Chainsaws, “Cherry Bomb”, Drugs, Rock and Roll, Prague, and Learning From Experience, All Before the Age of 17.
The biographic film “The Runaways” tells the story of the band of the same name, the lead singer Cherie Currie (played by Dakota Fanning) was finally given her well deserved place in rock history. The Runaways were the first all-girl rock band, with legendary names Joan Jett and Lita Ford who are now veterans in their own right. These ladies took the world by storm and left a legacy still unmeasured. Currie’s new album “Blvds Of Splendor” with backup band consisting of Guns N’ Roses minus Axl, is still hard and edgy and a delight to listen to. She is a chainsaw sculptor and also helps young women to get clean from drugs. The movie held back nothing with the lifestyle, drinking, drugs, and her experimental lesbian relationship with bisexual band mate and ROCK QUEEN Joan Jett. All of this before she was even old enough to graduate from high school.
Today she tells story of great love and forgiveness. When talking about her love of the community she was furious, and I honestly thought she would reach through the phone and rip my throat out, that is how much she loves the LGBTQ community. Having lived through so much, she sees fear as nothing more than a tool of control, so she isn’t afraid of anything anymore.
The movie also shows a history that was not kind to their manager Kim Fowley, what he did to them was as legendary as the band themselves. Cherie told me a different side of that world, I learned what a beautiful heart she has. She speaks of forgiveness and love, and loyalty to friends, even if it all brought the worst out of you. She is a remarkable woman, with so many stories to tell. After you read this, just watch the movie (’cause it ROCKS) and her new album “BLVDS of Splendor” carries so much of this with it, you just have to give it one long listen.
Jeremy Hinks: How are you today Cherie?
Cherie Currie: Hey, it’s going great, it’s a gorgeous day, and I get to talk to you.
JH: I have to say this, the pleasure is all mine. I have not been this excited for an interview in a long time. You are quite a legend, and I am really happy to be talking to you, especially with the new material, and that you are still kicking it at 60, musically you have outlived so many and that is something to be proud of.
CC: Well, I am happy to be here talking to you now.
JH: Well, to start this whole thing off, I have a story to tell you.
CC: Ok, sure??
JH: In 2000, I was in a “Rock and Roll” themed restaurant pub in Prague, it was like a locally owned “Hard Rock Café.” The owner had guitars on the wall, posters, and some artifacts, and on the wall in a glass frame, there was the seven-inch single (the non-collector calls them a “45”) of “Cherry Bomb.” Then me being the greedy bastard vinyl collector that I am, I had to have it (a very rare collector’s piece that is worth a fortune to any junkie). I tried to offer the guy in the end $50 American for it, now this was $50 American in Prague 2000, so that was a lot of money. The guy refused, I tried for a while but he was not going to part with it. He then told me what the record meant to him.
In 1979, getting American Rock and Roll music in Cold War Prague was almost impossible. As a teenager he had saved up his cash and this guy would roll through a back alley in a van and sell American records. He saw that single “Cherry Bomb” and bought it, never having heard it. He said his life was changed forever, and life was all about American Rock and Roll after that. Because you could get arrested for listening to or even owning American music, they had underground music listening parties and play American records in the basement of that same pub. “Cherry Bomb” became a such a favorite, that they would play it sometimes 3 times a night . They knew NOTHING about the band, only the two songs on the record, and after a while, some girls put together their own “Runaways” tribute band. They made their own outfits to look like you, did their hair like you, and would lip-sync the songs. That was his little piece of rebellion against the Soviets, and there he is today, all because of the one record. And you had an underground tribute band in the Communist Block that knew only 2 songs, but you were their inspiration.
I wanted to tell you that story for so long, so you could know how influential you were. I hope that story made your day.
CC: Made my day? God Jeremy that made my life, really, aside from it being a cool story, it shows how important what we were doing was. I mean for them to risk their lives, and jail, just to listen to us, that is an amazing story to be a part of just through the music. That is fascinating and wonderful to me, his bravery is amazing.
JH: Yeah, risking jail, buying a record on the black market that changed his life. I’m smiling right now, ’cause I finally got to tell you that story. It’s all full circle.
CC: Thank you, that’s such a life-affirming story.
JH: Now the stuff you did with Brie Darling, I’ve been listening to that a lot lately. It’s pretty relevant at the moment. I’ve heard “For What It’s Worth” done a hundred different ways, by so many bands. I’ve heard folk, punk versions, even the Muppets version, and yours equaled Buffalo Springfield, It had a sense of real anxiety, I could feel it, and you gave this strong message of “I’m trying to warn you”. It might just be the situation we are in right now across the country that it resonates so well, but how did that one land on your list of songs to do? How does it feel now with that song out there?
