Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning take a trip back to the ’70s to play real-life rockers Joan Jett and Cherie Currie who, while in their tender teens, started the first real all-girl rock band The Runaways. The feature film, The Runaways, partly based on Currie’s biography, “Neon Angel: Memoir of a Runaway” (HarperCollins Canada), has brought these talented women back into the spotlight, which, according to Currie, is well deserved considering the fact that the girls were taken advantage of by their aggressive manager Kim Fowley (portrayed by Michael Shannon) and a world of rock ruled by men.
Currie, known as the “Blond Bombshell” of the group, went on to record three albums with The Runaways—that also included band mates Sandy West, Lita Ford and Jackie Fox—and two solo albums. After she quit, she began an acting career and starred in numerous films including Foxes (1980) with Jodie Foster, Parasite (1982) with Demi Moore and Wavelength (1983) with Robert Carradine.
Cherie Currie spoke with Tribute’s Toni-Marie Ippolito about her life being portrayed on screen by Dakota Fanning, her newfound friendship with rock legend Joan Jett and re-writing her book to include more intense details (the ones you don’t see in The Runaways movie), including why she really cut her hair like David Bowie, the spoon-fed drug abuse, the arrests, having knives thrown at them and how they bonded to fight for their right to rock.
How does it feel after all this time to have your incredible story told?
Currie: Well, it feels great and there are so many emotions. We worked so hard as kids and we just seemed to have been mowed over and forgotten. It’s great, but then you go through the emotions that you wished everyone was on board and that everyone could have done this altogether. You look back and think it was so traumatic for all of us and personal. There are still a lot of emotions that haven’t been dealt with. Especially with Lita (Ford) and Jackie (Fox). I just wished we all could have enjoyed this—Sandy has passed on. That’s my only (regret). It’s bittersweet.
What made you want to write “Neon Angel” to begin with? Was it liberating?
Currie: Originally I went to a publisher, Price Stern Sloan, in1988 as an illustrator while I was working as a drug counselor for kids. I told them the story of The Runaways, being an actress, the drugs and all that, and they said they were interested in publishing their first young adult book. But in 2000, I read the book again and I realized I had evolved from that 20-year-old girl who wrote that book with Neal Shusterman. I had a different perspective and there were many stories I wanted to tell that the young adult book couldn’t have. So I re-wrote the book. Then Joan Jett’s manager read the book and loved it and shopped it around and that’s how this (the movie) all happened.
What can people expect from this new book version?
Currie: Well, it comes from a place of no fear. It’s slightly different from the first book. I still have the insecurities, the self-loathing. I wanted everyone to forgive me in the first book and this one is basically, I’ve grown past that and now I really need it to come from me. I have a whole lot more of an understanding of why things happened, which comes with age. I just wanted to help people. That’s really the bottom line. The story of The Runaways is a great story, but really it’s a story of survival from my aspect
So many people get caught up in addiction as well as rock stars and celebrities who deal with the pressures of fame. How did you really manage to make it through?
Currie: You know I have to really contribute a lot of it to my mom (Marie Harmon). She has this tenacity about her and my father (Don Currie) who was so kind but had a horrific addiction to alcohol and his struggles and a very strong family unit. Going into The Runaways at 15, it wasn’t like we were spoon fed with rock ‘n’ roll, we were shoveled! It was shoved at us—the negativity of it, it being an all-male business. At the time we really were fighting for our lives out there and we were doing it alone without any supervision. But we clung together as a family and that really made it possible for us to make it through together.
You girls had guts but also seemed lost.
Currie: Well, we were trying to find ourselves. If you look at any 15 or 16 year old, you’re starting to realize who you are individually and it takes a lot of time. It took me almost into my mid-40s until I finally got comfortable in my own skin. I’ve been through so much that I appreciate life so much more now. I was always telling my son, since he could understand, that it’s a big bad world out there. He certainly benefited from it.
How tough was it to be in a band with a bunch of girls. There seemed to be a lot of jealousy going in. Girls can be so catty!
Currie: They can! Back then it was the lead singer they focused on. Again, a lot of the time it was brought on by me wearing the corset but I would say, “I only wore that for two and a half minutes!” That wasn’t the entire show but it was just for “Cherry Bomb.” But the lead singer gets most of the publicity and the girls didn’t like that and I don’t blame them for that, it was nothing I wanted, trust me. I wanted to keep us together as a band and I was such a big fan of Joan, Lita and Sandy and I wanted them to also be on the covers of all the magazines. Lita especially didn’t like it, and she made it really clear to me and I had no control over any of it. Towards the end I was offered the cover of Rolling Stone and I literally called the editors crying begging them not use the picture of me for the cover because that would be the end of the band but then I ended up leaving two weeks later and then regretted that I didn’t do it. When you’re in front of millions of people, people are judging as to who is the prettiest one and it was a really tough experience for all of us.
