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Cherie Currie | Despite New Album, Famed Runaways Singer Is A Reluctant Rockstar

 

In a once painful and turbulent but still very vibrant life, Cherie Currie has been a regular on American Bandstand, acted on television (Murder She Wrote, Matlock, etc), co-starred in a movie with Jodie Foster, was portrayed by Dakota Fanning in another and in the minds of millions, will forever be the fiery voice of legendary all female punk/rock outfit The Runaways. These days, she has a star-studded new album out. Not bad for a simple chainsaw carver from the Valley…


Robert: You’ve lived a life Ms. Currie. It’s difficult to know where to begin…

Cherie[laughs] We can start anywhere you’d like. I’m a warrior! I’ve been through a ton of wars in my life, but I can easily re-hash it all now. It’s burned into my memory banks because I just did my audio book. There really aren’t words to express what that was like. It was so scary – I’m happy it’s over.

Robert: Nearly every pop culture figure that writes a book is thrilled to have the writing of it over and done, and considers voicing the audio book as a victory lap.

Cherie: Not me! I was horrified. I mean, there are stories in there that cause me to think to myself, “I can’t believe I’m actually alive today.” At first, (the publishers) were saying, “Cherie, there are voice actors out there who do this for a living.” but I told them I was the one that had to do it, but I never expected it to be so intense. Those aren’t just words coming out of your mouth – you actually feel like you are being transported back to that time completely. Memories are so powerful. My son built a little makeshift vocal booth in my living room so I could work from home and have privacy, and I said to my neighbor, “If you hear screaming and crying, please don’t call the police. It’s just me doing my audio book.” I was sort of joking, but there were truly so many tears. I held nothing back. Anyone who buys the audio book is going to take a big chunk of me with them. 

Robert: Someone only familiar with The Runaways and oblivious to your larger life story might expect that the 1970’s were Cherie Currie’s heyday. Meanwhile, in three separate incidents that decade, you were a victim of rape, statutory rape (Currie became pregnant by one of the band’s managers while she was still a minor) and kidnapping.

Cherie: Yes, and back then they blamed women. They tried to make it your fault…although in some ways the kidnapping was my fault.

Robert: How could being kidnapped be your fault?

Cherie: I went against my instincts, which I’ve since learned not to do. I was hanging around my friends when the guy pulled up in a limousine and just acted like he knew me. He said, “Hey, Cherie, get in while I pull this around and park.” My gut was telling me not to do it but I was always such a people pleaser. This is going to sound stupid but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. It was too much for me to say, “No, thanks.”  So I got in and he was distracting me immediately, pointing out this or that, until I noticed one parking space pass by, and then another. Then the electric locks went down and that was it. I didn’t have my purse. I didn’t have a single thing on me. That was something he held over my head – that they were going to find my body and not know who I was. It’s a miracle that I’m still alive. He was just pure evil. 

Robert: You’ve obviously had to live with the incident forever – what was his fate?

Cherie: He plea bargained. They dropped the charges for the kidnapping and the beatings. He pled guilty to sodomy by force and they gave him a year in county jail. Things were very different back then. 

Robert: The kidnapping was not portrayed in the 2010 movie “The Runaways”, but there was still a lot of heavy lifting for a young Dakota Fanning to take on as she inhabited Cherie Currie. How did you feel about her depiction of you?

Cherie: She was excellent. And it’s funny because when I first met her she had come to the Roxy to see me play and she had a 101 fever, but there was nothing that was going to keep her from showing up. And when I looked at her, she looked exactly the way she did in “War of the Worlds”. That’s how small she was. She was 14. And I went home that night thinking, “How is she ever going to pull this off in just a year from now?” But when she started shooting she was the same age as when I started, and she’d grown into this beautiful young woman. She demanded I be in the studio. It was really a great time. 

Robert: She wanted you on the set to be sure she was doing all the little things right?

Cherie: Yes. For instance, when I was watching her in the scene where we’re all signing our record contract, she signed it right handed. I said, “By the way, I’m left handed” and immediately it was “Oh, sorry, hey we gotta do this again.” She also came to my house to sing through the Runaways’ songs and that made it easier for her. I’ve never been a singer – I mean now I think I actually can hold a note – but back in the Runaways, not as much. We became good friends. I was such a huge fan of hers and would just tell her “My God, you’re doing great. You’re my favorite actress”. Although one day (one of the executives on the set) said “Please don’t do that, it makes you look small.” And I said, “I don’t care! Let me look small.” If me turning around and telling her that she’s exceptional and I’m proud that she’s playing me in a movie is a bad thing, then I guess I shouldn’t be in this business.