CC: Brie and I were both asked what were our favorite songs growing up. We started with about 55 songs and whittled it down. Did we do it cause we thought we had some kind of crystal ball? No, but it is still as relevant as it was back then in the ’60s. Things haven’t changed a whole lot, politically, we should have been much further down the road than we are. There is still all this corruption and BS that is was the cause of it all back then, and now it’s very visible, and now we can hope that maybe they won’t get away with it anymore. That is the only bright side of all of this is that the people in power are finally seen and get the crap kicked out of them, it’s what they deserve.
JH: That is indeed the song for today, helps you navigate the situation. So, going back and forth, with your current band and lineup, I mean, all-star cast, Matt Sorum your working with him, and then everyone else he brought in. When I watched your video you did “Live at the Whiskey”, it was just phenomenal. I want to ask, do you feel like you are being taken more seriously now, than in the ’70s, when you were making your mark then?
CC: When we were in The Runaways, there was only really Suzi Quatro, we didn’t have any all-girl groups, we were venturing into uncharted territory and we got a lot of pushback by a lot of bands RUSH was one of them. But then we were embraced by Cheap Trick and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. But it was NEW, and we went through our own kind of discrimination in a way, but as I have grown older, I realized why that happened, we were sixteen and seventeen years old, we were KIDS. When my son Jake who is sixteen was offered to go on tour with his cousin Trevor whose father is Steve Lukather who married my twin sister and is in TOTO. They offered to take him on the road with them, and I said, “How would you like your ‘no’, fast or slow? It ain’t happening”. When I look at my kid at seventeen and I see him as a child. But again when you looked at us, on the surface, no one would have thought that we had any talent or that we could control a stage or audience. Even though I couldn’t watch the videos we did for twenty years after I left the Runaways, I was so hurt by it all but now I can watch them, and I was pretty amazed how good we were there was something magical about the original five of us.
JH: I do know that the static and friction you had was also what made you so powerful on stage. If you say it didn’t, I would call bullshit, the tension was visible, and you ladies delivered. I know the backstory was that there was so much animosity, but when you ladies were on stage, man you were goddesses.
CC: Oh you are absolutely right.
JH: Well, I remember seeing the Bangles when I was 12 at about the same time I got into The Runaways, and I could see they were good, and they were the bastard cousins of The Runaways, but no one had what you did.
CC: Well, there was an intensity and fights with The Runaways that were definitely palatable. And yes Kim did that on purpose, I mean how are you going to harden the skin of a bunch of sixteen and seventeen-year-old girls for the big bad world and think they are going to survive. After he got cancer, I moved Kim into my house and cared for him those last few years of his life and it was really eye-opening to be able to sit down and discuss this with him. It was healing for me, cause I understood why he did what he did, and also I accepted his apology.
JH: I wanted to ask that, did he really mean it when he apologized?
CC: Yeah, he really did, he cried, he had a lot of regrets, he realized that if he had tried to keep me in the band we could have had more success with the next record, but he saw dollar signs, and I was obligated to one more record with Mercury. And before I even had a minute to think after I was out of the band, two weeks I was back in the studio to make “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep”. But Kim would make us fight, he would plant ideas, lies in one person’s head, he would single me out, to make all the girls upset with me. He did all these terrible things, to give us that edge, and that was important. He did what he felt he had to do, but the consequences were huge, calling us “Dog Piss” I mean, I can’t even say some of the things he called us. He had people in the rehearsal room throwing garbage at us and calling us names, to do just that.
JH: So you’re saying, he would have had you crawling through mud and shooting bullets just over your head if he thought it would bring out a better performance?
CC: YEAH, he would do all of that to keep us on edge. But that is what we were dealing with in Europe, I mean I had a Bowie knife land within inches of my foot on stage in England. It was horrendous, they would spit on us, and fight in the audience and throw things at us. BUT, we would not have been able to handle that if Kim hadn’t done all of that beforehand. He was a brilliant guy, and I am grateful that I got to know him like that before he died. And I miss him, so it’s great to come full circle from all that anger and resentment to understand him as a brilliant songwriter and a man that had a vision, and nobody can EVER EVER put that man down to me ever. Those feelings are mine and mine alone, no one can change that.
