band is far from all fun and games. Without parental supervision or even proper adult representation, and too naive about the music business to understand their basic legal rights, the girls were robbed blind by Kim Fowley, the producer whose vision for The Runaways was that they serve as his own personal money making-vehicle. Fowley’s verbal and emotional abuse was relentless and based on some of the stories in this book it’s difficult to understand why criminal charges were never brought against this scumbag. Beyond that, there are enough “lost weekend” style drug stories to scare anybody straight, including harrowing tales of times that Currie put herself in harm’s way while under the influence of drugs that make it difficult to believe that she even lived to share them.

Most importantly, Neon Angel takes you inside the world of a talented and driven fifteen year old girl who went to from being a high school student, listening to her favorite records in her bedroom and hanging out with her friends at the local dance club to being an international rock star all before she reached her 17th birthday. Thanks to Currie’s inviting and down to earth narrative voice, the reader can empathize with her personal triumphs and tragedies in a way that allows you to really “get” what it must have been like to walk in her shoes.

Serving as both a cautionary tale and an inspirational true-life page-turner, The Worley Gig gives Cherie Currie’s Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway Five out of Five Stars.

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Must See Movie: The Runaways

Runaways Poster

The biggest problem you generally encounter when Hollywood tries to make a movie about rock musicians is the overwhelming tendency to dilute reality and surrender to the cheese factor. Honestly, filmmakers have gotten it right exactly twice: first with Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap – a work of blindingly brilliant satire – and later with Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous; which, though a work of fiction, would be hard to top for its feeling of authenticity, in my opinion. When I heard that a film was in the works about the 1970s all-female teenage rock band, The Runaways, like most rock fans who were around at the time the band was actually together, I assumed it would suck outright. When The Runaways debut album came out in 1976, I was a 15-year-old Queen fan who attended school dressed like Freddie Mercury. Being entirely obsessed with Rock & Roll – glam rock especially – I totally related to this group of girl rockers who were just a year or two older than me at the time. When The Runaways were recording and touring, it was easy to assume that they must be having the times of their young lives: touring the world and rocking out, free of any parental supervision. The truth, as it has come to light over the years, was a bit different. The Runaways were forced to grow up fast; abused by their adult handlers, subject to sexual assault and heavily immersed in a drug culture most teenagers of that era couldn’t even imagine. How would Hollywood put a sheen that kind of gritty finish?

Dakota Fanning (Cherie Currie) and Kristen Stewart (Joan Jett) in The Runaways

Although not due for wide-release until April 9th, I saw The Runaways here in NYC yesterday and am delighted to report that it is an excellent film: overwhelmingly dark and brutally honest with nary a hint of cheese in the mix. A key to this film being so very good has to be the excellent casting. Both Kristen Stewart (whom I’ve always found to be a rather wooden, one-note actress) and Dakota Fanning are excellent in their roles as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, and Michael Shannon (who garnered an Academy Award nomination for his brief role as a mentally ill dinner guest in Revolutionary Road) deserves another Oscar nod for his spot-on portrayal of the Runaways’ sadistic manager/producer Kim Fowley. Beyond that, with the script being largely based on Currie’s autobiography, Neon Angel, and the film being executive produced by Joan Jett, I was afraid that The Runaways would portray the band as Cherie Currie, Joan Jett and three other nameless girls. While that is not entirely the case, it isn’t one hundred percent reality, either. The late Sandy West (portrayed authentically by Stella Maeve) has a decent sized part and Lita Ford (portrayed by actress Scout Taylor-Compton, who is the spit and image of the teenage Lita Ford) has more than a few lines. But the Runaways’ bass player is neither original bassist Jackie Fox (Fuchs) nor her replacement Vicki Blue (Victory Tischler-Blue) but a fictional character named Robin (portrayed by Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development fame).

That casting/scripting choice may have something to do with fact that Joan Jett completely shunned Edgeplay, Tischler-Blue’s excellent, revelatory 2005 documentary on the band, refusing to license even one Runaways’ song to the project. Perhaps the two former band mates have washed their hands of each other. Similarly Jackie Fuchs, now an attorney, refused to give the rights for her likeness to be portrayed in the film. Other than that one bending of reality, the only altering of a real life character is Cherie Currie’s identical twin sister, Marie, (portrayed by Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, Riley Keough) who seems to be playing a sister one or two years older than Cherie. I’d guess that was done to avoid obligating Dakota Fanning to play a dual role.

Again, it can be emphasized that The Runaways is primarily a vehicle for the rise of Joan Jett’s enduring career while simultaneously showcasing Cherie Currie’s downward spiral into a drug habit that took her a decade or more to kick. Dakota Fanning’s embodiment of Currie is remarkable and heartbreaking to watch, while Stewart literally becomes Joan Jett. Both actresses are just fantastic in their roles and should be very proud of their work in this film. Tons of Runaways’ songs infuse and enliven the excellent soundtrack, along with a good selection of Joan Jett’s solo work with The Blackhearts, as well as songs of the day such as Nick Gilder’s “Roxy Roller,” Suzi Quatro and vintage David Bowie. I can’t say enough good things about a movie that you should be putting on your “must see” list when it hits a theater in your town.

Living Things To Play The Ramones In Runaways Movie

Living Things

New York, NY, July 11
– St. Louis garage rockers Living Things are about to appear as one of their hero bands, The Ramones in the now-filming The Runaways, the biopic about the groundbreaking 70’s all-girl hard rock group led by Joan Jett. Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame plays Jett, with Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie and Academy Award-nominated actor Michael Shannon as the band’s “Svengali” Kim Fowley (excellent call).

In the scene, which is shooting this month, The Ramones are playing at Rodney Bingenheimer’s notorious English Disco nightclub in Los Angeles circa 1975. Living Things have already recorded a cover of “We’re A Happy Family” for the scene. In addition to having a useful resemblance in attitude to the punk progenitors, the band has a direct line into the production – singer Lillian Berlin (a guy) is the husband of the film’s writer and director Floria Sigismondi. “I love Joey Ramone,” said Berlin. “He is like the Elvis of punk. It’s a mystical, exotic vacation to step into his shoes for a moment.” The Runaways will hit theaters in 2010.