Robert: When you strip away all the false importance, you’re simply complimenting a 15 year old for doing something well.

Cherie: Exactly! Who would try to keep anyone from doing that?

Robert: As the lead singer of a landmark, all female band and the victim of brutal acts at the hands of men, your opinion on women’s issues has always carried weight. Possibly even more so these days. Do you feel any connection with the ‘Me Too’ movement?

Cherie: Well, I was on board for ‘Me Too’ when women first started coming out because I understand what is out there and what could happen to a woman. But I’m unwilling to say that women don’t lie. That’s just an absolute falsehood. Women do lie, especially for attention, and I’ve seen this throughout my life. So that’s where ‘Me Too’ starts to lose me. And they do go overboard. I was watching Matt Damon doing an interview and he said that he supports ‘Me Too’, but in his opinion, there is a difference between a pat on the ass and rape. When he said that I applauded him from my home.

Robert: It’s difficult for you to sign on to a world where non-violent transgressions are seen as equal to violent ones, because you’ve been the victim of sexual violence yourself.

Cherie: Absolutely. I get angry when I think about the brutality I suffered. I mean, when I was kidnapped this man put me through five hours of beatings and every possible horror you can think of – with me thinking all the while that I was going to die. That’s how he told me it was going to end. For people to consider that experience as equal to a slap on the ass? You’ve got to be nuts.

Robert: What is your outlook towards men these days?

Cherie: I love men. There are so many great men in this world. I haven’t been in a relationship for over a decade because I choose to be alone, which is something I never thought I’d be comfortable being. I never felt whole if I wasn’t in a relationship, but eventually I realized that there was something fundamentally wrong with that. Men always tried to control me. They were jealous. I needed to be free of that, and I needed to find out who I was. The only way you really can do that is to live with yourself – truly live with yourself – and not be distracted by a man. 

Robert: You were once married to actor Robert Hays of ‘Airplane’ movie fame and you remain great friends today, but in a lot of ways the person you are most closely associated with in the public eye has been your twin sister, Marie. She finds herself in your book, and is a pivotal character in the movie as well. You acted together as children, you danced together on ‘American Bandstand’, and you even recorded an album together. My selfish curiosity: Do you share the twin telepathy-type phenomenon that allows you to sense things about each other, even when you’re apart?

Cherie: Oh, absolutely. The most profound situation I ever experienced with that was when we were 10 or 11. I was sitting in the living room with my grandmother when all of a sudden I just jumped up and said, “Grandma, Marie’s hurt her head! She hurt her head!” and I ran out of the house, jumped on my bike and rode off as fast as I could in a direction. As I came around a corner I saw two girls trying to hold Marie up as she was fainting. I jumped off the bike and just ran to her. She had fallen, and had a bump the size of my father’s fist on her head. She cracked her skull and was bleeding through the skin. My father took her to the doctor, and in the morning she had this enormous blood field that had fallen over her eye. It was a grotesque sight. My mother made us chili for dinner but I completely lost my appetite. I looked at Marie and just put my spoon down. She still reminds me of that. [laughs]

Robert: Outside of the cosmic part of having a twin, do you believe that having one  – especially on the public stage – has impacted on your personality?

Cherie: Definitely. Marie and I, even though we’re twins – are mirrored twins – I was the runt. I was actually dead at birth. I was born second, born breech, and it took doctors three and a half minutes to get me going. Marie was always the stronger one. She was always more intense. She was always more popular. She was always smarter as well, although both of us have a 10th grade education. And Marie was always glamorous. She always looked like she could eat a hamburger with double dressing and never get any on her fingers. [laughs] But what Marie really had was conviction, and me being the meek one, she would be tough on me. There’s no doubt we loved each other, and we still do today – I’m driving out tomorrow to visit her for a few days. But she could be very harsh back then.

Robert: Your sister being motivated and highly competent hasn’t changed – you’ve mentioned that she has been successful in art and most recently in banking – but you’ve changed along the way for sure. Meek is no longer a word many people would use to describe you. What changed?

Cherie: When Marie’s boyfriend raped me. That changed everything for me, because then I got really angry. I went from being – again – this kind of small, meek, not the prettiest twin, to something else entirely.

Robert: A runaway, literally and figuratively.

Cherie: That’s right.

Robert: You and Marie recorded an album together after you left the band. I’ve gathered that wasn’t as much fun as it should have been.

