Talking with Cherie Currie
on the phone is easy. What's not easy is fitting several lifetimes' worth of crazy days and recovery into 50 years in this planet. Who would ever dream of attaining the level of success that she achieved by 17 years old, only to leave it all behind?
No matter how many times her story has been told and re-told, Currie always has another revelation, another anecdote, another harrowing admission that adds to the myth of the Runaways and the triumph of her redemption story. Her book Neon Angel: Diary of a Runaway
documents her life before, during and after her time with the teen rockers, and it inspired Floria Sigismondi's film The Runaways
earlier this year. Nowadays, Currie is healthy, happy and making chainsaw wood art in the San Fernando Valley, but the call of the stage has brought her back once again.
She and her new band (including her son, guitarist Jake Hays) will perform August 11 at the OC Fair at the Pacific Amphitheatre
in Costa Mesa, supporting her former bandmate Joan Jett
. “I am very proud of the Runaways and all we achieved. It was genuine, from the heart and gut. I'm not sure there will ever be an all-girl band like it,” says Jett.
OC Weekly (Danielle Bacher): You met Kim Fowley and Joan Jett at the Sugar Shack with your twin sister Marie. They approached your sister about being the lead singer of the Runaways and she declined, but you jumped at the chance. Why?
My sister and I are very different. Marie has always been very grounded and I've always had my head in the sky. I went to the a David Bowie
concert at Universal Amphitheatre for the Diamond Dogs Tour
, and I had a revelation when I was standing in the audience. When I saw him and I thought, “This is what I have to do, this is what I want to do, this is what I am meant to do.” It was literally like a lightning bolt. A few weeks later, they asked me to join. It was a sign. Of course, I jumped at the chance!
You appeared the cover of Creem and Circus magazines, you toured the world and were some of the biggest rock stars in Japan at the time you played there. You were even slated to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. What made you decide to leave the band at the peak of its popularity?
I was offered the cover of Rolling Stone
two weeks before I left the band. I turned it down because I knew it would be the demise of the band. There were a lot of fights about who was getting the most publicity at the time, especially with Lita Ford
. I called and begged Rolling Stone
not to put me on the cover, and they didn't. First of all, we didn't have a break in years. We were unhappy with each other, we lost communication and we were uncomfortable. You know? I was tired. Lita was fighting with me at this photo session one day, and she kicked in a door and threatened me. It was just enough. It pushed me over the edge and I left.
You were pretty sick while touring because you were pregnant. Was it hard for you to have an abortion at 16 years old?
My god, it was such a horrific thing to happen at any age. It was horrible and came out of left field. I never thought that is was even a possibility. I never dreamed of something like that happening. To this day, it still bothers me.
Do you regret the decision you made?
Well, I can say I regret it because I think I was too young. What can I say? It's a done deal. Having Jake and seeing what a remarkable child he is–well, he's not really a child, he's going on 20–you think about those things. It will stay with me forever.
Before the Runaways, you had never left California. Was it a culture shock to travel to all these foreign countries? Do you look back and think sometimes that it was all just a dream?
Yes, I do! [laughs] It was a culture shock. I didn't like Europe because it was dark all of the time. The sun was shining maybe one or two days the entire tour that lasted about a month and a half, but it really felt like forever. I'm a Southern California girl, and I needed the sunshine. I was also very homesick. But, Japan was totally different. I loved it there and I cried when we left. I wanted to stay longer. It was a whirlwind, like we were in a hurricane going from one place to the next.
You were bona fide superstars in Japan when you arrived to tour there. Why do you think the Japanese embraced the Runaways so strongly?
I think the Runaways stood for everything the Japanese girls wanted to stand for. The Japanese women have always been oppressed in a way, and we were standing up there doing rock & roll which didn't happen there at the time. It was a movement for women to stand up and be recognized. Even the men hadn't seen anything like that before–it was a phenomenon for them.
You talk about abuse and erratic behavior on the part of Kim Fowley in your book. Did things start out this way, or did the success and attention the group receieved make him more extreme as time wore on?
Kim has always just been that way, right from the get-go. He was very eccentric and verbally abusive. I look back on it now after having extensive conversations with him over the last couple of years, and he admitted that he didn't know how to handle a bunch of teenage girls. That made things easier to understand. How could he? He had never been a father and had absolutely no paternal instinct. He was very much a loner and and it was a very difficult time. That's all I can say.
