In 1975, legendary L.A. rock scenester Kim Fowley invited 15-year-old Cherie Currie to front the all-girl rock band he was promoting. Within a year, Currie was out on the road with The Runaways, playing gigs in skimpy outfits and singing songs about sex stoked by the dueling guitar riffs of Joan Jett and Lita Ford. By the end of the decade, Currie was out of the band and trying to recover from drug and alcohol addiction—all before she turned 20. Currie told about her experiences with The Runaways in the book Neon Angel (which has been recently revised and re-released), and her story also inspired Floria Sigismondi’s impressionistic biopic The Runaways, starring Dakota Fanning as Currie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett. Currie recently spoke with The A.V. Club about the movie, which opens today.
The A.V. Club: The first time you watched The Runaways, was it like seeing your own memories, or more like watching a character?
Cherie Currie: It was a lot of memories. It was just surreal. Dakota Fanning is so great. I actually forget it’s my story, just because she’s so good and so believable. You get engulfed in the film. It’s wild. At first, you’re saying, “Wait a minute,” because they took some poetic license and it kind of goes against your grain. It’s just human nature to react when you see something you lived through and you think it didn’t quite happen that way. But then you get through that and then you see the movie again and it’s just like, “Oh my God. This really is intriguing.” And the acting is so great. I get so engulfed in the film that I forget it’s about The Runaways and me and Joan. It’s so entertaining, really.
AVC: Joan Jett has said that when she read your book, she was surprised by what she found out about your life and what you went through. While on the road in your teenage years, did you two not share much about your past?
CC: Well, there really wasn’t much of a respective past at that point. We were so young. We were just starting to live our lives and experience things together. I had never been away from home until I went on the road with The Runaways. I’d never been on a plane, and neither had Joan. So it was all these new experiences coming at us. And you know, I shared a couple of things with her, but we were kids. We talked some about what was happening in school and at home, but we lived so much life those two years I was in the band, it was incredible. It was amazing.
AVC: What prompted you to write the book?
CC: There was an original book called Neon Angel by Neal Shusterman and myself, and that came out through Price Stern Sloan. It was their first young-adult book. It came out in 1989. When they switched hands, the book fell to the wayside, and went out of print. Then I re-read it in 2000, and I was compelled to rewrite these stories from a different point of view. I was 40 at the time, and I didn’t have as much fear or personal loathing as I had when I wrote the original with Neal. I saw things differently. And I wanted to tell these really tragic stories that Price Stern Sloan didn’t feel comfortable with in their first young-adult book. Then Kenny Laguna read it and was very intrigued and thought it was worthy of another publication. So he started shopping the book. And then John Linson became very interested in it being a film. It started from there a few years ago, and now here we are.
AVC: Is there a sense of relief when writing something so personal and finding it so well-received?
CC: Oh, truly there is. With this new book—I’ve never worked on anything so hard in my life. The original book, I really let Neal perform his magic, because he’s such a talented writer. I had my hand in there, but not like this one, not by a long shot. This one I took personally, because the thing is, I’ve placed a lot of blame for things on other people. You can live with it if you blame yourself: “This is my fault.” But when you feel that you’ve allowed someone else to screw something up, then that’s really hard to get over. So with this book, I thought “If this goes down in flames, I can live with it as long as I’m the one that makes that happen, and no one else.”
So that’s what happened with this book. Tony O’Neill was writing it with me, but he couldn’t find my voice, and because everything was pushed up a couple of months because of the new release date for The Runaways, I took over. And I made it my book. In the final editing process, Tony had 30 changes and I had several hundred, where they had to hire six people to work over the weekend to accommodate the total rewrite, edit, and additions I put into it. I have to thank Harper Collins for doing it, because I felt if they didn’t make it exactly the way I wanted it to be, by my hand, then I didn’t want the book out there. And I’m really happy that people are enjoying the book. It means a lot to me, because I can take real responsibility for it. I did it with some help, but the majority of it was me.
AVC: You’ve had candid things to say about Kim Fowley’s abusive behavior in the past—in the book and elsewhere—so it’s surprising that in the movie, Fowley is made out to be more of a wacky weirdo than a monster.
CC: Again, poetic license. Also, [co-producer] John Linson and Floria [Sigismondi] knew that having Kim involved would be essential for the film. Again, this is their movie. This is their portrayal. This is their version of the story. My book is a totally different story. My book is the real story. This is just a lighter kind of flash of what The Runaways were for a specific amount of time. How do you possibly take two and a half years and make it a film that’s an hour and a half, and make it even closely touch what was truly going on? It’s an epic. The true story is an epic, and that’s just not anything that could have been done on film.
AVC: There could be a footnote at the end of the film: “Read the book!”
CC: I hope people do, because there were some harrowing times. I mean, my God, we were arrested in Europe! There was so much crazy stuff they just didn’t have time for.
AVC: The film really gives the sense that you were all out on the road, touring the country and the world, without any real support.
CC: We had none, zero, zilch. Sometimes we had a manager who was getting into everyone’s pants and stealing our money, and we had a very abusive roadie. We had absolutely no support, really. We were just running amok.
AVC: Did you at least feel like you got to make the music you wanted to make?
CC: Oh we absolutely did. It was such an original act. It had never been done before. The Runaways had a specific sound that I don’t think has been recaptured. We were unique in a lot of different ways.
AVC: Did you reach the level of fame you wanted?
CC: No, not at all. We really didn’t get that opportunity. By the time I left, which is when we had gotten back from Japan, I think we’d reached the point where the next record with the five us really would have been a hit, just because we were out there proving that we really could play music. The performances were great, and I think we had already fought the war. But it fell apart before we could get the success we wanted.
AVC: After you left The Runaways, were you cheering on the careers of your former bandmates?
CC: Absolutely. I had no doubt that Joan was going to be successful so long as she lived through the craziness of the time, if she could get through that. I knew I couldn’t. I had to change my life. I had to clean up my act, because I was not going to make it. I knew she would succeed because that was just a calling for her. And Lita as well. I was thrilled for her.
AVC: Looking back on your teenage years, has it affected how you’ve behaved as a parent?
CC: My son has been raised to know that there’s a big bad world out there. I caught a lot of flak from other parents, who thought that was bad parenting. And I said, “Hey, are you still going to have your kid around when he’s 15 or 16? I’m going to make sure I have mine.” I scared Jake pretty bad. He’s grown up to be extremely aware of his surroundings and very much at peace, because nothing scares the kid anymore. I really put the fear of God into him, because they’re such sponges. The earlier you teach them the law of the land, the easier they’ll accept it as an adult. I think parents who shelter their children are making a huge mistake. Kids are really pretty amazing. They can handle a lot. It’s just us parents. We think we need to protect them, and then when the real world comes in, they’re shattered. So I think I did the right thing in my parenting. But when he was offered the chance to go on the road when he was 15, I wouldn’t let it happen. [Laughs.]