Cherie Currie was the lead singer of 1970’s teenage girl rock band, The Runaways, a band who have been the subject of a resurgence in interest since the release of Floria Sigismondi’s eponymously titled bio-pic, ‘The Runaways’, in 2010, which starred Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie.
This return into the spotlight prompted Cherie to come back to live performing and after a well-received British tour last year, she is now making her way to Australia for her first ever shows in this country. She will be playing at The Gov on May 31.
The Upside News spoke to Cherie on the phone from her home where she was in the middle of making preparations for her evening meal. She was charming and forthcoming and very excited at the prospect of making the trip Down Under.
This Upside News reporter was also a little excited and not just a bit star-struck and tongue-tied at times! He still has all of the original Runaways albums on vinyl, after all…
The Upside News: It is really exciting to see you are coming down to Australia. What brings you down here after all this time?
Cherie Currie: To play! Which has been a dream of mine for 40 years. To play Runaways music and to have a lot of fun.
TUN: Will you be playing a lot of your new album as well?
CC: I’m going to play quite a few [from it] yes. I want to give the fans what they want, and unfortunately Joan [Jett] and Lita [Ford] don’t really play a lot of Runaways stuff. So I just thought I’d come down as there seems to be a new interest generated from the movie and so I’m going to come and do what I have done all my life. And that is to come and entertain the Australian folk.
TUN: Please do play some of the newer stuff though – it is really good.
CC: Well, thank you so much.
TUN: In doing some research in readiness to chat to you I noted that you carve a lot of bears with your chainsaw – is that a subconscious admission that you have been hibernating away from the music business for too long?
CC: (Bemusedly) Sorry?
TUN: (sheepishly repeats the question…)
CC: No, I’ve been an artist all my life. The fact that I happened to fall into chainsaw carving was a fluke. To be honest with you, I don’t have the patience to do it with a hammer and a chisel. Chainsaws are the fastest wood removing tool on the planet, and I’ve been doing that for fifteen years now. And I don’t just carve bears, I actually specialise in mermaids and sea life.
TUN: Yes, I saw [on the internet] a photo of a penguin you carved. I’m a bit of a penguin fan myself, and if I lived in the states I’d certainly commission one from you!
CC: Oh my goodness! Yes, I did that penguin…you have to go back to the site’s main page, because that site was locked down probably about seven years ago by ex-management, so I added a little icon on the main page right below the photograph that says ‘new features’. Click on that and that will take you to albums of my more recent carvings. There’s a lot of great stuff there, some amazing carvings that I am very proud of. But that little penguin, I think I did that back in 2002.
TUN: Getting back to your new album if we could, what made you decide to re-record those two Runaways tunes from the first album, ‘Is It Day Or Night?’ and ‘American Nights’?
CC: Oh, Kim Fowley. And also the fact that the fans love those songs and I have always included those songs in my set whenever I have done shows. I had a new friendship with Lita Ford, and I thought ‘Wow! This would be so cool if she and I did duets on these songs’. They just happen to be two of my favourites.
TUN: And Kim Fowley? In Vicki Blue’s documentary on the Runaways, ‘Edgeplay’, and I think I also remember you in the Rodney Bingenheimer doco [‘The Mayor Of The Sunset Strip’] as well, being scathing about Kim, so did you forgive him his transgressions and make peace with him before he passed away last year?
CC: I certainly did. And you know what, to be honest with you, all that anger, after 40 years, I realised it only hurt me. You know I didn’t want to go through life like that. I mean it had been 40 years and the thing is that I did feel that, on becoming a mother and everything, I just started to understand that I had to have a conversation with Kim because a part of me so admired him and was very grateful for what he did by putting the band together. I needed to know his reasoning behind the abuse. So I reached out to him and we became friends. It was really great to put all that anger behind me, and start a new relationship with this man which ended in this record with my son – and to me there couldn’t be a better rebirth for myself. It was done for selfish purposes because, anger eats people alive you know.
TUN: It does. Is that why you called the new album ‘Reverie’? Because you did a lot of introspective thinking whilst making it? The song, ‘I’m Happy’ seems to be a declaration of contentment now.
CC: Well [laughs], Kim, my son Jake and myself wrote that song. Kim, as far as lyrics are concerned…well he’s just an amazing lyricist. This man, right off the top of his head, asked me questions and then just started blurting out these lyrics. We wrote six songs in just an afternoon. But Kim got so ill by the fourth day in the studio, after we had recorded those four songs [on the album] that he and Jake and I wrote, that I had to turn the record over to my son and that was a dilemma because my son also had a record deal at the time and he had to make a record for himself. So it was an unfortunate thing that the album itself wasn’t completed until two weeks after Kim passed away.