Why did you still work with Kim after you left the band?
I had a contractual obligation to do one more record with him. The Beauty's Only Skin Deep album—which is really the worst album that was recorded in history–was put together in a matter of a week or two. Then, I was contractually done with Kim.
You guys were touring and selling records, but made almost no money. How badly were you ripped off?
Oh my god, I don't even want to think. If I knew the actual figures, I think I would have a fit. [laughs] Even when we were selling out in huge venues in Japan, when we got home he cut us each a check for about $,200-1,700, and that was it. We never made any money. He would give us $20 here or there. That's why we sued Kim and the record company because we never saw a dime of anything up until Kenny Laguna and Joan Jett insisted that we sue.
You only released one solo album and one album with Marie. Why did you leave the music world for so long?
I should not have made that album with my sister. I really should have gone for my solo career at that time. My sister was having problems working at Pup 'N' Taco and I felt obligated to do that. My sister thought she wanted to be in the music business, but when she was in it, she didn't want it anymore. When she walked away from the record deal and then they dropped me, she went off in her married life and had kids. I could hardly live with what I had done, and I let the drugs take over. I was very upset that I let myself do that record. At that time, I thought it had ruined my career and my drug addiction got worse and worse. Basically, I took myself out of the business to do drugs.
You've been through rehab for freebase cocaine addiction. Has this experience shaped who you are now?
Absolutely. That was the darkest time that I think anyone could experience. What I really loved about coming out the other side of it was that I went to work at a mall for minimum wage and I had people recognize me. I wanted to just be normal and know what that was like–I craved it. It was really a great experience for me and I'm continuing on with that experience. I married Robert Hays and we have a son together. Even though we are divorced, he is my best friend. I've also been a chainsaw artist for the last ten years now. I've been out in the work force just like everyone else. I've been able to see both sides of being popular and just being able to be.
When you were about 21, you were on The Dinah Shore Show to promote the Messin' With the Boys album. Your father was extremely sick in the hospital from alcoholism. What was that like to go through?
It was terrible. Alcohol and drug addiction affect the people around you. It's hard to see someone you love wasting away from this horrible disease. The disease is so powerful that you feel like you can be an addict and be normal. I have the death of my father to prove to me over and over again. As tragic and horrible as it was, it helps to keep me sober.
You lost your virginity as a result of rape by your sister's boyfriend. How did that affect you sexually?
I needed to be angry at that time to have the balls to be in the Runaways. It turned me from being the happy valley-surfer girl into an angry punk-rocker. That's how I acted out. I really had this vision of falling in love and having sex, and that was stolen from me. You really only have that once. In the end, I got over it. You should never let something like that hold you back.
Did you think at 20 years old that you would live to see 50?
Hell no–I didn't. [laughs] In my early-20s, my drug addiction was at it's highest peak and I was really going down quick. But, I really didn't care. Then, that one moment of clarity happened and it all turned around when I realized I was going to die. That moment I made a choice: to live. I'm sure glad I did. With my life and my son, and all the wonderful experiences I've had–I never would have had that, if I had not made that choice to stop doing drugs. That's why my book is so important to me. As bad as it might look, it's never that bad. You can always turn your life around. I'm living proof of that.
What was it like reuniting with Joan Jett to re-record songs for the movie?
It was like time stood still. We went in the studio and sang the songs like we did 35 years ago. We didn't miss a beat. It was great to see the look on her face–she was so excited and happy. It brought us back to all the great times we had in that band. It was really a healing experience. Even when I left the Runaways, I had no idea Joan was upset. I thought she wanted me out of the band. Through this film, I learned it was the opposite and that she was very upset when I left. I couldn't listen to the Runaways music for 20 years because I missed Joan, the friendship that we had on the road and what we had accomplished. For it to come full circle and be in the studio again–all that time just fell away.
Why didn't you think Joan wanted you in the band any longer?
There was a lot of problems in Japan with the book that came out. There was a photo shoot that Kim had set up. He told me that all the members were going to have a private photo session, but, it was only me. I would have never done it otherwise. When the book came out on the road, I was shocked and hurt. It really ticked off the girls and drove a wedge between us. They thought I was an opportunist and it was the farthest from the truth. There was a lot of tension and no communication. Without communication things fall a part. If we would have had one discussion or band meeting to get everything on the table, I probably wouldn't have left. That's history.
