Let’s End Duality: Make America Grey Again

January 4, 2018

To start off 2018, I’d like to take us back to a moment in 2004 when Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama said these words:

“The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.”

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It seemed like a shift away a from the Bush-era divisiveness and surely played a role in Obama’s election in 2008. It’s worth pointing out that 14 percent of registered Republicans voted for a black Democrat in that election. It seems unimaginable now as we tweet and post from our red and blue state fortresses, rejecting anything that requires acknowledging the complexity of these issues. Remember Donald Trump in February saying,  “Nobody knew that healed care could be this complicated.” Oh, they knew.

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Queer Theory has been instrumental in helping people break through their binary thinking. When we are young we are taught that the sexes are “opposite.”  We are brainwashed in gender attributes that are mirror reflections. Boys are strong, girls are weak. Boys are stoic, girls are emotional. Boys are active, girls are passive. And on and on. It continues into adulthood. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Men care about foreign policy and women care about education. Most adults figure out that we have more in common that in opposition. “You have a pancreas? So do I!” Gender is not black and white. It’s many shades of grey. (A little bird told me that Vice President Mike Pence wears frilly pink panties and Donald Trump actually has a mangina.)

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I was thinking about the persistence of this bullshit dichotomy over the holidays when I read my old pal Bono kavetching that today’s music was “very girly;” that there wasn’t enough loud rock ’n’ roll like when he was a teenage boy. I flashed to the moment that a local Atlanta rock star I worked with in 1981 described the first U2 album as “whiney.” He should try saying music is too girly to Joan Jett’s face. Bono might turn off the Taylor Swift and check out bands like Savages, Diet Cig, Daddy Issues, and War on Women. There’s an explosion of women in rock right now. When I was 13-years-old I thought Kiss rocked and then I heard The Runaways’ Queens of Noise album. I’d put “Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin” against any of U2’s “guitar rock” without hesitation. If that’s girly music, give me more. The girls I know love the loud guitar. I’m a huge U2 fan but Bono is stuck in an antiquated binary.

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We don’t live a black and white world of evil doers and God’s pious peeps. We’re all sinners. One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. Context matters. The yin-yang symbol makes for a cool tattoo, but Buddhism does not reduce the world into a simple duality. Taoism is based on the paradox of simultaneous duality and unity. God vs. man? The Gnostic Texts excised from the Christian Bible, make the case that Christ ends that duality. The kingdom of heaven is within you. But you don’t get that message from the Christian Church. Man keeps constructing boundaries. Here’s how you get through heaven’s gate…

Duality makes sense in the abstract world of Boolean algebra, but here in reality things are rarely occurring in opposites. It’s only freaking Thursday?? And yet it’s 2018 already! Time can move fast and slow simultaneously. Even the distinction between life and death is a blurry line at best. We let those man-made boundaries define us. A person can be born with a penis, see themselves as a female identified person, AND be attracted to women. And maybe men occasionally.

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The issue of gender queer persons makes binary thinkers’ heads explode. You have to fit into a nice socially constructed category. It’s either/or not whatever. You have a penis? You belong in the heterosexual male box. Anything else is a “transgression” against nature, or God, or that old Oxford English dictionary your grandmother gave you for your ninth birthday. Those boys and men who stray into the pink zone must be punished. You’re watching The Crown instead of the Sugar Bowl? Smear the queer! I remember it well.

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The same is true with race. You’ve got a box to fit in and that’s who you are. You are either white or non-white. Again, reality has other plans. In the 2010 U.S. Census, 2 percent of Americans identified as two or more races. That’s 9 million people. In fact, multiple-race Americans grew at a faster pace than single-race Americans (32% vs. 9.2%). More and more Americans do not fit nicely into a demographic box. Is my half-Mexican daughter “white” or “brown”? Well, when she is applying for college scholarships, she’s gonna be “Latina” when it helps. But her light skin will privilege her the majority of her “white” life.

But here we are are, in a world where the President of the United States tells transgender Americans they are not allowed to serve in the military. (Another of his many failures in 2017.) Lower-level dualistic simple thinking rules the day. Either you are with us or against us. America, love it (our way) or leave it.  Sorry, simple people; it’s just not that simple.

