INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHERIE CURRIE AND ROCKET CITY RECORDS
A teenage girl in a world of MACHO PIGS… With all the odds against her, she prevailed… Hail to the queen, a rock n’ roll queen, if you know what I mean. “Hello mommy. Hello dad. I’m your Cherry Bomb…” That alone says it in one verse… There’s always more than what’s on the surface. The whole story always seems to give a structure of what makes everything make sense. You can give up, and that’s easy… To fight for what you want, and or need, is much more difficult, but what one learns from the journey, the difference from fighting or whining, is night and day. Fight for what you want and need This chick is, and will be, an inspiration, for both men and women. This bitch Rocks.
“I TURNED TO LITA FORD AND I SAID, “I WANT TO GO HOME.” I WAS FIGHTING BACK THE TEARS WHEN LITA SAID, “DO YOU THINK I’M NOT HOMESICK? OF COURSE I AM, BUT WHEN I GO HOME, I WANT TO BE SOMEBODY.” THOSE WERE MAGICAL WORDS.”
Cherie. This is your life. What is your name?
Cherie Currie. Steve Olson is spelled S-T-E-V-E O-L-S-O-N.
[Laughs.] I thought I might have that right, but I’ve had three margaritas.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in San Fernando Valley.
You’re a Valley chick?
I’m a Valley girl. “Oh my God!” I made sure to turn down every single role that came my way when the Valley girl thing was happening. They were really trying to cast me, but I said, “No way. I’m not an ‘Oh my God!’ kind of girl.”
You’re a Runaway.
I’m an original Valley girl and we did not say, “Oh my God!”
So you grew up in the Valley?
I was born and raised in Encino, CA.
How was that?
It was awesome. I was born in ’59. You could walk your dog, go barefoot to the market and not be afraid of being molested. It was a really wonderful time. It’s very different now.
We didn’t have to lock our doors at night.
What kind of freedom that brings kids. Half of the freedom of being a kid is not being locked down.
Now that I think of it, here’s a story for you. When I was 12 years old there was a guy in a yellow VW bug. He looked just like Ray Milland with those penetrating eyes. He was following me and my friend as we were walking home. He pulled up and and he was naked with his little wee-wee hanging out. Actually, it wasn’t little at all. [Laughs.] He kept chasing us, so we ran home and called the cops. It was just like “Adam-12.” When they asked us for a description of the guy, my friend told them he had no pee-pee hole. Those cops just fell over laughing.
[Laughs.] They’d have to try to find and pull over a guy that’s uncircumcised.
We saw him twice after that! This was on the suburban streets of Encino in 1972, and we’re talking about how crazy the world is now.
There are just more of them now. So you grew up in the Valley. What kind of school did you go to?
I was put into a Catholic school first.
Did you wear the uniforms?
Yes, oh my goodness. This was first grade and second grade. The nun Sister Mary Louis kept hitting me with this ruler because I’m a lefthander. She would take my coloring books away. And I was a good girl. I would get down on my knees next to her and pray, but she just loved to beat on me. Finally, at the end of the first year, I turned to her after she hit me, and I said, “If you hit me again, I’m going to hit you back.” So I got kicked out of that school.
You got kicked out for sticking up for yourself?
Yeah, thank God. They sent my sister Marie and I to Hesby Street Elementary School, which is a public school. Even though it set us back a grade, it was a good thing. Marie and I were the older girls in the grade, but we were out of Hell’s Kitchen as far as I was concerned. We didn’t have to deal with Sister Mary Louis anymore. How do you hit a child because they’re a lefthander?
I don’t know.
It’s sexual frustration. That’s my true belief. There’s no doubt in my mind.
So you dug public school over private school?
Totally. Public school was a blast and more prone to art, and I liked that.
What kind of art?
I liked every kind of art. I loved drawing and doing paper mache, and that sort of thing. They had music classes, and I took piano as well as choir, but the teacher didn’t think I was good enough for choir.
You get kicked out of private school, so already there’s a bit of rebellion. In public school, you were already into art, but you couldn’t get into the choir?