Cherie: I had been seasoned from a few years with ‘The Runaways’, had just come off tour, and was right in the middle of shooting the movie ‘Foxes’ when we got the deal. It was my time and I was ready for all of it, you know? Marie thought that she wanted to perform on stage as well. I knew in my heart that it wasn’t right for me or her, but I did it against my best judgement and it resulted in the end of my career for a very long time.

Robert: Was that due to poor sales?

Cherie: Marie and I did the record, but she decided to drop out before we could tour. I was dropped from the label, and I had such anger at myself for going ahead with something my gut told me wasn’t right for either of us. I think everyone has their own path and you should never walk that path with somebody else, or force them to walk it with you, if it isn’t theirs.

Robert: Even if they’re your twin.

Cherie: That’s right, and that was my mistake.

Robert: You’re long since back in the game, and now have your newest album, ‘Blvds of Splendor’. As the lead singer of a band that enjoys an almost mythological existence, there always seems to be a healthy amount of interest in anything you do. When you receive this kind of attention, do you regret not doing more musically over the years?

Cherie: I always tell myself that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be at right this minute. So many people get caught up in the would have, should have, could haves of their life and it’s such a waste of time. I went through a lot of those myself, thinking, “Maybe, if I hadn’t done that record with my sister, I could have had a hit.” Or knowing that Joan (Jett) went on to become a big star, or even Lita (Ford), who never really sang in ‘The Runaways’. That one was particularly hard for me because Lita was not a singer, yet she went on to have two big hits. But then I turn and look at my son, Jake, who is truly a gifted person. I mean, the kid has more talent in the tip of his little finger than Bob and I have in our entire bodies. And the truth is that he would not exist if I didn’t live my life just the way I have.

Robert: Jake is the perfect nature versus nurture study because he has an actor father and a musician mother and he’s involved in both avenues professionally. When he was young, who had the cooler profession in his eyes?

Cherie: Oh, it was all about Bob, for sure. Jake didn’t know that I was anybody until much later in life. It was always his dad. Growing up, Jake wanted to do a lot of different things – first he wanted to be a basketball player, then he thought he wanted to be an extreme skateboarder. But he picked up a guitar when he was 13 and a year later I took him with me to ‘Jonesy’s Jukebox’ (popular radio show in Los Angeles, hosted by ‘Sex Pistol’ guitarist Steve Jones) when I was a guest. Well, he and Steve played together and anything I did from that moment on was cool to him. I started bringing him up on stage with me for a song or two from time to time but the big one was when I was opening for Joan at the Pacific Amphitheater in 2010. Matt Sorum (former ‘Guns N’ Roses’ drummer and Currie’s producer) was on drums and I’ll tell you, Matt whipped that boy into shape. For Jake to walk out on that stage with hardly any experience in front of thousands and thousands of people, and do such a great job? That was one of the best moments of my life.

Robert: Have you ever been up on stage, lost in the music, and you either forgot or were momentarily surprised that your son was up there playing Runaway songs with you?

Cherie: [laughs] Do you have ESP or something? That has happened! It’s happened a couple of times. And it’s weird because I’ve always been a team player, so I’m usually aware of everyone out there, whether it be Nick Mayberry or Grant Fitzpatrick or Jake. I’m so proud of the people that I play with, and I think of myself as the one with the least amount of talent on that stage. I feel like I’m lucky that they want to play with me. I also think they’ve worked with people who are selfish and self absorbed, so they know the difference and appreciate me as well.

Robert: In regard to what other musicians think about you, there’s no need to go further than the short list of people who played on ‘Blvds of Splendor’.

Cherie: Well, Slash and Duff from ‘Guns n Roses’ both came down. Billy Corgan. Juliette Lewis. And the ‘Veronicas’ as well – they’re incredible. Holly Knight (heralded songwriter of dozens of radio hits) worked on ‘Breakout’ and her and Jake wrote ‘Force To Be Reckoned With’. Matt (Sorum) produced.

Robert: Are you friends with any or all of them?

Cherie: I’m not! This is all Matt’s doing. You see, I’m just a chainsaw carver from the valley, Robert. I don’t have a little black book with all these superstar friends. [laughs]

Robert: You may not have superstar friends, but you have a legion of superstar admirers. The people you named don’t come out to play for just anyone.