JH: *(My jaw is on the floor right now) Wow, can I move to a different point then, you are a powerful person. Ok, a friend of mine, her daughter said you gotta go see this movie with me. They watched it, and she was crying all through the second half. And in the end, she leaned over to her daughter and said “Is that what you needed to tell me?” and her daughter said “YES”. This young girl wouldn’t have had the strength to tell her mom she was gay if she didn’t have your story as an example. This is Utah, and we have a high suicide rate with LGBTQ kids, but my hat is off to you for that, saying you could put all of that in the movie.
CC: It was a different time, the seventies was about experimenting about being outrageous and not having to apologize for any it. A lot of great things came out of those times, I am not gay, but I experienced what I wanted to, and at the end of it I knew that I wasn’t gay, but I can completely understand falling in love with a person, regardless of their gender. At that time in our history, David Bowie, Elton John, Mick Jagger were all saying bisexuality was ok, and it was a great time to grow up I don’t know why there was that stigma. I think gay people have come so far and I am so happy they have equal rights now. That was the one thing that used to bother me, I would lose my mind about how people would say that gays could not be married. I wanted to rip their faces off, that is how angry it would make me, that someone would have the nerve to say that, especially since heterosexual people take it so for granted. I thought that gays should be able to experience the lows of marriage. (laughing)Telling someone by law they can’t do something that I can is just the worst kind of bullying and censorship of life. I mean who are you to say that? People are just horrible when they think themselves better than other people, it makes me furious and they have no clue what they are talking about and not a shred of compassion.
JH: Important question, some of the pictures make you look 5’2″ some make you look 5’10”, how tall are you?
CC: HA, I’m right in the middle 5’5” but some of those I was wearing 6” platforms (laughing).
JH: Ok, so, a lot of your riffs, I thought that Heart’s song “Barracuda” was stolen from you guys, then it went on to become Dweezil Zappa’s trademark. Do you still hear that riff around I hear it everywhere?
CC: Kim, had been in the business for a long time and he knew that was the riff that a teenage girl could pick up a guitar and rip out 3 chords. We never would have made it on “The Voice” or on “American Idol”, we could be us, and we got good at what we did, he made them user friendly.
JH: You are giving me a very different story than what I thought I knew. Lita Ford called you all hell on wheels, but I call you “Hell on Heels”. I mean, The Damned, Motorhead, Sex Pistols, The Ramones, as teenage girls rocking it with them. Did you ever fear that anything was going to get in your way, or how it might play out?
CC: Nah, we all had a vision and we all came together, it was bizarre moving forward with this dream that we had, and we were pulling it off. When people were saying we were ahead of our time, we weren’t. Had we stuck it out and done one more album The Runaways would have made a bigger splash.
JH: Well solo work, “Blvds of Splendor” is a fantastic album, I enjoyed the general groove, but “Break Out” was when it finally kicked up and gave me all of the album’s personality. Though you weren’t writing songs like this back then, these songs are just as powerful as what you did then.
CC: Well, that’s kind of a lost style of music, I mean you being the self-described “greedy bastard vinyl collector” you collect albums, you know what good music is. If it ends up on vinyl these days you know it’s good.
JH: Well this one I think should be out on 180-gram vinyl. But I look at your supporting band, I think this one should go platinum.
CC: Hey, that’s all Matt Sorum, I was just a chainsaw carver from the San Fernando Valley before he got on board. The band is all from his little black phone book of people who were thrilled to be behind The Runaways. I thought we were all but forgotten and then to have Slash, Izzy, Duff, Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) Juliette Lewis, it was everything I worked for as a kid. All the months on the road, no money, always getting ripped off, having to ask for Tampax money when we were selling out huge halls. It was worth it, every step of the way for this album to happen with these people wanting to be part of it.
JH: Well you showed everyone the way, and hey, STILL believe in you. By the way, throw this back to Matt when you talk to him, Ron Wasserman says hi, he is a mutual friend, used to play in bands with him in high school.
CC: Oh sure you got it.
JH: Final question, this is your turn, for the LGBTQ kid who is in the closet, scared, in that vulnerable state, what would you tell that kid?
CC: I would say that all you have to fear is fear itself, there is nothing to be ashamed of, or to be afraid of, shame does not belong in your lives. BE BRAVE.
JH: I appreciate your time it has been an honor.
Cherie Currie Official Website: cheriecurrie.com
Learn more about Cherie and her chainsaw carving here: http://www.chainsawchick.com/about.html