I’ve just finished reading ‘Neon Angel’, the autobiography of Cherie Currie from ‘The Runaways’ (an all-female ’70s rock band). ‘The Runaways’ movie (starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart) was based on this book, but it didn’t deal with many of the more traumatic incidents in Cherie’s early life (eg. her abortion at age 16, her rape at age 14). The book was a really interesting (and often disturbing) read.
Cherie’s parents divorced when she was 12 & she was raped by her sister’s ex-boyfriend at age 14. She joined The Runaways band at the young age of 15 (and stayed with the band until she was 17). The band manager, Kim Fowley, was very abusive, selfish & controlling – Cherie and the other band members were quickly thrown into a very adult world & Cherie became addicted to drugs. In 1976 (when she was 17) the punk scene was beginning to emerge; the punk kids really scared her, they seemed to be full of hate & would throw things at her on stage (to show their ‘love’). Once, a knife was thrown that stabbed the stage inches from her feet, but the band had to keep performing (because the crowd was so aggressive that it would have rioted otherwise). She & her bandmates were scared that one day a crazy fan would open fire on them when they were doing a concert. Cherie left the band when she was 17. When she was 19 she was kidnapped, beaten, raped and nearly killed by a delusional fan (he was convicted but got less than one year in jail). What Cherie had to experience before she was 20 is just incredible, but she survived & went on to become a drug counsellor & now works as a chainsaw sculptor.
In Chapter 10 of her autobiography Cherie describes one day in 1974 when she was 15 years old, and was on her period. She did a concert in the evening, and after the concert her band manager (Kim) twisted her arm to get her to have sex with a random man in the music industry because that would be good publicity for her band. I’ll quote some excerpts from the book:
We were in Stinky’s van, heading toward the venue [for a concert]. I shifted around uncomfortably, trying to ignore the incessant cramping in the pit of my stomach. What a day to get my period! And I didn’t even have any aspirin… However, not even the cramps or the toxic odor of Stinky’s van could ruin my mood…
There were a bunch of people as we were rushed through the back corridors and toward the dressing room. Kim [my manager] was walking next to me, and my cramps were starting to bother me again.
“Um, Kim… Do you have any aspirin?” I asked, through gritted teeth.
“Why?” Kim said. “Are you sick?” He grinned, as if the idea that I might be sick was amusing to him, the bastard.
“No. I’ve got my period, okay? I have cramps.”
“Ugh!” Kim said, looking thoroughly disgusted. “One of my dogs is on the rag, is she? Well no, I don’t have aspirin! I’m your manager, not your mother…”
“I do,” Lita said, handing me a couple from her gig bag.
Jesus, my cramps were getting worse. I considered asking our manager, Scott, for some stronger painkillers… I started to worry about whether I should have doubled up on Tampax. I remembered being at the beach when I was twelve and seeing some girl lying out in the sun; and her bikini bottom was soaked with blood. The image was permanently imprinted on my mind. Suddenly a nightmare scenario popped into my head. I imagined myself emerging from [the dressing room], dressed in my new corset… and I’d notice people pointing and laughing… I’d look down to see a blood trail from my crotch down to my knees. Jesus, I shuddered at the thought. Talk about shitty timing!
After the show, Cherie’s manager Kim introduced her to a man in the music industry, and put a lot of pressure on her to go back to his house for a ‘drink’, “The two of you together would be great press. You do realize that, don’t you? What’s good for you is good for the band.” Reluctantly, Cherie went back to the man’s apartment (after Kim promised to pick her up in two hours). At the apartment she soon realised that her manager had lied to her, he was not going to pick her up after the two hours. Initially 15-year-old Cherie resisted the man’s advances, “You know, uh, Kim is going to be here soon. Wait…,” but he didn’t listen. “I know, you’re waving the red flag, aren’t you? Don’t worry. Kim told me. It doesn’t bother me, really.” In her book, Cherie wrote,
“What a betrayal!! I imagined Kim and this guy back at the Starwood laughing at the fact that I was on my period, right before Kim sold me off like some kind of low-rent Hollywood pimp. It was embarrassing, and more than anything in the world I wanted to just go home… I realized that this whole thing was a setup by Kim, and I cursed myself for being too meek to stop it.”
After the incident, Cherie lay awake feeling her menstrual blood spread onto the white sheets, too afraid to move or do anything about it. Eventually, she cleaned herself up in the bathroom, got dressed, and sat in the dark in the living room (she didn’t get any sleep at all). In the morning the man came out of his bedroom in his underpants, still covered in her blood – she couldn’t look at him. “Don’t worry about it, luv,” he told her, “It’ll all come out in the wash. The cleaning lady comes later today.” When Cherie’s manager (Kim) arrived to pick her up she stormed out of the house without saying good-bye to the man,
“I was sitting in the cab, fighting tears… I didn’t say another word for the entire cab ride back to my house. All I could think of was how lousy I felt. Last night I’d discovered what it felt like to be a rock star. This morning I knew what it felt like to be a whore.”
It was a very creepy situation for Cherie Currie. The man having sex with her that night thought that was okay & not abusive – even though she was obviously reluctant. In his mind, he had a right to have sex with her (unless she put up a really big fight). In Cherie’s mind, she was alone with this man, he was bigger than her & she felt a bit afraid. On top of that, he was her only ride home. Cherie also felt obliged to do whatever her manager, Kim, wanted her to do (because if she didn’t, Kim might kick her out of the band).
I guess this abuse of power and exploitation of teenagers was fairly common in the 1970s in the music industry & Hollywood. Cherie was pressured into having sex with this pop singer in 1974, just three years before Polanski was accused of raping a 13-year old girl in very similar circumstances, after getting her intoxicated/drugged during a photoshoot.
I think that children & teenagers are probably better protected now in the music & film industries. I wonder what has changed in the laws since the 1970s to protect young teenagers from being exploited and abused in the entertainment industry?