TUN: Sorry to hear of that. Your son Jake is a terrific singer isn’t he. The duet, ‘Shades Of Me’ is a great showpiece for him.
CC: And also he plays all the instruments. I mean Jake is just an amazing musician, songwriter and singer in his own right. I have been really blessed to have him on tour with me. He will not be coming down to Australia though. But he is definitely, the one…I feel I was born to have him, to be honest with you.
TUN: Of course, his father is Ted Striker [actor Robert Hays], the pilot from ‘Flying High’, a very fondly remembered movie down here in Australia…
CC: Oh yes! Well, Bob is my very best friend, and we have been so very close since our divorce, and we raised Jake so that he was not affected by it. It was a great outcome for all of us. He is truly my very, very best friend.
TUN: That’s great. I did notice that Joan Jett, in the foreword to the last edition of your memoir, ‘Neon Angel’, said that you were ‘a uniquely devoted ex-wife’. I remember reading that and thinking at the time that was an unusual description, but that explains it.
CC: [Laughs] Hold on one second…you’ve called me early so I was just in the middle of cooking something for tonight, so if you just hang on for just one second, I won’t burn myself here! [Pause] Alright, thank you!
TUN: All safe?
CC: All safe.
TUN: ‘The Runaways’ movie – you mentioned it earlier – did you find yourself at any point during viewing the film where you stopped seeing Dakota Fanning up on the screen and started to actually feel like you were actually watching yourself?
CC: Yes. In fact, Joan and I both, when they were shooting the Japan performance, we sat there and for the very first time we got to see what it was like to sit in the audience of a Runaways show. I just think the casting was phenomenal. They couldn’t have picked a better Joan Jett or a better me. Dakota is one of my favourite actresses of all time, and of course Mike Shannon was just fantastic as Kim.
TUN: Yes, he was really believable.
CC: Yes! It could have been a mini-series, because how do you put two years of craziness into a 90-minute film? It can’t be done. So I was glad that I had my book as well, so I could tell a much deeper story.
TUN: And in your book, the first few chapters make it pretty clear that you were a hard-core David Bowie fan, and I notice you were doing some Bowie tunes in your set in the UK last year, so the news of his passing must have hit you pretty hard?
CC: Well, it did. It really did. In fact, I have been spending a lot of my mornings going through some of his archives, because of course, yes we do a Bowie song but I wanted to add another one if possible, because he was so influential – not just in terms of the music, but in general. He was absolutely a genius.
TUN: So ‘Rebel Rebel’ will still be in the set here in Australia?
CC: Oh yes – definitely.
TUN: Do you still do ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ these days? Or is the set solely made up of Runaways, solo stuff and the Bowie covers?
CC: You know what? I have not done ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ lately, I have not added that to my set, but there will be a couple of other surprises.
TUN: Does your twin sister, Marie, still dabble in singing?
CC: Marie gave up singing once she left me [they recorded as a duo] and I went to Mercury Records. She just didn’t really continue singing after that. I think she found that it was a lot more work than she thought it would be. To her, I guess, I made it look too easy, and then she thought it was going to be easy for her. It wasn’t. She wanted to have kids, so when she bowed out, that wasn’t the best situation [to continue in music]…
TUN: I guess the business isn’t for everybody, is it?
CC: No, it isn’t. Definitely not, and for my sister she found that out pretty early. But for me, it was something I had always wanted to do since seeing David Bowie on stage during his ‘Diamond Dogs’ tour, and it is something I love to do. I really love it.
TUN: So looking back over these 40 years, revisionist music historians don’t seem to give The Runaways the credit they are due as trailblazers. How do you think the band should be viewed now, down the track?
CC: Of course there have been women [in rock], such as Suzi Quatro, who I am such a huge fan of – actually she’s singing on my ‘Live In London’ record that will be available when I come to do the shows. But the thing is, it had never been done with just teenage girls, so we did something that no-one else had ever done before. I am very proud of that. I think it came at a time where we were probably just a little bit before our time. It was difficult because a lot of the male musicians out there would think we were a novelty. But I am very proud that, today, a lot of kids really appreciate what we did. The Runaways were great!
TUN: They were! I appreciated what you did too. This is the first time – I must make this confession! – that I have ever interviewed a person who I had a poster of on my wall when I was a teenager!
CC: Aw, thanks so much…
TUN: I’m really looking forward to seeing you play in Adelaide. I think you may actually be playing on my birthday…
CC: Great. Maybe I’ll actually sing you happy birthday from the stage! You’re gonna have to remind me though.
TUN: Fantastic! It has been lovely chatting to you. Thanks for making the time, and we’ll see you soon.
CC: It’s been my absolute pleasure.
Cherie Currie and her band play The Gov on May 31.
Her latest album ‘Reverie’ is available from iTunes.
Interview by Ken Grady