Not the first time I tried. The teacher was a woman named Ms. Davenport and she kept telling me that I couldn’t sing. I asked again to try out and the second time, she accepted me. Maybe she was on her period the first time.
[Laughs.] What kind of songs were you singing? Was it “Tell it to the Mountain” type songs?
Yeah, the funny thing is that I found myself really singing louder trying to get the dynamic right. I was like, “Why am I doing this? I’m just a little surfer chick. Why am I trying so hard to get this right?”
It was just in you.
I remember I was inspired to bring some kind of dynamic to my music. That was cool. I’ve thought about this all my life, but you’re the first person I’ve ever said this to.
[Laughs.] I want to hear more. You’re hearing dynamics already and you’re in what grade?
Fifth grade. It’s what felt right.
You say you were a surfer chick. What do you mean?
I wore my hair parted in the middle, down to my waist. I never wore makeup. I was into lowriders and loafers. I was a total surfer chick. And I actually surfed too.
That’s very important.
I stole a hundred dollars from my best friend Ellen’s parents to buy an eight-foot gun, and then later confessed and paid it back. It was blue and yellow. I loved that surfboard.
Where did you surf?
I would go to Paradise Cove long before they had all the restaurants. We had to scale the cliffs to get to the beach. It was so much fun. There were always these seals there playing with us while we were surfing.
Did you paddle out?
Hell, yeah. I caught some waves. All of my boyfriends at that time were surfers. You remind me of them.
I’m more attracted to you now, because you surf.
[Laughs.] My wonderful ex-husband Robert Hays, who I love so much, is a surfer. He just had this terrible accident on Christmas Eve where he broke his neck surfing. He fell from his board and hit a sand bank. It was the same type of break as Christopher Reeve’s.
But he’s not paralyzed?
No, and he will recover fully. There’s a little bone between the C1 and C2 vertebrae and that’s what broke. All Bob had to do was move his head and he would have been paralyzed. Christopher wasn’t paralyzed when he hit the ground. It was when they moved him.
Wow. So you surfed.
And I was a very good skateboarder, too.
Let’s back up. What about music this whole time you were in grade school? Were you into rock n’ roll?
I just loved whatever was on the radio, Seals and Croft, Chicago, America, Elton John and David Bowie. It was some of the greatest music ever.
What turned you on though? There’s a turning point for most people with music.
It was the moment I heard David Bowie. I had his pictures all over my wall. His music brought me out of my shell. I always thought my twin sister Marie Currie was prettier and more talented. She was the popular one.
You can’t say that she’s more talented, because everyone has talents. She was more popular, so that made you try harder?
No. She was just outgoing and I was like the runt of the two. When I was born, I was just this shriveled up thing competing with the cool beautiful twin.
You’re fucking fine.
Well, thank you. I’m all grown up now, Steve.
So because Marie was more popular maybe subconsciously that made you try harder?
Are you ready to hear this?
Yes, of course.
My twin sister was very beautiful and she attracted older men. My sister started having sex before I would have even dreamed of it. She had a boyfriend named Eric and she kept telling him that I was a virgin. Little did I know he was obsessed with virgins. So my sister’s boyfriend decides to rape me. That’s how I lost my virginity.
Doesn’t that piss you off? That makes you want to kill someone.
Yeah. I wanted to save my virginity for the guy that I was in love with. I hadn’t even been in love yet. Eric was in his twenties, and I was just 14 at the time. The guy should have gone to jail.
But it was overlooked back then.
Absolutely. Times were different then. Anyway, my mother and Marie went out to dinner and I stayed home for some reason. That night he knocked on the sliding glass door of our bedroom saying he was looking for Marie. I should have known better, but I let him in. He raped me. As if it could get any worse, he gave me some kind of vaginal infection, so I had to tell my mom. I remember just crying and crying all the way to the doctor. I was a child. That was my introduction to sex.
I hate to ask, but what happened to that dude?
Marie broke up with him. That was about it.
How about now?
I have no idea, but it didn’t end there. Years later, after I left The Runaways, I was kidnapped by a man that had murdered six women.
