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For the former lead singer of the Runaways, Cherie Currie, life has been an intense ride. While a portion of the Runaways' story has finally been told thanks to a 2010 biopic starring Dakota Fanning as Cherie and Kristen Stewart in the role of guitarist and foil Joan Jett, the truth of the Runaways is also one of tribulation, excess, rape, and exploitation that the film neglected to show. This pioneering group paid dearly for its success.
Currie, however, set the record straight with the subsequent release of her memoir Neon Angel, a book that hides nothing while displaying the resilience that has become her hallmark. She left the Runaways in 1977 amid drug addiction, infighting, and exhaustion — the full gamut of classic rock clichés.
Cherie recently returned to the stage and will perform in West Palm Beach at the end of the month. We spoke with her about her chainsaw art and her album that's being held hostage.
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New Times: How did you get involved doing chainsaw art?
Cherie Currie: Well, it was just kind of a fluke! I kind of started out as a sketch artist. Actually, my first autobiography, Neon Angel, that came out through Pricester and Sloane, I went to them as an artist. At that time, I was a counselor for drug-addicted teens, and while they were in school, I had like two hours to kill, so I started sketching, and I would sketch really whimsical princes and princesses and castles and stuff. So I just thought I might be able to lend my sketches to some of their children's books. When they asked me how long I'd been drawing, I said a year, and they said, "Well, how is that possible?" and I kind of told them the story of the Runaways and how drugs took me out of the picture, and they said, "You know what? We've been looking for our first young-adult book, and this is it." And that's how I became an author.
So then I went from that to painting and relief carving, and I was driving to the beach one day, and I happened to see a couple of guys chainsaw carving at the side of the road, and I just couldn't get it out of my head. Every morning, every night, that voice would say, "You got to go back." So a couple of weeks later, I went back and walked into their gallery, and I saw these beautiful mermaids and dolphins. I mean, really beautiful pieces of art, and this voice just said, "You can do this!" I asked them if I could come and watch, and they said, "Yeah," and I started carving there. My third piece was accepted into the Malibu Art Expo, which is just so hard to get any kind of art accepted into that, and I just really thought I had something, and I've been doing it for 12 years now!
What have you been up to musically lately?
Well, Matt Sorum and I opened for Joan Jett in 2010, and I just don't think any of us expected it to go off as good as it did, and I was offered a deal from that show. At that time, I had Kenny Laguna — who's Joan's manager, was my manager — and he wanted me to sign with Blackheart instead of the other record companies. So of course, I did. And we made a great record. Matt Sorum produced it, and we got Billy Corgan on it and Slash and Duff, and Billy wrote a great duet for us to do, and it's got Brody Dalle and Juliette Lewis and the Veronicas on it. But for some reason, it just isn't out yet. It's not even mastered.
Kenny, I just kept asking him, but he didn't want me to do any shows after I opened for Joan, and I'd just been sitting for three years. So when my management contract expired in March, I wouldn't re-sign, and I just decided that I can't anymore. We just decided to come out and do shows and do a lot of the Runaways stuff, which is what the fans really want to hear, and do a few of the cuts off of the new record.
Any idea when the record might be released?
That's really going to depend on Kenny. Hopefully, he'll give me the masters and let me put it out. But it's so funny, this business. You know, the contracts, I guess the 60/40 contracts they call them now, where you own nothing and they own everything and it's just like, I'm too old for this.
It's just ugly. I never expected it to be like this, especially working with who I considered family. But for me, being 53 years old, I don't have time on my side. So I just had to get away from that and walk away from an album that I love. It was also a relief to know that I could do that and not have any contracts. I have no paper with anybody, so I'm a free agent. If it means that record never comes out, it would just be a bloody shame. But you know what? I can't control what other people do. But I can certainly control what I do, so that's the stance I'm taking now.