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Interview: The Runaways’ Cherie Currie

Tuesday 17 May 2016 12:12 p.m.

By Paula Yeoman

Cherie Currie has lived a few lives and then some. Now, as she prepares for her first-ever New Zealand show, the one-time lead singer of The Runaways speaks candidly about her long-awaited return to the stage.

She also talks about making peace with the band’s Svengali-esque manager Kim Fowley, who introduced her to the grim realities of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; harassment in the music industry and her undying love for David Bowie.

The many faces of Cherie Currie

There’s Currie the corset-wearing, hell-raising, seventies wild child, who at 15 was thrust into the spotlight as the lead singer of the all-girl rock group, The Runaways. The band also kick-started the careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford, and their tales of teenage angst and debauchery are now the stuff of music folklore. Their journey was notably depicted in the 2010 movie The Runaways starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart.

There’s also Currie the actress, whose credits stretch from cameos in classic TV shows such as Murder She Wrote and Matlock, to parts in Hollywood films like Foxes in 1980, with Jodie Foster, and perhaps the creepiest of all her roles, this scene in Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983. 

And let’s not forget Currie the wood sculptor, or as she puts it “the chainsaw chick from San Fernando Valley”, who works wonders with a Husqvarna and a lump of wood.

But for Kiwi fans -- who’ll get to see Currie perform her first-ever New Zealand show at the Kings Arms in Auckland on Friday, May 20 -- she’s simply rock ‘n’ roll royalty.

She returned to the stage several years ago and in 2015 released a solo record, Reverie. It received rave reviews and reignited Currie’s passion for performing – something that’s often been overshadowed by drama and turmoil in the many articles, books and movies that have told the story of The Runaways.

What motivated your return to music?

"I got out in the early 1980s and then with The Runaways movie and all of that… I started going on tour and getting decent reviews and people kinda wanted me, which I’m thrilled about because I love doing this. It’s a dream come true to be 56 years old and going to Australia and New Zealand - places I’ve always wanted to go."

Your album Reverie was produced by the late Kim Fowley, whom you had an infamously rocky relationship with. How did you repair that?

"We buried the hatchet years ago. Then I just happened to say to a friend that I’d love to work with him again, and he called me. I just jumped at the chance. I knew Kim was gravely ill and within just a few days we were writing together and then a few days later we were in the studio. But he just got so sick and after four songs, he turned the album over to my son Jake [Hays]. Unfortunately we didn’t finish the album before Kim died. But it was a great opportunity to take those crazy awful memories from being a teenage girl and turn them into great memories as a woman."

What did it feel like to make new music with Kim?

"It was wonderful because I wasn’t the scared little girl that I was at 15. And this man, Kim -- I appreciated his brilliance. When you’re a kid you don’t even know what that word means. But to sit in that studio and write with him and see his absolute brilliance as a songwriter -- he’s unsurpassed. There will never be another Kim Fowley and the fact that he’d changed so dramatically. You know, 40 years changes a person. And for my son to be there -- talk about going full circle. It was just a great gift. Because I tell you, had he died without me confronting him and dealing with all the nightmares, I would’ve had a hole in my heart for the rest of my life."

Because the many stories about The Runaways often focus on the drama, it’s hard to know if you enjoyed performing back then.

"I loved being on stage, that was the one time we were free of any drama. That was the one time we were all in sync and we were all equal. We were children. I think we handled ourselves very well. Yes there was turmoil because we didn’t have anyone mediating. None of us had the guts to confront one another when there were issues."

And how does it feel to get up on stage now?

"It’s just fantastic. I know who I am finally and I know what I’m capable of. I’m not fearful anymore and I appreciate everything -- the fans, the music. I love The Runaways music. It’s totally different for me now."

You had to deal with a lot of sexual harassment and abuse when you were in the band. How did you cope with it?

"I’ll be honest with you, it was just a different time. Everything was different. Young girls actually dated men that were over 18. If they weren’t over 18, they weren’t interesting to us. It was just that time in the music industry. But when you are that young, you are not capable of making any decisions. If men in the business feel that they can use their authority to take advantage of young women, they need to go down and we need to take them out. There’s no doubt about that. It’s got to stop. You just have to be brave."

That’s the scary part, young women feel they won’t have a career if they speak out.

"That’s true. And that’s a real fear. But the thing is they have to make that choice and if they’re talented. Actually forget the talent, if they believe in themselves, they’ll get through it."

You were hugely influenced by David Bowie. How did his death impact you?

"It comes with getting long in the tooth. I lost Sandy West from the Runaways. I’ve lost so many friends, I can’t even tell you. But losing David Bowie has still not quite registered for me. Sometimes you put that stuff aside. I’ve got the Rolling Stone Magazine sitting on my coffee table that I see every day with his face on it and I still haven’t registered. I have to keep it that way because then he stays alive -- he stays alive in me and in everyone else and his brilliance continues on."

You’ve had a huge influence on many women in music. Are there any younger artists making music today that you listen to?

"Suzi Quatro has always been one of my absolute heroes. She’s actually on a new live album I’ve got coming out. She’s brilliant. But I don’t listen to new music. I still listen to classic rock ‘n’ roll. To me the seventies were just the best -- Elton John, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin. It just goes on and on and on.

And, if you were to ask me for advice -- a lot of these TV shows like The Voice, they are burning out. It doesn’t last. Shows like that stop people from moving forward with their dreams. Mick Jagger -- he would’ve been booed off stage on one of these shows. So many great people would never have been able to move forward with their careers. Don’t take anybody’s advice, don’t ask their advice, stay to your path and believe in your path and you will not go wrong."