Survived the Road to Ruin

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll, Sludge in the Seventies at 4:26 pm by George Smith

Cherie Currie’s “Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway” is a series of close escapes.

I remember it as an autobiography aimed at teenagers, originally published in 1989. Back then, it was also a string of short-of-death misadventures, collisions with drugs, alcohol and unpleasant sex without a suitable ending.

As the basis for the indie movie, “The Runaways,” it’s received a radical face-lift, one without which the movie would have probably been either undoable or unwatchable.

Currie was a striking young girl when she was picked by manager Kim Fowley to front the Runaways. And the best parts of this life story have to do with her time in the band and its successes rather than failures.

The book also serves as something of a cathartic score settler. A lot of people get theirs.

And that’s the good thing about being given the opportunity to write. The long arm of the word can reach out and collar those who may have thought they were beyond a good rattling.

There’s Runaways guitarist Lita Ford, portrayed as a humorless ranting bully, ever more angry at the difference between her looks and Currie’s, the latter always getting the lion’s share of the photography. There’s an awkward moment where Currie attributes this to Ford’s love of cheeseburgers and beer while on the road.

Best seat in the house?

A lot didn’t make it to the movie.

There are two totally skin-crawling episodes of violence and rape and one slimy adventure in which Currie is inveigled into going back to an English pop star’s apartment by manager Fowley after an important gig.

It’s a jump-on-the-grenade-for-the-team moment and readers can guess what’s involved. It’s white satin sheets and that time of the month and if you have the book, you’ll feel uncomfortable and splashed with a bit of collateral filth. No punches are pulled in this one.

The pop star in question sounds suspiciously like Cliff Richard, who had the hit “Devil Woman” in the US in ’76 which puts things in the right time frame, although I may be guessing wrong.

Returning to Fowley, he’s again the villain set in cartoonishly bad incident after incident, with one chapter devoted to a sex education tutorial for the band, conducted in a seedy motel room.

This part contains the most arresting if vulgar line in the book:

He looked like he was trying to crawl right up inside of her.

Now you don’t see that everyday in something from HarperCollins.

Remember what I said about much of the book not being doable in the movie? And many reviewers commented on the daring kiss scene between Currie and Jett in the film — something not in this book.

While not elegant in the slightest, a literary cup of tea, or even among the best biographies in the world, it’s a vivid, entertaining and brutally honest read. One imagines that consultations, careful wording and much negotiation have made it almost lawsuit proof. Plus it has a happy ending: Currie has a new lease on life and the opportunity to build on whatever the book and movie may send her way, something that just wasn’t there when the first edition was published.

Until Joan Jett does the same, this is the you-are-there history of the Runaways in print.

Currie will be at Vroman’s in Pasadena tomorrow, Perhaps more on it over the weekend.

As for the soundtrack CD to The Runaways, it’s a good introductory to the band for complete novices, an idealized musical anthology. Four Runaways tunes out of seven were redone for the movie.

Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart sub vocals for Currie and Joan Jett on “Cherry Bomb,” “California Paradise,” “Queens of Noise” and “Dead End Justice.” The songs don’t suffer for it. Inspirational singing was never part of the appeal of the Runaways.

In “Neon Angel,” Currie said Fowley put it this way while in session for the debut LP:

Don’t think that because we’re in the studio you have to start trying to sing in tune or anything … This isn’t high art. You aren’t a fucking opera singer or some dog shit like that.

The songs only needed to project “rock and roll authority.” And they did.

Still do. “Dead End Justice,” in particular, sounds even more slamming done in 2010. It’s a killing riff. If you don’t hear it, you’re not much for raw rock ‘n’ roll.

One of those homemade fan videos with the CD cut glued on to a couple photos is here on YouTube. It probably won’t last long.

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