By Poppy Tohill
There’s no denying the influence The Runaways had on rock & roll music alongside the industry itself for women, not only in the 70s, but also today, as their strong legacy continues to live on throughout a younger generation of fans such as myself.
Also enriching their legacy along with her own is the legend that is Cherie Currie, aka the one and only, Cherry Bomb and lead singer of The Runaways. Not only releasing Reverie last year, her first studio album in 35 years, Currie is also bringing her live show to New Zealand this month for the very first time in history, and I was exceptionally lucky to get some time on the phone with the legend herself to chat about everything from The Runaways to social media and working with her son.
Excruciatingly nervous as I dialed through to Currie’s line, I was immediately blown away by her remarkably warm personality as she greeted me by name and thanked me for taking the time to talk to her, as she cheerfully acknowledged, “It’s my pleasure to talk to you! Thanks for taking the time,” as if I was the interviewee rather than the interviewer.
Now, if you know anything about The Runaways or Cherie Currie herself, you will know that there’s not a lot in her life that she hasn’t experienced, however visiting and performing in New Zealand is one of these things. “It’s an absolute dream come true for me to be coming to New Zealand to play for all of you wonderful people!” she excitedly announced. “I’m so blessed that at 56 [years of age] I can actually come to your country, because I’ve honestly been wanting to visit New Zealand for 40 years!”
When asked what she misses about touring when not on the road, Currie explained, “I’ve been on about five tours in the past few years and they’re very fast paced, so I can’t say I exactly miss it when I’m not on the road. But I guess I do miss the people, because I’m a very solitary person when at home, so it’s those friendships that I have with the band and the fans that I do miss.”
Having joined The Runaways at the age of fifteen, Currie laughs when questioned about the amount of freedom they had comparing what they were able to get away with to artists restricted freedom nowadays. “I guess there’s laws now!” she chuckles. “These days you’ve got to have guardians which we didn’t have in The Runaways. It was a just a very different time. It was also really unexpected for teenage girls to be out there playing rock and roll as we were the first to do it,” she explained. “It was kind of odd playing ‘over 21’ bars and clubs, yet we were too young to actually go in there when we weren’t playing our own shows!”
“But again, it was such a different time,” Currie confirmed, as we went on to discuss the attention and criticism she and the others faced from the media whilst in The Runaways.
“We had magazines that we would do interviews with, but there was no internet or cellphones, so we worked really hard. Whereas now you can make videos and put them on the internet and you don’t even need a record company, which is something you definitely needed back in the 70s, 80s and even the early 90s. So I’m very glad it’s not as difficult as it was back then.”
Continuing on to talk about the ever-changing music industry, Currie explained her take on what it’s like in today’s world and the role in which social media now plays.
“Things have changed so dramatically that you can actually make a name for yourself without management or help of any kind,” she began. “All you need is a dream and a willingness to do it and for me, that is great, but it’s a double edged-sword because now there’s also social media. Whilst it can be a great thing, it can also be very negative with all of the bullying that goes on. It’s pretty hard to be a teenager these days, or even an adult with all the negativity that people put out there, because regardless of how good you are, there is always people who will say something nasty,” Currie continued.
“Some people are just very unhappy in their lives and they have to take it out one way or another and of course they’d never do it if they had to have their face and name visible, or their victims could retaliate, but it’s so easy for people to go on with a fake name and photograph and just unleash hell, unfortunately.”
“For me it was high school bullies, now for a lot of young people today, it is the whole world that can speak to you directly and you know what... words do hurt and I think it’s a real shame because it just shows how many bad people are out there and you do have to be very careful.”
Moving on to talk about Reverie, Currie’s third solo album and first in 35 years, we found ourselves in conversation about Kim Fowley, who despite ripping off The Runaways in more ways than one, as their manager at the time, he also ended up producing part of Currie’s recent album, eventually even living in her home before passing away early last year.
“Working with Fowley was fantastic!” Currie honestly admits. “I had so much anger towards him for 35 years, before realising that anger only hurt me and I was going to remedy that. So I reached out to Kim and we started talking,” she went on to explain.
“There were a lot of tears shed on both sides, because you know people do change, after 40 years, they do and I finally understood so much more being a parent. After having a terrible childhood myself with no real parent to speak of, I understood how little Kim must have known about dealing with us. We were just teenage girls venturing out into an incredibly male dominated world and he did the best he could in helping us climb that mountain and while he didn’t help when it came to keeping the band together, he really regretted that,” Currie added truthfully.