Cherie: Well that’s true, as this was not something that they were paid for. As far as I know, they donated their time. It certainly made me very humble. What was a really pleasant surprise was when Matt reached out to Duff and Slash because of their song ‘Mr X’ that he had played for me. That song was supposed to be on the next ‘Velvet Revolver’ album, but they disbanded before they could do anything with it. When Matt suggested it to them, they both thought that would be great for me. Someone recently asked Slash what his 10 top collaborations were, in his life, and he named me as one of them. I was stunned.

Robert: I’m sure he says that about all the humble chainsaw carvers from the valley.

Cherie: [laughs] I suppose not.

Robert: Billy Corgan. What say you?

Cherie: Oh, he’s great. I mean, the best. Although I’d admittedly never bought a ‘Smashing Pumpkins’ record, I’ve been a huge fan of his singles over the years. He’s gotten a bad rap as a tough person to work with. He’s absolutely brilliant, but he’s also the nicest guy ever. In fact, after we finished the recording, Jake and I had sent Billy another song we’d written because it wasn’t quite right. Now this guy’s out on a retreat somewhere, in some mountain cabin, but he took the time to send back a video of him performing the song with some great changes he suggested. I could never be more grateful to him for that. It showed what kind of musician and human being he is. 

Robert: How about Juliette Lewis? I could see her being a major fan of yours.

Cherie: It’s funny you say that because I brought flowers to the studio for her that day because I’m a big fan of hers as an actor. I honestly didn’t know until later that she was involved in music (Lewis has fronted the ‘New Romantiques’ and ‘Juliette and the Licks’). She asked me if I would please leave the studio because she was too nervous. That was no problem of course, and she did a great job, but you and I have been talking for awhile. Am I someone that would intimidate you?

Robert: No, but if I was a musician and The Runaways left an outsized impression on me while growing up? And I had to deliver a performance for you on your record? Maybe. 

Cherie: I have to say that Kristen Stewart sort of did the same thing on the movie. She was uncomfortable singing in front of me when I was on set – my presence there made her nervous. It’s hard for me to understand because I’m such a rah-rah, “Good job!” type of person. Some people come across as stern and cold and I’m completely the opposite, so I’m always surprised when that happens. Kristen did a great job.

Robert: No matter how many beautiful carvings you create, you remain a musical hero to many, and female vocalists in particular. Your first impulse seems to be to deflect that.

Cherie: No, you’re right. When you tell me I have some sort of big place in music, I appreciate it but I cant connect with it or grab it and say, “Well, that’s mine.” To me, it isn’t real. What I did back then was real, sure. But the me I’m proud of is the me I am today. I’m 60 and I like myself now. 

Robert: The photo for the cover of the album finds you with an edge in your expression, dressed in full red rocker gear. If you’re just a chainsaw carver living in a simple town…

Cherie: I am! [laughs]

Robert: Ok, so when you do a photo shoot like this do you feel like you’re out of your element, wearing some sort of rocker costume? 

Cherie: Oh no, it’s definitely still me. I mean, I hate wearing makeup. I’m covered in gasoline and oil most of the time, and fuel and makeup don’t mix. [laughs] I used to think that there were two parts of me – the chainsaw artist and the music artist, but we have joined together. We’re now one and the same. There’s no difference between me when I fire up that saw and the way I am when I’m on that stage.

Robert: You made previous mention to me of enjoying the last 20 years or so of your life. How frustrating is it for you to know that you’d be financially secure for all of them if only you and Joan and Lita could agree to share a stage for a few months?

Cherie: It’s very frustrating. Especially because I’m the only member that’s played with everyone. Since we disbanded I played with Joan on stage, and I opened for her. I played with Lita. I brought Sandy (West) and Jackie (Fox) on stage with me here at the ‘Whisky’ and took them up to San Francisco to play with me up there. I played with all of them. Sandy and I remained best friends for all of her life. (West died of lung cancer in 2006)

Robert: Who keeps The Runaways from reuniting right now?

Cherie: Joan. [pause] Well, Joan, Kenny (Laguna, Jett’s manager), and Lita. I’ve actually given up. I had to because I wanted it to happen and believed it could, but it hasn’t. 

Robert: There were a few close calls.

Cherie: Yeah, the most recent time was when Lita came back around sometime after the movie was released. She wanted to do it and her and Joan went to dinner to discuss it, but Joan just said, “No, look, we’re not 18 anymore”, and that was that. We were closer to a reunion in ’98 though. I hadn’t spoken with Lita hardly at all since I’d left the band, but she reached out to me and Sandy said, “Let’s get Joan to do a reunion.” Surprisingly, we did get her to agree. Kenny went out and got a deal for us and we were ready to put the tour together but then, during our first conference call, Lita and Kenny immediately butted heads for some reason. Lita just lost it right away and started screaming and basically said, “I don’t want anything to do with this. Fuck off.” and hung up. Kenny and Joan both said, “What the hell just happened?” [laughs] They made me call Lita and I listened to her vent and scream about Kenny, and I knew it wasn’t going to happen. It’s not my burden to carry.

