Shotguns, Chainsaws and Cherry Bombs:
Cherie Currie is One Badass Mother!
Cherie Currie swears she never dates anymore, hasn’t in five years. So maybe I should just skip the formalities and ask her to marry me right off the bat.
Thirty-eight years after “Cherry Bomb” – the Kim Fowley/Joan Jett song inspired by Currie’s first name – catapulted the all-girl band The Runaways into a full-on worldwide whirlwind of sex/drugs/rock ‘n’ roll insanity that ultimately led to Cherie leaving the group a little over a year later, Currie is a welcoming, intelligent, well-rounded adult who still lives in Los Angeles, the city where in 1975 Fowley assembled that original group of five teenage girls. That she didn’t end up completely fucked up, pissed off at the world or clinging to perpetual victimhood is rather remarkable, given some of the situations that went down during those young adult years. (For a blunt, candid account from her own perspective, read Currie’s revised 2000 edition of her book, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway – the 2010 biopic The Runaways was based on it but didn’t delve into some of the darker elements.)
Put a chainsaw in her hands, and she’ll carve a work of art. (Check out chainsaw-chick.com for an example of her abilities.) Put a microphone in her hands and a rockin’ band behind her, and she proves that she can still handily belt out those Runaways anthems. And, following a frustrating and (to date) fruitless experience with onetime Runaways bandmate Jett’s boutique label Blackheart Records, she’s made a new album that she hopes to get released soon. Recorded with Fowley, former Runaway Lita Ford and Currie’s 23-year-old son Jake Hays (from her marriage to actor Robert Hays), it will be Currie’s first album since her 1980 collaboration with her twin sister Marie, Messin’ With the Boys.
In the meantime, “Cherry Bomb” has rebounded into public earshot again thanks to the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” of Marvel’s hit summer movie, Guardians of the Galaxy. “You have no idea how grateful I am when things like [Guardians] happen,” Currie, 54, stressed to me during our recent phone conversation. “I’m just so grateful.”
I’m around your same age, just a little younger, but I grew up basically during the same time, and I realize it was a different era, but I also know how my parents were, and they would’ve never allowed me to go off around the world with four other kids with no direct parental oversight. It’s always seemed weird to me that your family would let you, at age 15, go off and join The Runaways and do all that.
“Well, personally, I really get it, because when my son was 15, I looked at him and just said, ‘How did that ever happen?’ I never would’ve let him go and do that without me. But actually it was just kind of an odd circumstance. My parents had divorced, and my mother was remarrying at the time and moving to Indonesia with my stepfather, taking my brother and wanting to take [me and Marie]. But Kim Fowley, he offered something to all of us girls that we could only dream of. And he was very good at convincing the parents that this was going to be a groundbreaking band. And, you know, the parents also believed very, very much in our talent, and what do you do? Stop a child from doing something that they had only dreamed of? Plus [Fowley] promised that we would be very well taken care of. But, also, in the ‘70s, people were a little more open to things like this. Now I think it’s very different – we over-parent our children these days. So, back then it was just the right combination of the record company coming out and talking to the parents… I mean, how do you say no to that, honest to God? And yet, if it would’ve been my son… I would’ve let it happen, but it would’ve been different ground rules.”
Do you happen to still have any of the getups you wore onstage back then? Whatever happened to those clothes?
“I actually have them now. I’d given the gold suit to a very good friend of mine who I met in Japan, and we remained very close friends. And one had been stolen – my silver suit. A fan bought that and ended up giving it to me, which was so, so sweet. But anyway, my Japanese friend decided to give me back the gold suit, which was awfully kind of her, because I really realized that this stuff should go to Jake, you know. Back when I gave it to her… I thought [The Runaways] were all but forgotten. It made her happy, so I gave it to her. So now that’s actually in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum. And what’s real funny is, I just saw a photo of it… and they had it on backwards on the mannequin! I couldn’t believe it…”
The Runaways were a groundbreaking band, yet you were also manipulated and exploited. Yet to a large degree, you were willing participants. It sounds like a horrific nightmare, in a lot of ways, that you would never wish on anyone, let alone someone’s teenage daughter. On the other hand, you had lots of amazing times and you all have careers because of it. How do you juggle all that in your head?