“For me with the album though, he [Kim] got so ill he was only able to be in the studio for four songs before he had to drop out and pass the producer role onto my son, Jake. But I actually had him move into my house for almost ten days and I took care of him 24/7 before he had to go back to the hospital for surgery. And it was that time that allowed me to take all those bad memories that haunted me for so long and turn them into wonderful memories before he died, because he was brilliant. There was no one like him. He was the most phenomenal writer and lyricist I’ve ever met in my entire life and my son got to work with him, so it really came full circle and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”
“It was great working with Jake on the record,” Currie responded when asked what it was like having her son involved. “I’ve been on the road with him four times and we’ve written a lot of songs together. He’s so musically inclined, listening to every kind of music, there was of course a couple of times where we didn’t agree, but in the end it was just an honour to do it with him because he’s really one of my very best friends.”
“Jake and I actually wrote two different versions of Shades Of Me,” Currie replied after I pointed out the beautiful and emotive connection they share throughout the duet. The original version is on the Black Hearts record which comes out this September and the duet you hear on Reverie is the second version we came up with. I actually asked Jake if he would consider singing it as a duet with me, but he initially said no, because he thought it was a love song and as he put it, ‘what son wants to sing a love song with their mother!?” Currie added, laughing. “But it’s not! It really was kind of our story and he ended up singing the majority of it in the end, because he has such a great voice. It really is beautiful.”
Transitioning back into conversation about The Runaways, Cherie went on to explain their tumultuous break up, before we continued to discuss the 2010 film which reveals the many triumphs and tribulations of herself, Joan Jett & The Runaways as a whole.
“I really did love The Runaways music and I still do, both listening to and performing it. I just honestly think that for us girls we were so young and we didn’t have a mediator or anybody that would sit us down and have us discuss our issues we had. So when we stopped talking and started believing the crazy rumours, which hadn’t happened, that was really the beginning of the end for us.“
“I hung on as long as I could, but we really didn't like each other very much by the time I left. I was very hurt myself and then of course Jackie had quit in Japan, so they didn’t really last much longer - I think only one or maybe two more albums before breaking up, so it wasn’t a lasting band unfortunately.”
Partially based off Currie’s autobiography ‘Neon Angel,’ released around the same time, she admits, “I was just blown away by Dakota Fanning [Cherie Currie], Kristen Stewart [Joan Jett] & Michael Shannon [Kim Fowley] acting throughout the [Runaways] film. I also thought Floria Sigismondi [director] did a great job with capturing the 70s. I mean how can you put two years of craziness into 90 minutes? I’ve certainly got no complaints,” Currie declared when asked about her initial thoughts on The Runaways film.
“I just loved Dakota and working with her was incredible,” Currie responded when asked what she thought of Fanning’s portrayal. “It was great to spend so much time with her and she worked so hard. She really is one of my favourite actresses. I don’t think the producers and directors really wanted me there as much as I was, but Dakota did and that was all that mattered.”
Continuing on to talk about ‘Neon Angel,’ Currie admits, “It’s a heavy duty read as I certainly pulled no punches with this book. I’m very lucky that I could write my life story twice. Once in a young adult version in 1989 [Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story] and then an adult version [A Memoir Of A Runaway: Neon Angel] where I could put all the stories that I couldn’t add in the young adults version..”
“Not at all!” Currie gleefully responded when asked if revisiting any of the hardships she faced, was particularly difficult when it came to writing the book. “I’ve been dealing with it and talking very openly about everything since I was 24 years old and I was also a drug counsellor for a number of years for young adults that were suffering with drug and alcohol addictions. It’s always ongoing, so you have to stay true to yourself because it’s not something that ever goes away, but as long as you’re honest and upfront about it, you can cope with it a lot better,” she admits.
“Also the thing is that we have to share everything we go through in life, because otherwise what is the purpose? We need to help other people with what we’ve learnt from our own stories and let them know they’re not alone.”
Lastly, we finished off as Cherie went on to explain, why now, looking back over all the positives and negatives throughout her life, she is still proud of everything she managed to achieve when in The Runaways.
“I couldn't listen to The Runaways music for about 20 years after I left the band because it was such a sore spot for me,” she truthfully admit. “I really didn't want to leave, but watching a deterioration of all these friendships was incredibly hard. Once I did start listening to the music and watching some videos again though, I couldn’t believe how good the original five - Jackie, Joan, Lita, Sandy and myself- were and what chemistry we had.
I’m so proud, because even though we were doing something special, we were too young at the time to really grasp what that was, but now we can and I’m just so honoured to have been a part of such a groundbreaking band.”
Friday May 20th: Kings Arms, Auckland
Saturday May 21st: Bodega, Wellington
Sunday May 22nd: Churchills, Christchurch
Tickets via Ticketmaster