What was it really like being big in Japan and being received like The Beatles?
Currie: Japan for us, was that all of our hard work actually paid off. We stepped it to beatlemania and it was really exciting and we were really grateful because we’d actually saw that we’d done something. It was like, “wow, we did it.”
What was it like working with Kim Fowley. He was hard to deal with. Have you gotten over that?
Currie: Kim and I, we buried the hatchet about a year and a half ago. I had a lot of unresolved issues with him. He actually took my sister’s (Marie Currie) and my Capitol record and bootlegged it, put it out and ended up raking in far more money than my sister and I did. He had nothing to do with that record so I basically said to him, “Hey you’re not stealing money from me anymore, you’re stealing from my son and this is not going to happen.” We looked at Kim as a protector but one that was hardening us to the realities of the rock ‘n’ roll world. I know he really cared about us even though he would never show it. But he was crazy. But, in a way, because of what we were doing and how fast everything was moving, if we had a manager that was passive it wouldn’t have worked. Kim Fowley really worked in our benefit. But in the end, it was the demise of the band because he kept us pitted against each other. Of course, we broke under the pressure.
Did you regret leaving the band?
Currie: Well, not at the time because I didn’t hear from the girls. It wasn’t until many years later. Actually, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I found out that Lita felt that we should have just taken a couple of months off and then regrouped and talked about it because we just never communicated with each other. I just felt beat up upon because of all the publicity and I felt that I was pushed out of the band emotionally. Lita got a little violent towards the end, and I just couldn’t handle that. That put me over the edge and I had to leave. But had they asked me to come back and say, “let’s talk about this,” then I absolutely would have.
You’ve openly discussed your drug addiction. Did that start with the band?
Currie: I come from an alcoholic background so I was destined to have problems. Being in The Runaways, and even with our booking agent, everybody was feeding us drugs. We had adults pulling us aside putting a spoon to our noses. So did that escalate my addiction? It absolutely did. But I think that road was going to be traveled by me at one point or another.
What did you think of The Runaways movie?
Currie: Well, of course I lived it so I saw a lot of the creative liberties they took. I wasn’t really happy with a lot of it. I felt that the story could have had more depth had they ventured into what was happening early on. For example, the scene where Dakota Fanning cuts her hair, which I did do, but I did it because my twin sister’s boyfriend raped me because he had a thing for virgins. I really thought that would have explained why I became the way I was in school instead of coming out of nowhere. But I thought the acting was just off the map and great. Dakota really gave it everything she had and Kristin, I’m so proud of her. She did such a great job.
Is it odd seeing someone play out your life onscreen?
Currie: Well, Dakota Fanning made it even more surreal because I’m a big fan of her work. But yeah, how many people get the chance to experience this? So I feel so lucky and blessed.
The movie was fantastic, but it made you want to know more about all of you!
Currie: If I didn’t have the book, I would have been far more disappointed! Because I have the book for people that want to know more I don’t feel as disappointed as I might have been because there was so much more to The Runaways. There were so many things that happen to us in the band. We were arrested in Europe, just so many experiences with the British audiences throwing knives at us. One time, we almost got killed so we had to run over someone in a car to escape from people turning our cars over and just so much craziness. But the movie still shows the essence of the band and shows that we existed and we were portrayed by some of the greatest actors.
How is your relationship with Joan Jett now?
Currie: We’ve rekindled our friendship and we’ve always really loved each other. We were best friends in the band. She was really hurt when I left which I had no idea back then. I really thought she wanted me out. Now, 35 years later, to learn this is amazing to me and had this not happened (the movie) I probably would have not known that. I’m getting in the studio with her and recording again. We’re always going to have that special bond because of what we went through as kids.
How much input did you and Joan Jett have with the movie?
Currie: Joan was an executive producer so she was there as much as she could be. I was there as much as I could be. Dakota wanted me there all the time but the producers didn’t want me to influence her in any other way than what the script said. But there were times when I talked to Dakota especially with the scene where Lita throws a magazine at me in Japan and Dakota was playing it like she didn’t care, and that was devastating to me. At that time, I realized Kim had set me up and these girls thought I did this (a solo photo shoot) on my own. It was so the opposite of that and I was able to discuss that with Dakota and she changed the way she played that scene and God bless her she’s great!
You were a pioneer with The Runaways. What do you think your impact has been?
Currie: All I can say is that we went out there in the battlefield and we fought for our right to play music. I’m just glad that a new generation can see that you can do anything if you really want it. Your dreams will come true if you fight for it. I think that’s the message of The Runaways today and hopefully it will influence a lot of girls to pick up instruments and go for it. There’s always that “iffie-ness” about whether or not girls can really rock. I think that The Runaways show you can.