“Well, I had to deal with that when I wrote my book. But after I wrote that book – the second time, the more adult version – I let it go. Because… you know, you can wallow in mistakes you’ve made in your life, and then your life will stop. You have to look to the future, and yeah, you can reach back and take situations that have happened to keep you from making those same mistakes again, but you gotta let it go.”
Can you tell me about reconciling with Kim Fowley? Did you initiate that, or did he?
“Actually, it was me. You won’t believe this, but Kim is moving into my house tomorrow. He and his fiancée moved into a house in Laurel Canyon, and it’s too damp there, and he called me three days ago and was like, ‘Can I please come and stay with you?’ He’s very ill. He’s had bladder cancer, he’s had a bladder bag, all these things. I was talking to Lita yesterday, and I said, ‘I have to say yes. I can’t leave him out in the cold.’ And I have a wonderful house, a ranch style house, it can take a wheelchair, I mean… how ironic? That I’m picking him up at his house and moving him in until they can find a place that’s more conducive to his arthritis and polio and all this stuff. He’s someone I really hated for so many years.”
And rightly so, I have to say.
“Yeah. Well, again, when I reconciled with him a few years back, it was not for him. It was for myself, because I was so bitter that it was hurting me, not anybody else. And I also realized, as a parent, what it must have been like for him being in his thirties, who had a terrible childhood, was abandoned by his parents, and having to take care of five teenage girls. The only way he knew how. It’s rethinking things in a different perspective. But yeah, he’s gonna be here tomorrow, and I don’t know, it could be a month, it could be many months. Six times he’s had cancer now. He still has it, and they’re gonna try some experimental stuff on him, but boy, is he resilient. And I’ve told him, ‘I’ve hated you, but I’ve loved you as well.’ And I think it’s the love I’ve always had for him. And again, I said, ‘You always love your abusers.’ Ha ha ha!”
Of course, Kim’s done many incredibly cool things, written and recorded loads of awesome songs. He’s a very sharp person.
“Oh, he is a genius, and I gotta tell you, there’s nobody that can write songs like him. Nobody. Jake and I have been – and I’ve had Lita come with us as well – to Kim’s apartment, and Kim would tell my son, just exactly as with ‘Cherry Bomb’ with Joan, he would just say, ‘Play doot-doot-doot-doot-doot-doot…’ and then he’d just start reciting lyrics that are so brilliant. And 98% of the time, they are never changed – they are brilliant right out of his mouth. And there would be a chord change, and he’d snap his finger – ‘Chord!’ I said, ‘Jake, you have to come with me for this, and you will never be the same as a songwriter,’ and it’s the truth. He was absolutely floored.”
You’ve been working on a new album for a while now, right?
“It’s been almost eight months now. Kim had asked me to do a record… and I thought, what a cool concept! So Jake, myself and Kim wrote some songs, three or four songs, actually, and went right in the studio for four days to record them, and then Kim took a turn for the worse. His cancer came back, and he became very, very ill, and he turned it over to Jake and said, ‘You need to finish this.’ So Jake, having his own band, Maudlin Strangers, and sometimes it’s hard for kids, they’re very focused on themselves – you know, you have to be – but this record dragged on because I had to work around Jake’s schedule, with his shows and what he was doing in his life. But we finally did finish it, and right now we’re just looking at different record companies that wanna release it.”
This isn’t the record that was originally going to come out on Blackheart?
“No, I have an album that I did with [drummer] Matt Sorum back in 2010. And that, Matt produced, and it’s got Billy Corgan on it, he wrote a duet that he and I did, and Brody Dalle, The Veronicas, Juliette Lewis, I mean, these wonderful people came in and contributed their talents to this record, but, um, Blackheart just let me sit for three years. Wouldn’t let me play after I opened for Joan back in August of 2010, and I never understood why I couldn’t even play. The show was such a success, and then they just… I don’t know what happened. They just stopped… stopped the record… I just don’t know… It’s still such a mystery to me that it’s hard to talk about, because you know, I had this chance to put down my chainsaw for a while, and not be covered in gas and oil, and that didn’t pan out. I made a great record and they just haven’t put it out. And so, when my management contract with them was up a year and a half ago, I left.”
