Before heading to The Runaways red carpet premiere in NYC, I was lucky enough to interview Cherie Currie.
From lead singer of the first all female rock group, The Runaways, to Hollywood actress and celebrated chainsaw artist – Cherie has never lived a “normal” life, but she has certainly lived…
It was unsurprising then that eventually Cherie’s life would be picked up by Hollywood and her “memoir of a Runaway” book, Neon Angel, become adapted for the big screen as the critically acclaimed The Runaways, starring Dakota Fanning (as Cherie) Kristen Stewart and with former band mate, Joan Jett as the executive producer.
Talking candidly about everything from the glitter and grit of the days on the road, to the dark demons of drugs and sexual abuse – Cherie waded through and came up as determined as ever, proving no less spirit or spark than of the original Cherry Bomb!
LB: Thanks for taking the time to talk! You must be rushed off your feet, especially with so much you must have going on right now – The Runaways movie and your book it was based on, Neon Angel…
CC: It’s pretty much like being sucked into a hurricane but in a good way – no matter whether it’s the eye or the coming or the going, I don’t care this was so totally unexpected and so gratifying that I’m just grateful for all of it.
LB: Was The Runaways movie at all expected or something you’re planned to do?
CC: No. For some God forsaken reason, in 2000 I’d re-read the book, the original that came out in 1989 that Neil (Shusterman) wrote – brilliant writer, really wonderful – and I don’t know whether it was a matter that I had a kid but, I wanted to tell the story that Price Stern Sloan [the publishers] weren’t comfortable telling and for some reason I just started writing.
I’d brought it up to present time 10 years ago, my marriage and infidelity with Robert Hays just all the sh… *ahem* stuff I’d done and been through since The Runaways and Kenny [Laguna] read it and thought it was worthy of publication. So he started shopping the book to different publishers and he found some resistance – people still weren’t quite ready for The Runaways. They didn’t get it and they didn’t think we were worthy of the notoriety we girls worked for – the recognition.
Kenny met with Art and John Linson and they loved the idea of turning it into a film and it was a long process – four years – but once they got a hold of it and were writing the script and everything, you’re just along for the ride.
LB: What was it like to watch and relive your own story?
CC: There really aren’t words – it’s kind of like the feeling you have when you have your first child – it’s like indescribable. There are some things there just aren’t words for that would properly describe it – it’s absolutely the way I feel about this. It’s so incredible that my head still won’t wrap around it yet. It’s a dream come true… of the best kind – it’s like being reborn.
LB: Can you appreciate the bands’ experiences more looking back?
CC: It’s like trying on your favorite old jean jacket or your platform shoes – the ones you loved 30 odd years ago – you put them on and you‘re going to feel and love them the same as you did back then. [The Runaways are] associated with magical time in my life and I think the movie captures the 70’s and the times really well.
I think [the movie is] going to bring back the shag haircuts and platform shoes – it’s going to change style – it’s bringing back one of the greatest eras in music and decades in music, the 70’s and it’s really neat.
LB: Because you can’t fake the style, that’s for sure and what The Runaways did for music and style – specifically for women – do you think it continues to inspire against stereotypes?
CC: Well, that corset was my idea – I came up with that on my own and I saw that corset in a lingerie store across the street from the Starwood on Santa Monica Boulevard and I could not get my eyes off all the way from across the street. I’ll never forget seeing it in that window and going across the street and saying “I have to have that and I have to wear it for Cherry Bomb”. And I’m hearing that fashion designers are going to have corsets on the runway because of me – that’s just insane!
LB: Well, wearing something like that was really ballsy…
CC: It was unheard of! I don’t know where I got the guts but there was no stopping me when I saw that thing in the window - and I knew the girls weren’t going to be thrilled about, but I knew I had to – for that two and half minutes of time, just for Cherry Bomb, nothing else.
LB: You can still see the influence of that in pop culture with Madonna and even Lady Gaga…
CC: Everybody always got the credit for what The Runaways did ….
LB: But you guys started that – of course you guys get the credit for it?
CC: But a lot of people didn’t give us the credit – I’ve never heard Madonna mention my name or The Runaways ever!
LB: Well, people will now recognize it now with [The Runaways] movie coming out.
CC: I hope so *laughs* coz it used to bug the crap out of me!
LB: Well you should definitely claim it.
CC: I plan to *laughs* Thanks!
LB: Do you think there’s anyone now that can compare to being what The Runaways were?
