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Former 'Runaway' makes peace with past
It’s been 35 years since Cherie Currie’s previous solo album, so when you wonder what got the former lead singer of the Runaways back into the studio after so long to record her recent “Reverie,” her answer comes as a surprise.
“Kim Fowley reached out to me a little over a year ago now,” Currie says of the legendary, if not notorious, producer who helped bring together five teenage girls to form the Runaways in Los Angeles in the mid-’70s. “He’d heard through the grapevine that I’d said I would actually work with him again.
“And so he called me and said, ‘I hear you’d work with me, do you want to make a record?’ And I said, ‘Hell, yes!’”
Things had not ended well, to put it mildly, between Fowley and the Runaways, whose classic lineup included Currie, guitarist Joan Jett, lead guitarist Lita Ford, bassist Jackie Fox and drummer Sandy West, who’d grown up in Orange County.
The band never made it big in the United States, though songs such as “Cherry Bomb,” “Hollywood” and “Queens of Noise” made it a superstar act in Japan. When after two or three years the band split with Fowley, Currie and the others had bitter words for the so-called svengali, claiming he’d been verbally and emotionally abusive to the still mostly high-school-age girls.
Over time, Currie says, she’d forgiven him for the damage done decades earlier, and now, with Fowley already ill with the cancer that would claim him in January, she felt good about getting together again with her old mentor in the studio.
“Once I said yes, it was not more than probably a week later that we were in the studio,” Currie says. “That’s the way Kim worked. He had my son and I come to his apartment, even Lita Ford came, and we started writing songs. We wrote four songs that day, and within two days we were in the studio.
“That was the Kim Fowley way, and I also think he knew he didn’t have a lot of time.”
Currie is upfront with the primary reason her recording career stalled after 1980’s “Messin’ With The Boys,” a collaboration with her twin Marie Currie.
“From 1980, I had a very serious drug addiction,” she says. “I had to take care of it in 1984, when I got clean and sober.”
At that point, the rock ’n’ roll life had lost its appeal, she says. So she became a drug counselor and worked in that field for years, and spent time working as a fitness trainer, too. In recent years, she’s made a name for herself as a chainsaw sculptor, with commissions including a statue of Sandy West as a mermaid in San Clemente.
She married actor Robert Hays of “Airplane!” fame, though they later divorced. They had a son, Jake, whose work as a musician in recent years also helped bring her back into the music scene.
Jake Hays was her rhythm guitarist when Currie opened for Joan Jett and the Blackhearts at Pacific Amphitheatre in August 2010, one of her first live performances in years, and one that inspired her to play more, Currie says.
“I think I missed being onstage because I’m more comfortable onstage than I am just about anywhere else,” she says. “I’d gotten on stage with Joan a number of times, but when I opened for her at the Pacific Amphitheatre that changed everything. I really realized how much I loved doing it, and I was pretty OK doing it – I didn’t [stink] – so now was the time to go back in.”
Matt Sorum of Guns ‘N Roses was her drummer that night in Costa Mesa and not only encouraged her to make a new record but also evntually produced an as-of-yet unreleased album in 2010, the same year “The Runaways” bio-pic arrived, a film based on Currie’s memoir “Neon Angel” and starring Dakota Fanning as Currie and Kristen Stewart as Jett.
Somewhere amid all that, Currie says she found herself making peace with Fowley, maybe seven or eight years ago, she says, and coming to understand that though he’d hurt her during her Runaways days, she could forgive him in the present.
“Being called ‘dog [urine]’ and ‘dog puke’ and all that kind of stuff, even though that was Kim, was very hard on me,” Currie says. “Because I had a very loving family. That was just a shock to my system.
“Trust me, it took me growing up and having a child, and a very long conversation with him where we buried the hatchet,” she says. “He had a horrible childhood, orphanages and polio and no love in his childhood. And here he is, a man in his early 30s, basically having to father five teenage girls, and knowing he was that he was sending us out into this big, bad rock and roll world, where girls weren’t really accepted.
“And he apologized to me. He realized later on in life he could have done it better, but I don’t blame him, he had no loving resources to fall back on.”
In the last few months before Fowley died, he moved into Currie’s home where she helped care for him as his life wound down.
“It was really great to take care of him and end it on such a positive note,” she says. “Not only on the record, but to be able to take care of him in a way that not only people wouldn’t, but couldn’t, I’m very grateful to have had that time with him here.
“I have no bad feelings of him. They are gone.”
As for what comes next, Currie says she doesn’t plan to tour this year but instead is eager to get back to her other artistic pursuit – carving wood sculptures with a chain saw.
“I will definitely go back to supporting this record but it’s not going to be anytime time soon,” she says. “I want a few months, maybe six months, just to carve. That really centers me and I need to replenish my soul for awhile.”
She knows that her legacy as a rock ’n’ roll singer as well as an actress – she’d received strong reviews in the film “Foxes” opposite Jodie Foster and Scott Baio – was derailed by her addictions. But she’s happy now, and thinks perhaps she might not have the peace she enjoys if her life hadn’t unfolded exactly how it has.
“I guess I think to myself had it been different, had I had some form of success, I wouldn’t have Jake,” Currie says. “When I ask myself, ‘Why was I born?’ I used to to think possibly to be in the Runaways, to open the door for women in rock ’n’ roll.
“I don’t think so anymore. I think it was to have Jake. He’s just one of the greatest human beings. I would do it all over again to have him in my life.”