Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway by Cherie Currie

Neon Angel had been sitting in my Nook reader for a while, purchased not long after I watched The Runaways, which is based on lead vocalist Cherie Currie's autobiography. (My blog on my viewing is detailed at my personal blog.) While Currie's book was first published over two decades ago, this revised edition - now featuring an introduction by co-Runaway Joan Jett and, by Currie's admission, more material that pushes the book beyond the "young adult" reading age - coincided with the movie's release. Just to warn you now, if you have only seen the movie without the benefit of reading Currie's account, the book makes the film look rather tame by comparison. Though the Runaways' short history covers the first half of Angel, it's a harrowing story of exploitation in the name of sex, drugs, and rock and roll - part cautionary tale and part soap opera, and completely gripping.

First things first, I'd like to point out some of the differences between Currie's account of Runaways history and the film. One cannot expect every film based on fact to be 100% accurate, and while The Runaways portrays a number of truths there is some obvious creative license taken. If you don't want to be spoiled, hop off the train now and check out the movie and/or book, then come on back. Otherwise, you will know that:
  • In the film, Cherie is shown acquiring her iconic black and white corset in Japan and debuting it in concert there. This costume had actually been her signature look for the "Cherry Bomb" number for much of her career with the band.
  • The film seems to imply The Runaways toured the US primarily as a supporting act. Currie reveals in her book that The Runaways actually headlined here, with acts like Cheap Trick and Tom Petty opening for them.
  • The film plays up a heavy lesbian flirtation between Cherie and Joan Jett, hinting at more. In her book, Currie talks about a bi-curious one-nighter, one that happened before she met Joan. If anything happened with any of the Runaways, it's not in the book.
So, what did the film realize with more accuracy? I'd say most of the movie where Cherie is the prominent character is taken directly from the book. Within the short span of film we see Cherie's obsession with David Bowie and her relish for the wild LA nightclub scene up to her "discovery" by Kim Fowley - pretty much true to Cherie's account. On my blog I had mentioned how Lita Ford's role in the film consisted solely of playing the guitar and screeching/cussing her entire dialogue, and to read Neon Angel you would think that fairly accurate as well. As I understand it, despite what resolutions came about following lawsuits to retrieve the band members their due compensation, there is still no love lost between certain people.

If you are a Runaways fan, I imagine this book will make you rather angry, and definitely hesitant to allow your daughter to pursue a career in entertainment. That Currie ended up on stage, promoted by Fowley as rebellious jail-bait, happened through a combination of lax parental guidance and Fowley's showmanship. Currie paints a sinister and ironic portrait here: for all the hype touting The Runaways as rebels with a "fuck it all" attitude, any girl in the group who tested those wings in Fowley's presence found them quickly clipped, shredded and forced back down her throat. Given that these girls were well underage at the time - I had to keep telling myself Currie was fifteen when this all started - it's a wonder the guy didn't land in jail. He definitely couldn't pull this off today.

Currie's post-Runaways story comprises the rest of the book, and it spills forth in a stream of alcohol and cocaine, blown opportunities and familial discord. An entire chapter devoted to a graphic, chilling encounter with a crazed "fan" left me open-mouthed, then wondering if this material had been left out of the original book. Through the stories of abuse and blown opportunities (Currie's attempts to parlay her Runaways fame into a solo acting/singing career quickly fizzled mainly due to her inability to stay sober), Cherie emerges a survivor, and eventual victor over her demons.

That she can look back and stand sure-footed provides inspiration to anybody suffering a low point in life, though in reading the book I thought the ending came rushed. The positive aspects of her life - her son, her new career, and her friendship with her ex-husband - all come summarized toward the end. I get the impression Currie is too protective of what drives her now to share it. I, for one, am glad she has it.

Rating B+

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author whose titles include Dead Barchetta and Pithed: An Andy Farmer Mystery.



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