By: Sheena Lyonnais November 11, 2013
Cherie Currie, lead singer of the revolutionary band the Runaways and author of Neon Angel, arguably one of the best music memoirs of our time, tears into Toronto tomorrow with a headlining show at Lee’s Palace. Having recently won the Rock Legend Award at the Malibu Music Awards, Currie found herself on stage performing with guitarist Lita Ford for the first time in more than 35 years. The emotions that brought back naturally revved up a desire to reunite the band that brought them together.
The Runaways were unlike any band before, an all-girl teenage rock band that disrupted the scene—especially in Japan. Guitarist Joan Jett and drummer Sandy West started the band in 1975 with the help of a grimy manager named Kim Fowley, who scouted Currie at the Sugar Shack, an underage club that lined the Hollywood strip in the 1970’s. Ford rounded out the band on guitar and though there were a slew of bassists, it is Jackie Fox who is best known for the role. By the time the original lineup disbanded in 1977, they had performed with Van Halen, Cheap Trick, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, to name a few, not to mention their own slew of sold out shows.
But convincing Jett that a reunion makes sense isn’t easy. She worries the band wouldn’t be the same without West, who passed away from cancer in 2006, but Currie says it only makes sense. “We’re all doing Runaways songs in our sets, let’s do them together,” she says. “All I know is standing on stage with Lita was such an amazing experience. We’re grown-ups now, we’re not babies. We really hope that she says yes.”
While the idea of a Runaways reunion is exciting, it resurfaces the reasons the band only lasted a couple of years. Currie’s formative years were especially rough. She was addicted to pills and cocaine, and her life has been ridden with struggles impossible to imagine, ones she documents openly in her memoir.
Though she prefers not to dwell on her past, the details play an important role in who she is today. In the movie adaptation of the Runaways story, starring Kristen Stewart as Jett and Dakota Fanning as Currie, Currie’s character chops off her hair to resemble David Bowie’s after getting her period as a young teenager. In reality, it was a reaction to being raped by her twin sister’s boyfriend one night when she was home alone.
Sometime after this, the twins’ transient mother remarried and relocated to Indonesia, taking their brother with them. Currie and her sister Marie went to live with their alcoholic father. It was around this time Currie joined the Runaways. What transpired was a whirlwind of an adventure laced with drugs and alcohol, an abortion, and a network of individuals who made big bank off taking advantage of the young band and their talent.
There was also an abduction. One night when she was 17, a man kidnapped her and took her back to his secluded house where he brutally assaulted and repeatedly raped her. He said he was going to kill her. She survived because she suddenly heard this voice—her voice—say, “You never used to do this to me.” The man had been convinced they shared a past together. She went along with his story and told him she loved him, apologized, said she’d run away with him as long as he took her back to her apartment to get her things. Covered in blood, she instead took him to a friend’s place where she was able to escape. The man ended up accepting a plea deal and served only a year in county jail.
It is understandable then that she hesitates briefly when I ask her how she’s managed to handle all these struggles with such strength and grace.
“I’ve had a lot of bad things happen in my life, but I’ve also had to take responsibility for it. I think that there is such a lack of that these days. We always want to turn around and blame other people rather than accept responsibility,” she says.
“I’ve never done this before, but if something has happened in your life, and some of it was your fault and some of it was someone else’s fault, but it was devastating, if you turn to yourself and say, ‘wow, I take responsibility for this.’ That feeling that washes over you is something that you must try because it changes your life. All that angst and all that anger, everything washes away,” she continues.
“Me taking responsibility and writing my first book and then having to write the second one, going through all these stories and taking responsibility for so many of the things that went wrong in my life really freed me and allowed me to open the doors to new experiences. Living in the past is a travesty. You have to look forward and it’s almost like, why is there a big car windshield to look through when you’re going forward and a tiny little one to look in your rearview? The past needs to stay in the past because it just poisons your future.”
It seems commonplace for celebrities to lapse nowadays, but back then Currie managed to handle herself with dignity. She cleaned up her act, continued making music, and starred in several movies. To this day, she remains a respected musician and an instrumental female player in the 1970’s rock scene.
This is how Currie presses on, because she has “things to do.” Even recently, she spent months working on a new album that may never see the light of day due to label disputes, so she decided to do this tour independently. Her son Jake Hays is joining her on drums and has almost taken on the role of tour manager. They’ll be playing a number of the new songs on the tour, as well as a bunch of fan favourites including “Cherry Bomb” from the Runaways’ golden years.
“I’m doing this for the fans, I’m doing this for myself, and I’m really learning so much about who I am,” she says.
These days Currie’s carved another career for herself as a Malibu-based chainsaw artist. Despite her unconventional success, she says music will always be a part of her. She will continue to work with Lita Ford in the hopes of forming a Runaways reunion. In the meantime, she’s anticipating the December release of the Christmas song the two of them worked on together earlier this year. And of course, she’ll continue to perform across North America on tour.
Cherie Currie plays Lee’s Palace in Toronto with Wildheart on November 12, and This Aint Hollywood in Hamilton with the Beaches on November 13.
Sheena Lyonnais is the editor of Toronto Music Scene. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais and don’t forget to follow TMS @TorontoMusic.