Isn’t Joan directly involved with Blackheart Records?
“Yeah, it’s her record label. But I mean… look, Joan, you know… Kenny Laguna was my manager, as well – he is her manager, he’s the reason for all of her success, but you know, her life takes up the majority… I’m just gonna look at it from a different perspective, because I could look at it from another perspective that would make me very unhappy and that doesn’t help me in my life. I’m just gonna say they were too busy with Joan and leave it at that.”
You still live in L.A. You’ve pretty much always lived in L.A. What keeps you there?
“My family now, really. My son, and my wonderful ex-husband, Robert Hays. My family. Otherwise, I wouldn’t live here anymore, ha ha ha! It’s very expensive, there’s too many people in Los Angeles. I’m kind of a woods woman. I would move up north, or into a state that isn’t so ridiculous… It’s kind of sad, because it used to be a wonderful place to live. It really did. No more. One day I’ll have a cabin somewhere in the woods, and I’ll be happy.”
And you can carve up all the trees in the woods.
“As long as they’re not standing, yeah.”
What exactly attracted you to chainsaw art as a hobby?
“Oh, it’s not a hobby. It’s been how I’ve made my living for 13 years. I have my house because of that chainsaw, and no other reason. It was a fluke. I’d gotten into, in fact, so many things with art. My book never would’ve happened, my original book, had I not picked up a pencil and started sketching, because I actually worked at Price Stern Sloan as a sketch artist for their children’s books. And at that time, I was a counselor for drug addicted teens, and they asked me how long I’d been drawing, and I said a year, and they said, ‘How’s that possible?’ and I told them the story of The Runaways, and they said, ‘We’ve been looking for our first young adult book, and we think this is it.’ So I walked in as an artist and walked out as an author. Then I went on to painting, and then I went on to relief carving. And I was doing the relief carving, which is kind of two-dimensional on a flat surface, and I was headin’ to the beach one day, and saw a couple of guys chainsaw carving on the side of the road, and even though I didn’t stop I could not get it out of my head. You know that little voice that always tells you, ‘turn left,’ that intuition? It kept telling me I had to go back, every day. And I did – I went into this gallery and saw some amazing artwork. I mean, it wasn’t he crude, you know, chainsaw bears that you see. They were really exceptional pieces of art. So I asked the owner if I could give it a whirl, and he said yes, and the next thing I know I was winning ribbons and competing in 2005 and placing in major competitions, and there ya go!”
That’s badass. Did it come naturally to you? It seems to me it would be extremely difficult to learn how to do that.
“Well, you have to be able to see it. You have to be able to see the carving in the wood. And it was a lot harder than I expected it to be. But once I could wrap it around my brain, I really had a knack for it. Of course, my family was desperately trying to stop me. They were very, very concerned for my wellbeing.”
Your political views are largely similar to mine, in that you tend to be more conservative. It’s refreshing, because it’s so uncommon among musicians, actors, pop culture figures in general. Have you always been that way, or were you more left-wing when you were younger?
“I didn’t know anything about politics, whatsoever, until about 2005. All I knew was when Bush was re-elected, I knew something was wrong, and I didn’t understand it. Even though, yes, I’m a conservative, I’m more a libertarian Constitutionalist, in a way. I consider myself a Republican because I’ve always been a huge fan of Ronald Reagan. All I knew was that I loved the way he made us feel as Americans, but I never really studied it. I’ve learned a lot, especially in the last ten years. And yeah, I used to be very vocal about my opinions, but it hurt me. It hurt my career in the long run. I’ve just always believed that you work really hard, you should be able to keep a lot of what you make. And I just saw so much waste, and high-high-high taxes, and you know, you’re never able to get ahead. And to me, I think that’s not the American Dream. And all the dirty backdoor deals that these people make, you know, they’ve been gettin’ away with it for so long, and it’s just so obvious. And I voted for Obama!”