CC: You know, I haven’t seen it yet. I’m not saying that is isn’t possible by any means, everything’s possible, but we’ll see. Hopefully this movie will inspire girls to get out there and do what they were meant do.
LB: I do think it’s waking people up to it again – the music as well as the attitude.
CC: Thank you! Thank you so much – that’s great to hear.
LB: Do you think current musicians take for granted using sex to sell music without the talent you guys had to back it up?
CC: Well, one thing I do want to say is that Cherry Bomb and that corset was two and a half minutes – all the other times wore jumpsuits which weren’t sexual – we were kids what kind of figure can you have a 16 years old? Lita [Ford] had a great figure – she was born with boobs *laughs* I’m joking, but she had a voluptuous body – I was a little stick with nothing.
We weren’t out there eluding sex – that wasn’t what it was. Cherry Bomb for that two and a half minutes of time, that was what that stood for – the corset was just two minutes – other than that we were wearing t-shirts and jeans or the lamee jumpsuit.We sang about sex and about what we were going through as teenagers – our music and the lyrics rang true to a lot of kids.
And it really insulted and intimidated a lot of guys and still there a lot of guys out there who say “those bitches sucked” – and those are the guys that can’t come to grips with the fact they’re insecure, because no one in their right mind can’t appreciate what we were doing, in one form or another.
We weren’t out there being blatantly sexual, being so hard core – we were true to ourselves – that cannot be mistaken. When you watch the videos you see there’s something real there – completely real – we weren’t putting on any act.
LB: It’s a tough thing to be the first people to do.
CC: We were figuring it out as we went along. All we knew was that this was a lot harder than we expected it to be and we got a lot more flack that we ever dreamed we would and we were put through absolute hell, which is what we did not expect. Especially from people in the same business we were in – they laughed until they saw the shows then they turned around and said “You know what you guys are really good – sorry.”
Like the band Rush – we were opening for them in CoBo, Detroit, in front of thousands of people and they were throwing papers on the stage and I nearly slipped on the paper onto Sandy [West’s] drum riser, and came so close to falling into the orchestra pit!
They were little boys, hiding behind the amp, throwing these sheets of paper for us to slip on – who does that? Totally immature, like bunch of babies – I’ve never forgiven them for that, I know Joan [Jett] hasn’t and I don’t think Sandy [West] had by the time she passed away.
I’d still like to kick that lead singer’s ass, to be honest with you. I don’t like his voice either I think he sounds like a whiny girl. Let me through some papers of the stage when they play… but I wouldn’t waste my money *laughs* I’m not bitter – it’s great that they were so wrong, I love it!
LB: Exactly! And as the lead singer, being so young and taking that head on and coming out the other side of that to go on and do successful things – including chain saw carving, which I didn’t know such art was possible – I heard you made a guitar for Dakota [Fanning’s] birthday?
CC: Thank you so much – yeah, I inlaid the whole thing with mother of pearl and the cherry out of coral. I wanted to make something super special and I made it to scale so that it was as close to the real thing that I could and put a lot of love into that.
It was the least I could do because I’m incredibly grateful to this girl, because she cared, it mattered to her – she’s one of the kindest, talented, truly good human being with a wonderful family for support – just a great family and I’m indebted to her because no one would have made me happier – no one.
And I just learned day before yesterday, they were talking about her when she was 12 to play the role and it took that long, by the film actually happened she was 15, the same I was when I joined The Runaways – it was just perfect!
Had I known that, I’d never have survived those four years – I’d have been “do you think Dakota [Fanning] would do it?!” – it would have driven me crazy because she’s my favorite actress – of all time.
But as far as how did I survive what The Runaways went through? I have tested the dark waters on numerous occasions – I didn’t get it right off the bat when I first got clean and sober – I didn’t get it! I’ve been in and out, figuring it out, but thank God I did figure it out.
I just never let it get that bad or never thought I couldn’t survive it. A lot of people don’t feel that way, a lot of people give up hope. I always had a glimmer of hope and you need that. I was very very lucky that I had the tenacity it took to be able to see through tragedy to fight my way back and reinvent myself numerous times and to realize I was never too good for anything.
Right after I left The Runaways and did films with Jodie Foster, Demi Moore and Robert Carradine and was working at the mall where I was recognized daily, working for minimum wage at a linen store. But I had to do that – for me. I wanted to experience that it was a way to ground myself, to get myself grounded and I needed that… I had to get back to good. The only way you can do that is to get out there and live life no matter what it is.
