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The Runaways’ ‘Cherry Bomb’ gets a chainsaw

With a new movie about the all-girl band out, Cherie Currie explains how she became a chainsaw carver
Cherie Currie onstage with The Runaways. Photo by Janet Macoska

Cherie Currie onstage with The Runaways. Photo by Janet Macoska

By Peter Lindblad
The tumult of Cherie Currie’s teenage years had long given way to quietude. Until recently, that is.

The former lead singer of the trailblazing bad-girl rock ’n’ roll outfit The Runaways is bewildered as to how to deal with the flood of media attention that’s come her way.

Not only is there a Runaways bio-pic, titled The Runaways, headed to the silver screen for wide release this April, but Currie also is reissuing her book “Neon Angel: A Memoir Of A Runaway.” This version goes into much more detail about the dark side of Currie’s life and The Runaways’ brief existence than the previous one.

It’s a lot to take in for someone who, these days, spends much of her time alone making amazing wood carvings with, of all things, a chainsaw.

“I’m used to living the life of a carver, a solitary life,” says Currie.

Currie started delving into drawing when she was working counseling kids with drug problems. Then, she took a break from it, but after Currie married and divorced, she took up art again. This time it was painting.

“I painted a steer skull on an oak table top, and I just wanted to carve that out,” she says.

That was the beginning of her fascination with relief carving. Seeing people chainsaw carving by the side of the road on her way to Malibu Beach got her thinking that’s what she should do. The following weekend, Currie returned, and the guy who ran the place gave her a shot.

It wasn’t long before Currie caught on. Her third piece was accepted into the Malibu Art Expo, “ ... which is very difficult to get a piece in there,” adds Currie. “They didn’t even take one from the guy who showed me how to saw.”
Some 30 years ago, long before carving became a passion of hers, Currie, who grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley, was a wild child from a broken home who idolized David Bowie. After an “Ozzie and Harriet”-like beginning, things began to unravel for Currie when her parents divorced. Then, her twin sister Marie’s boyfriend took Currie’s virginity.

“I just got angry,” says Currie. “I just started this transformation, I guess. That was my way of coping with what had happened to me, and then landing in The Runaways was the extreme.”

So began Currie’s initiation into the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. For The Runaways, it all began near the end of 1975, when drummer Sandy West, then only 15 years old, and a 16-year-old Joan Jett made the acquaintance of burgeoning producer/co-writer and manager Kim Fowley. Wanting desperately to put together an all-girl rock band, Fowley helped connect the two, and in short order, they were rehearsing together with another of Fowley’s protégés, songwriter Kari Krome.

Whittled down to a trio after some lineup changes, The Runaways tore up the Los Angeles club scene before adding 16-year-old guitarist Lita Ford. After signing to Mercury Records, the search was on for a lead singer. Currie got an audition, and she was asked to prepare a Suzi Quatro song. Currie showed up with “Fever,” a Peggy Lee number Quatro had covered. That wouldn’t do for Jett, a Quatro fan.

“I felt like a complete idiot,” says Currie.

That little misunderstanding led to perhaps The Runaways’ finest moment. Forced to improvise because neither side could come up with a replacement for “Fever,” Jett and Fowley came up with an original ditty for Currie to sing.

Inspired by Cherie’s cherry-blonde looks and her name, they, in short order, composed “Cherry Bomb,” which became the band’s anthem and a teenage rebellion call to arms. Currie brought it all home with an inspired wardrobe selection.

“When I saw that corset in the window of the lingerie store directly across from the Starwood ... I knew the song was going to be the highlight of the show,” says Currie.

Things moved fast for The Runaways, who recorded their epononymous debut LP after signing with Mercury in February 1976. Punk’s conflagration flared up just as The Runaways played CBGB for the first time before members of Blondie and The Ramones. A British tour beckoned.

The Runaways went across the pond and simply killed, setting the stage for the 1977 album Queens Of Noise. And the live album, Live In Japan, recorded on a world tour the band commenced after Queens Of Noise, lit up speakers like napalm. Japan, in particular, went crazy for The Runaways, sending “Cherry Bomb” zooming up the charts. But life in the fast lane took its toll on the band. First off the boat was Fox, who quit in the middle of a tour. Once they exited the road, they found 17-year-old Vicki Blue to replace her. Next to leave, however, was Currie.

“We never got a break for a couple years straight,” she recalls.

Making matters worse was all the media attention heaped on Currie. Magazines often featured more shots of her than the band, and that caused friction. Two weeks before Currie left The Runaways, she turned down the cover of Rolling Stone.

“I begged them in tears not to put me on the cover ... and they finally said, OK, they wouldn’t put it on the magazine, because if they did I told them it would be the end of the band,” says Currie.

Still, Currie had had enough, and she departed. These days, however, with her own acting days behind her — Currie was in “Foxes” with Jodi Foster, among other movies — “The Runaways” movie coming out and working again with Jett, this time on the film’s soundtrack, it all seems to be water under the bridge. And she’s proud of what The Runaways did.

“That we went from just kids in the Valley — and Huntington Beach and Long Beach — to following our dreams and standing up there for the rights of girls and women everywhere, that, hey, we can do this and we can do it as well as you guys can,” says Currie.