“Well, I felt that Hillary was the right choice. I just thought, ah, cool, there’s a woman out there. I kind of wanted her to win. And then all of a sudden… here’s Obama, and after Bush, I mean, Bush was not a speaker – he really couldn’t get in front of a world audience and make us proud, you know. So all of a sudden, here is this young black man who was saying all the right things. I didn’t look into him. I didn’t look into his past. I was caught up in the moment.”
You and a lot of people.
“I was! I really was. I wanted to believe what he said. I wanted to believe him. And then his true agenda started to come out. And I was mortified. I just can’t even tell you how I felt about it.”
You didn’t vote for him in 2012?
“Oh, no, I voted for Romney. And when I saw their first debate, Jake and I were in Canada shooting Warehouse 13 when that first debate happened, and my son hates politics – he sat there and watched it with me, and he was mesmerized. I mean, to me, it was one of the greatest days of my adult life, to see Romney do what he did. And then, something happened. I don’t know what it is. And again, you know, when you just don’t trust people anymore, these people that control your purse and your bank account, and then to see him flounder like he did, and [debate moderator Candy] Crowley turning around and having the audacity to tell him that Obama had said [Benghazi] was a terrorist attack, and you just listen to these idiots… I cried when Romney lost. I cried, mortified. We needed him. And now we’re just still in the same boat, getting worse and worse. Who knows what’s gonna happen. I mean, I’ve always been a very patriotic person, and love our troops, and would do anything for our soldiers…”
Your father fought in World War II, right?
“Yes, he did. But, you know, I’ve lost something that I held dear. I’ve lost something inside of me watching all this bullshit. You know, and Benghazi, they just sweep it all under the rug, and they think we’re so stupid that… you just forget. And half of America, they don’t even watch the news – they could care less!”
It’s been my experience that many people still won’t put two and two together. People continue to blame Bush for things brought on by Obama’s policies.
“And if you don’t like Obama, you’re a racist. I got that so much on Facebook, just being called a racist. Are you kidding me? How can you call me a racist? I just really realized that these people just have no brains. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Race baiters, the Sharptons, all these people that go and work people up into a frenzy.”
Al Sharpton wouldn’t have a job if he didn’t perpetuate racial animosity.
“It’s unbelievable that anyone takes a word out of his mouth seriously. It’s very, very scary, because of course when Obama was elected, I thought that all that race stuff was gonna be gone. And it’s worse than it’s ever been. As long as you’re prepared – because I’ve been preparing for years. You have to be prepared, whether it’s food you have in your house, things, you just have to be able to survive in your house for long periods of time. You just never know.”
Yeah, then I think about me. I’m a single guy, living by myself, and I have nothing but a bag of chips in my cupboard!
“You know what? I was telling people on Facebook for years, go to Costco, get yourself one of those 20-pound bags of rice, get yourself one of those 15-pound bags of dried beans, get some canned goods, stick ‘em in a corner somewhere. And also, I have three guns in my house. Because I live alone, too. I live alone with my two dogs. I’ve been alone here for sixteen years now. And I never thought I’d buy a gun. Never. And all of a sudden, one morning I woke up, and that little voice said, ‘Guess what you’re doing today? You’re gonna go buy a gun.’ And I did. I got a .357 Magnum, and I went and got a pump action shotgun that has eight rounds, and I have a .22. And I have them placed throughout the house.”
As if anyone would fuck with the Chainsaw Chick, anyway!
“Well, I hope not.”
There are very few rock stars, even minor ones, that are, at least openly, conservative. Nugent and Alice Cooper, of course. Moe Tucker. A few others. It’s an anomaly.
“I have many, many, many friends, but we just keep a very low profile. You know, get together here and there and share the same concerns, major concerns. But, you know, Ben Carson, I’m praying he will run. He’s fantastic. We need someone like him. Would I vote for him? Absolutely. He just has, to me, a compassionate heart, but he’s also fully aware of why we are just spiraling out of control. I’ve never seen such unrest around the world. When we need Ronald Reagan, where is he? He’s gone.”
