Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rediscovering The Runaways With A Neon Angel

Neon Angel, A Memoir of a RunawayIn 1975, five 15- and 16-year-old girls formed a rock band under the tutelage of producer Kim Fowley. They went from playing seedy clubs in Los Angeles to headlining with bands like Cheap Trick and Van Halen. In Japan, they took the country by storm.

And then, almost as quickly, the band imploded with infighting, jealousy, and drug abuse.

Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, is the band’s story from the perspective of someone who lived it. Lead singer Cherie Currie, assisted by writer Tony O’Neill (who penned Hero of the Underground), is a new version of the story with a forward by Joan Jett.

The new version is based on Currie’s original bio, Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story (by Currie with Neal Shusterman). It quietly hit the shelves in 1989. But this new version, released in 2010, didn't hit quietly. Unlike the original, the new version didn't exclude the dirtier, uglier side, with all its sex and drugs. Lots of drugs.

The Updated Story Of A Neon Angel Bares All.

With her 2010 update, Currie decided to lay it all bare, warts and all. And, it nicely coincides with the recent release of The Runaways, a biopic of the band starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. More about that in a minute.

Keep in mind that Currie’s story is her recollection so some names have been changed to protect the guilty and innocent. The story chronicles her upbringing in the San Fernando Valley, her “discovery” by Fowley, and the aftermath of everything that happened in between. It also rehashes what it was like once everything was gone.

Currie does an excellent job sharing the pain she endured over her parents’ divorce, her dad’s self-destructive alcoholism, her mother’s move to Indonesia (leaving Cherie and twin sister Marie behind with relatives), and her love for and rivalry with sister Marie. Marie was the one left to pick up the pieces at home. It is clear that Currie is still remorseful about that.

For all the fame and freedom, it doesn’t sound like Currie truly enjoyed her time with the Runaways. While her relationships with guitarist/singer/de facto leader Joan Jett and amiable drummer Sandy West were solid, guitarist Lita Ford was not a fan. In her telling, Currie tried to befriend Ford, only to be insulted and demeaned at every turn.

Jealously, Sex, Drugs, And The Film That Followed.

Certainly part of the problem had to do with the fact that as lead singer, a role Currie played to the hilt, she attracted the most fan and media attention. By her account, it seems Ford was jealous. My take is that as difficult as Ford may have been for the Runaways, she was a strong guitarist and remains, along with Jett, the most successful post-Runaways member.

For Currie, the real downfall happened after she makes the decision to leave the band. Her bandmates decide to soldier on without her, with Jett taking over as lead vocalist. Currie suffers from depression and chronic uncontrolled substance abuse.

She's lucky. With help from friends and family, especially sister Marie and now ex-husband Robert Hays, Currie manages to turn things around. Today she’s a noted (and very talented) chainsaw artist.

The biopic, The Runaways, is a different story. It was good, but played it too safe. Fanning does an admirable job as Currie and Stewart’s portrayal of Jett is near perfect. Both girls, plus Scout Taylor-Compton as Ford and Stella Maeve as the late West, bear striking resemblances to their characters.

I found myself saying more than once, “Wow, I can’t believe how much they resemble the original band.” Here is the original from Japan.

The problem with the biopic is that Neon Angel is Currie’s story, and the film really is not. It gives us only a cursory glimpse into Currie’s life before the Runaways, and we see almost none of it after her departure. The screenplay barely scratches the surface.

For fans who have already read the book, the biopic semi-excludes bassist Jackie Fox. She wasn’t the first bassist, but she was on board during the band’s heyday. Fox apparently had some dealings in court about the movie, and ultimately it was decided to omit her. The screenplay includes a composite instead: part Fox, part Vicki Blue, part anybody.

Too bad. Fox was an important piece of history. She's an attorney today. And that leaves us with a movie just above average and not worth reviewing despite the excellent job from the cast. The movie works best as another little piece for diehard Runaways fans.

Neon Angel A Memoir Of A Runaway by Cherie Currie Hits With A 8.5 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

For a different view of the band, check out Edgeplay - A Film About The Runaways, directed by one-time bassist Blue. It features some good interviews and history of the band (but without Jett's involvement). You can pick up the 2010 movie The Runaways on iTunes.

As a bonus, one great thing to come out of the movie is the addition of the Runaways albums on iTunes. Prior, it was just tracks from 20th Century Masters the Millennium Collection. iTunes has added The Runaways and Queens of Noise.

If you cherry pick the songs, pick up Cherry Bomb and American Nights along with lesser-known gems like Dead End Justice. On Queens of Noise, listen to I Love Playin’ With Fire, California Paradise, and especially Neon Angels On the Road To Ruin, which is a defining moment for Currie.
blog comments powered by Disqus