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The reason this is the first post of the year is that I’ve noticed a creeping problem in 2017. Both sides are stuck in a binary deadlock. If you are a conservative, anyone who identifies themselves as liberal is just a “libtard” and anything they say will be dismissed out of hand. The other side is not much better. “You voted for Trump? You must be a complete moron and incapable of rational thought.”

Americans are not red or blue. They are mostly purple. Numerous surveys show that, despite political polarization, most Americans hold both liberal AND conservative opinions about things. Not only is it a scale, it’s a sliding scale. I imagine people get more conservative as April 15th approaches and more liberal over the holidays. Some people are socially liberal and economically conservative or vice versa. Some may change their political position after a good movie or a bad arrest. I spent much of my college years hanging out with Marxists, but I don’t want to live anywhere that looks like North Korea. I think capitalism is inherently corrosive but I appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit of my local Portland businesses. I even bought something in a Wal-Mart last year. (Long story.) Am I a hypocrite or just a complex person? Most people are complex. People who voted for Obama also voted for Trump and might vote for Elizabeth Warren in 2020. My dad likes to say he’s a “Republicrat.” Make your case. He’ll listen.

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I’ve written about the need for political civility in this blog. But this is something bigger. This is about breaking away from the us vs. them lie that’s been fed to us. I’m a post-modernist. I want to destroy these artificial barriers that confine us politically, sexually, spiritually, and any other way. We are trapped in our dogmatic partisan perspectives, fearful of the natural complexity of things. This is nothing new in this country. Our founders divided themselves into federalist and anti-federalist camps. Surprise, surprise – the best reality was somewhere in the middle.

There are things we can do to break through this artificial dichotomy. Ask questions of people making opposing arguments. Find the shades of grey you can work with. Keep an eye out for polarizing language. I tell anyone who uses the word “libtard” in a Facebook debate that there is no point to engage after that. Others should do the same when I use the word “moron.” Don’t make assumptions about people in different camps. You probably have more in common than you know. Instead of trying to “beat” them, help them to understand your position. Break out of your bubble. Diversity is good for plant life and party conversations. Don’t be afraid of encountering strong arguments that undermine the position you’ve taken. Don’t be afraid.

2018 is going to be a hell year. Perhaps the most important mid-term election in this nation’s history is only eleven months away. It’s going to be emotional and people are going to be combative, defensive, and needlessly inflammatory. We could divide ourselves into two opposing factions, a new civil war. Or we could reject the red and blue traps we’ve created for ourselves and make America fully human for the first time. “Hi, I’m Ying Yang, Yeah, it’s complicated. Get to know me.”

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Jukebox Hero 1: Queens of Noise

In 2011, I started working on a memoir about some of my crazy stories with rock musicians and the songs that saved me, called Jukebox Hero. I was deep in the drama and writing was an outlet, so I wrote about my relationship with Bono and how I ended up on an Eminem song, and a bunch of other crazy tales. I thought this blog might be a good place to publish some of the chapters. The first one is about being a punk fan in rural Georgia and discovering The Runaways. I’ve already written about this revolutionary band and am now proud to include bassist Jackie Fox in my circle of social media friends. Since memoirs are all the rage (I’m reading Hillbilly Elegy right now), here’s where mine starts. (I should note that I wrote this piece before the disturbing allegations surfaced about the rape culture surrounding the young band,)

Chapter 1: The Runaways – Queens of Noise

Soundtrack song: “Neon Angels on the Road To Ruin”

Being a young rock fan in a rural southern town, like Stone Mountain, Georgia, in the 1970s pretty much sucked. The drinking age was 18, but that might as well have been 30 when you were 13. Besides, there were no rock clubs, let alone all-ages ones. There was no satellite radio, no iTunes, no MTV, nothing. If it weren’t for 96 Rock on the FM dial and some older kid’s copy of Circus magazine, you might as well have been living behind the Iron Curtain. You were stuck on Hee Haw Island with a bunch of rednecks who thought radical fashion was clogging with tap shoes on. You know the movie Deliverance? These people were not cheering for Ned Beatty. They were cheering for the other guys.