What?! In the Valley?
Oh, yeah. I tell the story in my book, “Neon Angel.” I’m lucky I survived that one.
He was mentally ill. He really believed that we’d been together in Dallas, Texas. It was brutal, five hours of hell. I won’t tell you the details, but I managed to stab him in the process. The injury helped the police identify him, but they only gave him a year in County Jail. He said I was dead and would never see my family again. He confessed to me that he had murdered those women while he was beating me almost to death. The bottom line is that I survived. And you know what? You can survive anything. So many women are affected by these kinds of things. It changes them. I say, “Don’t let that happen.” It doesn’t have to destroy your life. They say God never gives you more than you can handle. I believe that.
After that, I went to the Santa Monica Rape Clinic, and this is what changed me. They have these blow-up Bozo clowns at the clinic and they wanted us to beat them up. All these girls were pounding the crap out of these clowns. I punched it once or twice. Then I thought, “You talked yourself out of an impossible situation. You survived. You lived. You should be proud.” So I stood up and left. As I walked down the hallway, I felt so small, but as the door got closer, I felt taller and taller. By the time I hit those doors, I was a whole person again. It was just the fact that I survived when so many don’t. Women who go through these things have to give themselves credit. The fact is it happens every day.
All the time.
Every nine seconds.
A lot of them feel it’s some dirty, disgusting thing that happened to them.
They take it on like it’s their fault, and it’s not.
It has nothing to do with them. It has to do with disgusting people that violate, trespass and overpower. Okay. We’re way ahead of ourselves. That guy Eric needs to be punished.
It will never happen now.
What did your sister say about it?
Not much. We’re talking about two 14-year-old girls trying to cope with this stuff. The thing is that we made it through, me and my sister. We had little parental guidance. My mother and father were divorced, so my mother had to work full time to support us. It was just me, my sister and my little brother Don trying to deal with this stuff, and basically, we didn’t. We just moved on with our lives.
You should be grooving on life instead of having to dealing with some predator.
Inevitably they’re going to be there, preying on inexperienced kids.
What really hurts is hearing that Jeffrey Dahmer could possibly be the perpetrator that took Adam Walsh. That makes me so fucking sick.
Wait a minute. I need to know more about this.
It hasn’t been proven yet, but they have put his green van at the mall at the time Adam Walsh was kidnapped. Someone saw the van speeding off. When I heard about Adam Walsh’s disappearance, it was around the time I had given birth to my son. John Walsh came out with his book about the disappearance of his Adam. I’m the kind of mother I am because of what I’ve been through, so I was adamant with my son about these things at an early age. From the minute he could understand, I told him there are bad people out there. I let him know that if he let go of my hand for one second, a bad man could take him and do terrible things to him and he’d never see his mommy or daddy again. I’ve had mothers tell me that was terrible. I’d turn to them and say, “I’m going to have my son when he’s 16. Will you?” My son understands now why I did that. When I heard about John Walsh’s story and he was talking about that moment his son was kidnapped, I got in my car and went to the book store to read that chapter because I wanted to know how that child was taken. I needed to know because of my son. I didn’t understand how it could have happened. Adam Walsh had a huge impact on me because I love my son so much.
It’s insane. So how did you get into rock n’ roll?
I think a little bit of it was rebellion, but I loved music. After my sister’s “boyfriend” thing, I decided I didn’t want to be Cherie Currie anymore. I wanted to be someone else. I wanted to be David Bowie. If I wasn’t Cherie Currie then I didn’t have to deal with the rape, so I became David Bowie. When I went to one of Bowie’s concerts, the Diamond Dogs Tour in 1974 at the Universal Amphitheatre. It was the first concert I’d ever seen. When I stood there and watched him and I knew then that I wanted to be a rock star.
That’s what I want to hear.
Six months later, it happened.
That was your escape. You could rock out and avoid dealing with the bullshit in your life and become a rock star.
It was luck.
Bad luck turned into good fortune. Rape is so foul in my opinion, but it fueled you to do what you would become.
And I was ready then. I was at the right place at the right time. They were looking for a singer and they found me at the Sugar Shack.