Everyone seemed jealous of one another. Why wasn't there any communication between the band? Was it partly Kim's fault?
We had no management. When we were on the road, our tour manager was evil. He was more of a trouble maker than he was a caring human being. We all needed therapy and had no one keeping us together. Kim was constantly belittling us and our self-esteem was very low. We needed adult supervision to help us sort out our problems and talk about it.
It's been quite some time since you've played with Joan live. How do you feel about sharing a bill in Orange County with her after so long?
It's a miracle. This entire thing is a miracle. I've been on stage with Joan a few times. A year ago, she had me come up and perform “Cherry Bomb” and “You Drive Me Wild.” But to actually do a full set, it will be a historic night.
In the movie, there was a scene where it depicted you and Joan hooking up. Did this really happen?
Yeah. In the mid-'70s, that was what was going on. Bisexuality, cocaine and quaaludes was the thing. There was a lot of experimentation going on and Joan was my best friend. We were just friends and roomies on the road, and we had a lot of fun together.
Do you plan to play together at the OC Fair?
Well, I'm opening for her. We haven't really discussed if we are going to be on the stage at the same time. We might be.
You are in a band with your son Jake. What is it like to perform with him?
It's amazing! Drummer Matt Sorum
from Velvet Revolve
r and Guns 'N' Roses
plays with us and he's a phenomenon. He is the band leader and Jake is a part of it. It was really neat because Matt had met Jake when he was a younger boy. Matt was nervous that Jake wasn't going to be able to pull it off in the band. After the first rehearsal, he turned around and said, “My god this kid is amazing.” It was such a relief! He's been playing guitar everyday since her was 14, so all that work paid off. To be honest with you, I'm 50 years old and I don't foresee myself having a musical career. Miracles happen, but the fact that I have an opportunity to show the talent of my kid is such a blessing. He has more talent in the tip of his finger then I have in my entire body. Jake is going to be going somewhere in music–I'm just happy to be on stage performing with him and Matt.
You've been in movies like Foxes, Wavelength, Parasite and Twilight Zone: The Movie. What made you get into acting, and what is your favorite performance in your filmography?
was my favorite. I did a show down in Huntington Beach at an old club that doesn't exist anymore called the Golden Bear. While I was playing there as a solo artist, I was approached by Dennis Brody from the William Morris Agency
. He came up to me and said, “What do you think about acting?” and I said, “Well, sure.” I considered myself a performer, so why not? Rock 'n' Roll High School
was the first gig he sent me out on and Foxes
was the second. I got both parts–but chose Foxes
. Next thing I knew, I was doing a movie with Jodie Foster. Again, had my drug addiction not been what it was, I don't know where my life would be today. I'm not complaining because I have a wonderful life and everything happens for a reason.
What inspired you to take up chainsaw carving as an art form?
I was a relief carver for about a year and I was driving to the beach one day over to Malibu, and I saw these two guys chainsaw carving at the side of the road. I didn't stop, but I couldn't get it out of my mind. You know that voice in your head that tells you to turn left, turn right? That really important voice that we all have wouldn't leave me alone. The following weekend, I walked into their gallery and saw beautiful mermaids and sea-life. This voice in my head said, “You can do this.” I talked to the owner that day, and he looked at my artwork and hired me. My third piece (three sea turtles swimming) was accepted into the Malibu Art Festival
–which is impossible to get into. That's when I knew that I actually had a talent carving.
Did you keep in close contact with the rest of the Runaways after the band broke up?
and I stayed very close, all the way until her death. Any time we were on stage together, we were at our best. She made me a better performer. Lita and I reconnected 13 years ago when she wanted to do a reunion. When everyone else was on board, she walked away from it. That definitely put a strain on our relationship. Jackie Fox
was in contact with me here and there, but she fell out of the contact as well. The movie put a strain on our relationship because she wasn't very helpful. For the last 20 years, I've been going to Joan's shows because I love watching her perform.
Do you see a reunion of the Runaways happening at all?
Lita has problems with Kenny Laguna
. Every time he thinks everything is fine, it isn't. The balls in her court. Now I think it's to the point where Joan isn't even interested anymore, simply because Lita is unpredictable. We never know, she says one thing and does another. I think if Lita actually said “Let's all get along,” it would happen. But, I have no idea what's going on in Lita's head. I definitely do think it's still possible.