You’ve gotten to be good friends with Lita again in the past couple of years. You were never really close to her before, I understand.
“Well, you know, we weren’t close in The Runaways. We all really loved and cared for each other – we did – but the thing is, we didn’t talk about our feelings much. We were afraid to be vulnerable, even with each other. We just never let our guards down, just to talk and work out issues. We were kids. That’s what’s so hard for people to understand. You know, 16, 17… We didn’t have mediators, anyone to sit down with us, if there were issues inside the band, or insecurities, because at that age, you’re so unsure about everything. And so, put five girls together that are just coming into their adult life, and they’re growing up on stages in front of thousands and thousands of people, away from home, away from any kind of solace or comfort… especially when you’re just run into the ground. And we were making no money whatsoever. So there was very little incentive for me to stay at the end, because we were just fighting all the time and there was just bitterness and, um, we really needed to have someone help us talk things out, but we got to the point where it was just too late, and that’s why I quit. After Jackie had cut her wrists in Japan. I mean, you do that because you just can’t take it anymore! But now, Lita and I are the only two from the band that have kids, and we just have become really, really good friends. I just love her, and I wish I had known her this way when we were in the band. It would’ve made a big difference.”
What’s your relationship with Joan these days? Has that situation with your unreleased record soured that?
“Well, you know, I think what has soured it is that she just refused to do a Runaways reunion. I felt like that band, we never had closure. Of course, she always believed, or Kenny always believed, that me and Lita would never get along, and now Lita and I have done shows together, Lita’s on my record, I love her. I’d do anything for Lita. I’ve felt so much closer with Lita than I have with Joan in my adult life. But I do think it’s the fact that she refuses to allow us to go out and have fun. I feel we all worked to make that band what it is today. And I just don’t understand why she can’t let us, for once, even make a penny for something we worked so hard on. None of us make a penny, in fact I was sued by the IRS at 17 for $20,000. Money I never made! I’m the only one from The Runaways that the IRS came after, and they made me pay that money back, it took until I married Robert, and he paid the last $3,000. Anyway, Lita and I never have understood why Joan… won’t let it happen, when fans really wanna see us together. You know, and actually, it would’ve been great. Every time I fire up the chainsaw, sometimes I think of Joan.”
Has Joan always been adamant about not doing a Runaways reunion, or is that a more recent thing?
“No, about 17 years ago, Lita approached me and Sandy to get ahold of Joan and have a reunion, and she thought she agreed, and actually, I believe, even had a record label set up and talk of a tour. And then it was Lita that backed out. And of course, she was in a very abusive relationship, so, I mean, I can’t say anything. And she had a young child. I know that [Lita] and Kenny [Laguna] have never really gotten along. There’s bad feelings between the two of them, for whatever reason. But again, you rise above that and you get past that. If you can’t do that, then I don’t know. I think Joan’s making a mistake, because… I think it would be really fantastic. But you can’t make somebody do something… Hey, this band has always had controversy around it. I think it never will stop.”
Are you still in touch with Jackie Fox?
“Not really. I did invite her to sing on my album, which she was going to do, but then turned around and said, ‘I don’t want to be part of a Joanless Runaways.’ And that was so ridiculous, that it sorta stopped there. Me and Lita took her out for her birthday a few months back.”
She hasn’t really performed as a musician in so long, but if Joan actually did agree to do a Runaways reunion, do you think Jackie would participate as well?
“I think Jackie has fibromyalgia, so I don’t believe she would be part of it. Vicki Blue, I don’t think… Playing live, the playing would have to be off the map, and I don’t think Jackie nor Vicki were really, really great on those instruments, so, I don’t know. It would be great to have Jackie get up and sing. And then, of course, Sandy West was my best friend. Without Sandy there could never be a reunion, and I’ve always envisioned Sandy projected on a screen behind us, playing along with us. I mean, what better way to tip our hat to her? You know, it’s what she would’ve wanted. But again, we were kids and now we’re adults. I just wish people were a little more brave, that’s all. Throw it to the wind and decide to have some fun.”
Photo by Frank Rodrick.