Robert: In the movie it’s not hard to notice that Lita always looks pissed off and lashes out in some scenes.

Cherie: Yeah, that actress was excellent.

Robert: Kim Fowley (the Runaways’ controversial manager) is a huge part of your story. Your volatile relationship during the band’s heyday is well worn territory, but your reconciliation and care for him towards the end of his life made for one of the better rock ‘n roll endings.

Cherie: Kim reached out to me to make a record together after I couldn’t get mine released, and I said I would love to. I knew he was dying from bladder cancer. He moved into my house and stayed with me until almost the very end.

Robert: It seems like the bridge from where you were to where you finished up would have been a longer one to cross.

Cherie: Oh, believe me. I realized when I saw him at a party just how deep my hatred for him was. I was watching him walk around a pool and I thought to myself, “You could just charge him right now and push him into that pool if you wanted to.” But then I sat back and thought to myself the following day, “You know, this only hurts you. Next time you see him, you’re not going to think like this.” After all that anger that I was holding onto was released, we eventually got around to talking on the phone and became real friends. Friends enough that he felt comfortable asking me if he could move into my home. I jumped at it. Not only to be kind, but because I really needed him to see that I didn’t want him to be alone. Forgiveness has been such a huge thing in my life. Towards the end he needed a specialist so he went into the hospital. I was constantly on the phone with him up until the day he died. I miss him.

Robert: You might have a caretaker streak in you. You developed a serious substance abuse problem in the 70’s and early 80’s, but you cleaned yourself up, and actually became a drug counselor.

Cherie: Yes, I was first hired on as a tech, which basically involved me just herding kids from one place to another and sitting with them as they went through withdrawals. I worked at a lockdown facility, where there were two wards – a psych ward and a substance abuse ward. Unfortunately, I worked for both of those and I saw a lot of corruption that was going on at that time, which I found truly horrendous. It soured me on the whole thing. I really loved the kids though, and I thought that I could help them. So I took courses and become a drug and alcohol counselor, which was quite the cut above a tech. But it was very hard for me after I saw the corrupt parts of the system. I felt it wasn’t about the kids, as much as it was about money.

Robert: You first became sober four decades ago. Has it all been smooth sailing, or have you had a few slips over the years?

Cherie: I’ve lapsed four times total since the 80’s – and boy do I appreciate my life so much more when I come back. I don’t beat myself up. I mean, it’s so rare for someone to quit major substance abuse at 24 and still be sober at 60. It’s always going to be a battle. The disease is such a liar, and it never goes away.

Robert: You mentioned “those of us who were born to be in this business”, and Jodie Foster certainly qualifies as one of ‘those’. The two of you became friends while shooting the movie ‘Foxes’.

Cherie: We were very close. She was one of my best friends, but my drug addiction got in the way of that. And then when everything happened with the assassination attempt, I called her (John Hinckley shot President Reagan in 1981 to impress Foster, who he was obsessed with). She was going through a very tough time. Unfortunately, I was a ‘base’ addict at the time, and it didn’t turn out well.

Robert: Were you out of control on the call because you were high?

Cherie: I was a complete mess on the call. I was crying too much, I believe. I was so worried about her but I wasn’t myself and the price I paid is not having her as a friend after that. We never spoke again.

Robert: I’m sure there are several people, outside of Jodie, that haven’t seen you in decades but knew you ‘back then’. Things are so different for you now – the sobriety, your dating situation, how you earn your primary income, etc. What is different about you personally that people from your past might be struck by? 

Cherie: I’ve always been someone that speaks my mind, but now I do it to lift people up. I see that as my purpose now…to make people feel better. If I see a woman who’s really pretty or someone with a great singing voice or someone who made a nice piece of art – or anyone doing anything well –  it makes me so happy to go out of my way to compliment them. Just to let them know they’re appreciated. I’ve been telling you how gifted you are from the moment we connected. The interview you did with (Def Leppard drummer) Rick Allen about his PTSD was incredible. People don’t compliment each other like that in this business or in life, and they should. Well, I do. That’s who I am.