Who found you?
Kim Fowley and Joan Jett.
How did that happen?
I just started going to this underage club. One night, Joan Jett and Kim Fowley walked in. They went to my twin sister first and asked her if she could sing or play an instrument. My sister basically said, “Fuck off.” Then they came up to me. I said, “Yeah, I can sing.” Then I auditioned and it was on.
It was you, Kim Fowley and Joan Jett?
The nucleus was Sandy West and Joan Jett with Kim Fowley orchestrating it. There was Micki Steele at that point as well, who went on to be with the Bangles. Micki Steele was the bass player and lead singer. Lita Ford was also in the band. I took over Micki Steele singing, and all we needed was a bass player.
What happened to Micki Steele?
She was cut loose.
She couldn’t cut it?
Supposedly, Kim Fowley thought she wasn’t pretty enough to front the band.
Kim Fowley met Joan and Sandy and thought it was a cool idea.
What about the GTOs, Girls Together Outrageously?
I’d never heard of them.
What? You’ve never heard of the GTOs? You should check them out.
The only women I’d ever heard of were Suzi Quatro and her sisters. They were in a band. Suzi was one of my heroes.
“Glycerin Queen” and “48 Crash” were dope.
You’re Momma Won’t Like Me” was on fire. It was the best I’d ever heard a woman do. And she still has it.
Where is she?
There’s a movie coming out on her. It’s Vicki Blue that directed “Edgeplay,” which was a biography of The Runaways. Vicki took Jackie’s place on bass in The Runaways when Jackie split. Vicki is quite a good director. She just shot a documentary movie for Suzi called “Naked Under Leather.”
So you were the final piece to the puzzle that was The Runaways?
Jackie Fox was the final piece to the puzzle. I didn’t realize the importance of having a bass player. I was like, “Why do we need a bass player?”
I’m a little bit blown away that I’m sitting here with you.
Get out of here. I’m blown away to be sitting here with you.
This is so dope. I just had to tell you that. So now you had Jackie Fox in the band. What a name.
It was Jackie Fuchs alias Jackie Fox.
You have Joan Jett alias Joan Larkin.
That was totally her name. Sandy was Sandy Pesavento.
How was Kim Fowley to work with?
He was the producer and manager.
You’re young and impressionable.
Yeah. We were 15, 16 and 17.
You’re not even old enough to vote or go to war.
What was it like?
It was scary as hell. I was scared to death of Lita Ford, because she was just so mad all the time. She’s a great gal, but I was so young that I didn’t understand any of it.
She was a few years older?
She was two years older. She was 17 and I was 15.
There’s a huge separation in those ages. The 17 year old can drive a car. Who else was older?
Sandy and Joan were 16. Jackie was my age.
So you meet these people at the Sugar Shack, and they say, “We’re putting together an all girl band.”
They were called The Runaways. I’d heard of them. I’d already heard of Joan Jett, so I was already enamored of her.
How did it go down?
They asked me to audition. They asked me to do a Suzi Quatro song, so I picked “Fever.” When I got there, they didn’t know “Fever,” so Kim and Joan wrote “Cherry Bomb” on the spot for me to audition to.
They wrote “Cherry Bomb” in 20 minutes. Done. Joan sings it to me while Kim shows Lita and Sandy the song. We did the song and then they all walked out of the room. They were gone for like fifteen minutes. I was sweating bullets, thinking there was no way I would get into this band. When they walked back in, Joan walks up to me and says, “Welcome to The Runaways!” It was the happiest day of my childhood.
You sing the song, peg it and now you’re in the lead spot. How sweet.
It was amazing.
How dope is that?
It all happened so fast, so we had to get a bass player, and then we got Jackie. I’m not going to go into her too much. There are still major resentments. We definitely had our problems.
So The Runaways are together with the horrible bitch on bass.
She was just a whiner, but within four weeks we were signed to Mercury Records. When Micki Steele was singing, Mercury was thinking they wanted to sign the band. When they saw us with me singing and Jackie on bass, they signed us. Then we recorded the record within two weeks.