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Sex, Rock & Rape: Cherie Currie's Untold Runaways Story
SPIN Interview By Phoebe Reilly on March 3, 2010 12:58 PM

As risqué as it is, the upcoming movie The Runaways (in theaters March 19) barely touches on the most harrowing experiences of the band's former lead vocalist Cherie Currie, who joined the all-girl proto-punk group in 1975 and quit two years later.

In Neon Angel, an expanded edition of her 1989 book on which the film is based, the singer/actress-turned-chainsaw artist reveals how the liberated life of a 16-year-old rock star in Los Angeles included many dark moments, among them rape, abortion, and a nearly fatal addiction to freebased cocaine.

Here, she talks with SPIN.com about the film, her friendship with Runaways' co-founder Joan Jett, and the disturbing scenes Dakota Fanning, who portrays Currie, didn't have to play.

What did you include in this new version of the book that you couldn't in the original?
I named names. For example, the story where [Runaways manager/producer] Kim Fowley held a sex education class for us was a little more than the publishers could stomach at the time.

In that scene, Kim has sex with a woman in front of the band in order to, as you recall, "teach you dogs how to fuck." You seem to remember him as a nasty guy but Joan Jett calls him a "close friend." Does it bother you that she likes him?
No. It's like battered-wife syndrome. Some women love the abusive men they're with and that's kind of the way I was with Kim. I really wanted his approval. And he apologized to me on the phone a year ago, saying if he had to do it over again he wouldn't have treated us that way. He didn't know how to handle 15-year-old girls. In his own crazy way, he loved us.

It's impossible to imagine an underage female rock band today having the same freedom the Runaways had. People freaked out at a mildly suggestive Miley Cyrus magazine cover. Do you wish you had been better supervised at the time?
Well, I don't think the Runaways could have happened under those circumstances. And our band was a milestone. Thank God we had the parents that we had because I can tell you, being the mother of a 19-year-old, there isn't a chance I would have let that happen. But we made history. So it's a double-edged sword.

What was your reaction to the film when you saw it for the first time?
I was stunned. When you live something, your first reaction is to say, "Well, that's not right" or "Wait a minute, it didn't happen that way." Then Joan and I saw it again and thought, "Wow, this is really good." It takes time for it to sink in. I thought the performances were just incredible. I'm so glad Kristen [Stewart] and Dakota became good friends because the friendship between Joan and I was so important.

In the movie, your character initially has a problem singing "Cherry Bomb," particularly the line "Have ya, grab ya, till you're sore." Were you really that naive?
Not at all. I had no problem singing that line. The filmmakers took a lot of liberties. If you read the book, then you'll know that my twin sister's boyfriend had raped me and took my virginity. That's why I was angry, that's why I cut my hair to look like David Bowie's. I really felt that detail was important. The filmmakers didn't. They did not want the Cherie character to lose her innocence so early in the film.

Joan writes in the book's intro that you had a "flair for finding yourself in dramatic situations." Do you feel like that minimizes any of your traumatic experiences?
I was very touched by what she wrote. She told me the book gave her a new appreciation for some of the stuff I had been through. That's the beauty of this movie and everything happening now: Joan and I are really getting to know each other all over again. It's so funny, in the forward, Joan admits how angry she was with me for leaving the band and I was like, "What? I thought you wanted me out." We never talked to each after I left and it's water under the bridge now but we both wish we had spoken before.

Joan was actively involved as executive producer on the movie. Do you feel that she's more protective of the Runaways' legacy than you are?
Of course. The Runaways were Joan's creation. She's going to have a more vested interest in it. But you would never want to cross me when it comes to this band. We fought so hard and we went through hell.

Your former bandmate Lita Ford made it clear that she had nothing to do with the film and isn't pleased about it. What do you make of that?
Lita has no one to blame but herself. Joan asked her to be involved and had she done so it would have been a different film. But you can't get blood from a stone and that's what Lita is.

The book doesn't detail the physical relationship you had with Joan but your characters make out in the movie. Did you feel that was an exploitative?
At first, I would have agreed with that. But no, it tells the truth. First of all, back in the mid-'70s, Bowie had just come out as bisexual and so had Elton John and that was really intriguing. We experimented. We weren't in love with each other. We just had fun. I like that it's in the film. So many kids go through these serious guilt trips. I want them to know it's okay.

What is chainsaw art and how did you get started doing it?
Well, chainsaw art is when you pick up a log and carve a mermaid or a dolphin or dogs or bears or whatever. I saw some people doing it in Malibu in the early '90s and I couldn't get it out of my head. I found it far more difficult than I thought it was going to be. It's extremely dangerous. A master carver just died when his saw gave a kickback and sliced an artery. But I love it.