Neon Angel. A Memoir of a Runaway by Cherie Currie with Tony O’Neill (Harper Collins/Itbooks)
If medals were given out to musicians who’d somehow survived to succeed in the face of horror, The Runaways would be instant recipients. Cherie Currie’s book is a damn fine read. It’s worth four out of three McGilvrays or whatever iconic ‘70s TV star The Barman uses to denote: cracking r’n’r book. Four out of three: you with me so far?
First, let it be known that we have too many books on ’60s rockers who turn out the same old wan sludge with a smirk and a wink. There are plenty of ’70s and ‘80s rockers who’ve done the same. Once you reach a certain level, you can wet-fart in your audience’s face with impunity and thousands will pay for the privilege.
Step forward and take the bouquets of flowers, Cherie Currie. Tony O’Neill has probably done the horrible typing, editing and transcribing, but Cherie’s story is told with verve, honesty and … yes, more than a tinge of bitterness. Although bitterness is not the prevailing theme; the themes are abuse, self-abuse, self-awareness and basic morality.
For all those who think The Runaways had it sweet, “Neon Angel” will disabuse you of that notion. Cherie’s story is unpleasant and horrific in many ways; and as members of the Blank Generation we can all make a few guesses. But the truth is vile (there were moments where I found myself pointlessly looking away from the page), and beneath all the glam rollercoaster of success was the greedy, ugly industry (personified by Kim Fowley, whose depiction will turn everyone’s stomach. Picture a moist tall slug in a dirty orange jumpsuit, that’s how I’ll always remember him).
Cherie and Joan Jett once had a relationship that was about as close as you can get without taking your clothes off. The difference between them was that Cherie was a dreamer who loved her family (and her distress as it collapses calls to mind J.K. Rowling’s comment that no parent should ever leave their children - I take that to mean metaphorically as well as physically), while Joan wanted to make a stepladder to get the fuck away from beginnings which (reading between the lines) weren’t very nice at all.
Joan had the clawing, goddammit-I’ll-beat-this determination to succeed, while Cherie was being torn in multiple pieces by the confused snarling within the band, the aggro mad manager, exploitive roadies, drugs, the melt-down of her family and - again, thanks to Kim Fowley - the dreadful lack of respect and reward given them. Fowley treats Cherie - and the band - like Pavlov’s dogs, and they responded well … right up until Cherie left. In many ways, Cherie was the bravest of the lot: and, particularly later on in her life when she approached Fowley and made her peace with the man.
If you’re a fan of The Runaways you’ll realise that a lot of stories are yet to come out of that LA scene in the early to mid-‘70s. Currie absolutely nails the profound impact which Bowie had on the disaffected modern youff; but while there’s no Bowie cover on The Runaways first LP, there is one remarkable interpretation of a Lou Reed song… that in itself is significant.
Certainly I’d like to read a bio of or by Lita Ford or Joan Jett. Jackie Fox does not come across well (bit of a bread-head), nor does Lita (says what she thinks because she has no concept that she might be causing or escalating damage) - and perhaps it’s this evident acrimony which caused Lita to decline participation in The Runaways film. The late Sandy West comes across as a bastion of love and common sense; I think we’re the poorer for her precipitate departure.
“Neon Angel’”has more right to belong on your bookshelf than another book on Bowie, Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain and pretty much any mainstream rockstar. The Runaways are still revered for what they achieved; Cherie tells what I suspect is only a fifth of the story - if anything, the women deserve to be revered for achieving what they did in a storm of total shit.
I won’t give the story away… but Cherie’s post-Runaways life is moving, scary and you’ll be reminded of many of our friends who didn’t quite make it this far. Cherie did, and how she did it is well worth your time.
When I reviewed Cherie Currie’s gig, I hadn’t read this book. I suspect The Barman hadn’t either before his gig review. For all of you who went and loved it, and those of you who went and didn’t quite get it, and those of you who dithered and ended up curled in front of the fire snoring in front of a cooking show … well, all I can say is you deserve to go out and see the Deftones.