I was really proud that I did that, otherwise people give up or they think they have to be a star – “I’m a star I can’t do that” – you know what, grow up! You’re just a person like everyone else is a person and you’ve been lucky enough t be in this business as long as you have. A lot of people don’t have the guts to be real….
I hope this book shows people to just never give up hope – and fear is the worst emotion. When it comes to yourself don’t be afraid – if you feel in your heart that you’re supposed to do something, don’t listen to anyone because their dreams are not your dreams.
The only time I failed was when I allowed other people to dictate what I wanted to do or if I invited someone else because I was scared to do it alone.
If I did it on my own, like with this book, if I fail I’m OK with it, but I can never fail and blame someone else. That’s why with this book, I had to take the helm, even though I had a wonderful writer, Tony O’Neil, who would have written the entire book. I could’ve walked away and said “here’s the story” but I had to do it myself. I wrote every page and in my final editing I had hundreds and hundreds of pages which I had to put direct to paper. They had to hired six editors to work over the weekend to accommodate the edit and rewrites I’d put in that book and I told them if they didn’t make the changes, I didn’t want them to put out the book. If it’s a literary flop it’s all my fault – and I’m OK with that.
LB: Well, you have to take it on yourself if you’re doing it for you.
CC: Exactly – I’m not doing this to help others or for anyone’s careers – I’m doing this is my way to be honest, for the first time in my life. The first book there was so much self loathing going on there was so much guilt – “Well I’m just going to take the rap for everything–will that make it OK?” and I didn’t! Thirty years later it did not make it OK with them and it did not make it OK with me.
I had the opportunity to write from my heart and tell the truth, really is the biggest gift and in the end it was like I closed that door, that vault – boom! And I have absolutely no regrets… and I really did – I felt I cheated myself because I wasn’t being true to me. I was being true as a friend and a sister and everyone else to just say “hey I could take the rap for this – I could take the rap for all of this” but no more…
The only regret I had was that I had a boob job *laughs* I do! I had it back when… when I’d just written the first book and the only reason I did it was because I was insecure. Yeah they’re pretty but it also reminds me that I was insecure I didn’t think I was good enough the way I was – it’s an ear mark of insecurity – once things calm down, I’ll say goodbye to the sisters *laughs*it’s been a nice ride, see ya!
LB: So what’s left for you to do – what are your goals going forward?
CC: There’s always something. I’m going to continue with my chainsaw carving and I know I’m going to do some shows over the summer. I’d love to buy a cabin somewhere and hike in the mountains, be in the wilderness – I’m kind of a solitary person as it is.
I want to talk to kids in schools – I’m hoping this book will inspire people just to know it’s never that bad and you can survive anything and that’s my main focus in this book. It’s not “hey look at me!” it’s “look what you can do” and “if I can do it anyone can” and come out saying “that was really a trip – what an experience, good bad and ugly, what a ride”.
And I’m so glad I lived through it and I’m so glad I can be sitting on this phone with you, talking to you about how it’s like to come out the other side.
LB: “No regrets” is something I can only hope to have…
CC: Well, that’s something that comes with age *laughs* I don’t know how young you are – I never say how old you are – I rounded that corner and I’m not exactly sure when it happened and I just found myself forgiving everyone because I forgave myself.
I just got it, I got why things had happened and realized I wouldn’t have changed anything because then it wouldn’t have been the remarkable experience for me that is has been.
You’ll never hear me say “oh woe is me” ever! Even after the rape and the kidnapping… all I could see where people who didn’t make it and think “how lucky am I?” and I have to attribute that to my God and my loving family and my Mom, I’m very blessed – I’ve had a lot of love in my life… it just wasn’t me doing a lot of the loving until now… well until my son was born then everything changed.
I was married to Robert Hayes, and he’s ended up getting all the notoriety [for our son] – I’m his biggest fan and he’s my best friend, but it was great for Jake to see that I’m no slouch either *laughs*
LB: Well, thank you so much again for taking the time to talk.
CC: It’s my pleasure – please read the book – if you’re going to see [The Runaways] movie and if you haven’t read the book do because it really takes you on a whole trip like you wouldn’t believe and it’s extremely honest – I have no shame… so there! *laughs*
LB: It’s an inspiring story…
CC: Well, then I’m even more blessed than I thought.
Neon Angel by Cherie Currie with Tony O’Neil is available on Amazon from It Books, part of HarperCollins publishers.