Back in the 70s I was aware of the existence of The Runaways and I had heard some of the group’s music, but I couldn’t have associated correctly one with the other. I simply didn’t pay the band any real attention. In the 80s, however, I did pay attention to (and like) Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. I still frequently play Joan’s Best of album, which is good, solid, un-frilled and unapologetic rock and roll. In the 70s Joan Jett had been the core of The Runaways, writing many of the songs for the earlier group. Lita Ford, who continues to record and tour successfully in 2011, was on guitar.
The Runaways were an all-girl power-rock band. I do mean “girl.” In 1975 all its members were minors, hence prompting the term “jailbait rock.” Joan was 16 and the lead singer Cherie Currie was 15. The Runaways owed much of their success to eccentric promoter/manager Kim Fowley; his job was made easier by the fact that the girls happened to be really good. The band’s career was portrayed in 2010 in the movie The Runaways. The film was based primarily on Neon Angel, the autobiography of Cherie Currie; Joan Jett is credited as an executive producer.
I caught the film in the theater last year and again on dvd last week. It’s not a future classic, and its story of premature fame leading to addiction and self-destruction is an all too familiar one. Nevertheless, it’s not bad, and, both as a cautionary tale and as a window to the 70s rock era, it is worth a look. Michael Shannon wonderfully plays Kim Fowley as a sort of bizarro version of R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning are entirely credible as Joan and Cherie. As is necessarily the case in a 106 minute film, the personal backgrounds of the bandmembers are drawn sketchily when at all, though we do see some of Currie’s unstable home life.
A friend with whom I watched the film in the theater commented at the time, “You know, our families were just way too functional.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “It ruined our careers.”
The bulk of the film shows the band’s early struggles followed by success, exploitation, sex, drugs, overwork, dissipation, dissolution, and uneven recovery.
Anyone interested in the fate of Cherie Currie after she quit the band should pick up Neon Angel, which is a good if disturbing read. Ever worsening drug abuse undermined her solo recording efforts and then destroyed an acting career in its early stages. Her association with drug dealers and users led to repeated hospitalizations and extreme victimizations. She woke up one day in the hospital with her heart and organs failing. The doctor told her if her addiction was untreated she would be “dead within weeks.” Cherie’s recovery began then.
Currie survived long enough to reach a point where recovery was possible for her. Many others are not so lucky. Why are some people so all-consumed by booze and drugs while others can use (even abuse) them without going into a death spiral? I don’t know, but in my experience (anecdotal though this may be), there is an observable risk factor. Anyone who cannot put everything aside for a while and just enjoy “being” is at especial peril. Some, like Cherie, eventually can find their way to this mellow place so that they can stand living without being intoxicated. Cherie Currie is currently a chain saw artist – really.
TV appearance of The Runaways in Japan: the actual group, not a scene from the movie.