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Stone Mountain was about 10 miles away from Atlanta, but it felt like a thousand miles from the exciting metropolis, whose motto was and is, “The city too busy to hate.” We had moved into one of the new subdivisions in 1972, when I was 8. Housing developments, like Woodridge, were popping up all over the whispering pine forests outside Atlanta. Each one would have about four or five styles of homes that would just repeat. Along with them came strip malls anchored with Eckerd’s drug stores and Big Star grocers. There was no suburban planning that envisioned places for young people to go or venues for musicians to play in. My house on Birch Ridge Trail was only near other houses exactly like it. The only good news was that they hadn’t invented video games yet, so we ran wild in the streets, the woods, and the half-built houses.

There were also really no ethnic or youth subcultures of any sort, other than the jocks and freaks of Redan High School. It was a time when if you didn’t listen to Ted Nugent or Waylon Jennings, you were branded a “pussy.” I remember in 1978 wearing a T-shirt by a new Australian band I had been getting into. I learned about them in Creem magazine. I was coming out of Spanish class and some longhaired redneck cornered me in the hall and said, “AC/DC, what is that? Are you some kind of a fag?” In those days, “AC/DC “ was slang for “going either way.” David Bowie was AC/DC. It’s not slang anymore. A year later I saw that same asshole in an AC/DC shirt. “OK, Blazak, you were right on that one.” Actually, I think he called me “Gayzak.”

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There was plenty of rock to find if you were willing to look. I got into The Who and the old mod bands I read about in rock history books and dreamed of Vespa scooters. The Beatles were my fantasy band. I was a sergeant in the Kiss Army. You couldn’t really see any of this music, up close at least. I went to my first concert when I was 9-years-old. My parents had the wisdom to take me to see Elvis Presley at the Omni Coliseum. I was hooked. My first real rock concert was when I was 12; Queen with Thin Lizzy opening. 1976. Brilliant. For my 13th birthday in 1977, my mom took me and some friends to see Kiss. It was the Love Gun tour and my head exploded. I pretty much went to every single concert after that.

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But at those shows, you were always a million miles from the stage. And this is long before Jumbotrons. Now you can go to a big concert and watch it on TV for only 150 bucks. In 1977, you paid $10 for a ticket and watched in through a cloud of pot smoke and firecrackers. Around that year, I began reading about this thing in Creem called “punk rock.” There was an article about a club called CBGBs in New York. The band on the low stage was called The Ramones and the guitarist’s Converse sneakers were hanging over the edge of the stage. People in the crowd were touching him. I didn’t know what it sounded like, but this was what I wanted, an end to the barrier between the musician and the fan.

There was really no way to find this music in Podunk Town in 1977. The radio was blasting big anthems for big arenas. Boston, Yes, ELO. And disco was creeping in, threatening to destroy every electric guitar in sight. I didn’t know that there were hipster record stores in Atlanta, like Wax N Facts and Wuxtry, that my mom or dad might’ve taken me to. I just knew that there were bands with names like The Dead Boys, The Jam, and The Sex Pistols that were playing music that I needed to hear. Some of it slipped through on Dr. Demento’s comedy radio show (I can still remember his playing of the Tuff Dart’s “Your Love is Like Nuclear Waste”). Some of it popped up on TV shows like Rock Concert and Midnight Special, where you might catch Mink Deville or Blondie. Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend, Barbie Benton, had a show called Sugar Time! That had an episode called “Punk Rock.” Her singing group, Sugar, decided to “go punk” and dress in trash bags but didn’t like people throwing trash at them (which is what punks did, according to the network).

A local UHF show called The Entertainment Page (live five days a week!) was a lifeline from Atlanta. They interviewed local and touring bands and showed videos long before there was an MTV. Groups like The Motors and Generation X blasted out of the TV in the family room. What I could hear was exhilarating! The guitars were loud, jagged and up front. The vocals were snotty. The songs were short and desperate. No endless guitar solos. In 1977, with some fellow eighth graders, I went to see Led Zeppelin at the Omni and fell sleep during “Moby Dick.” Boring.

Suddenly, salvation fell out of a magazine. I was reading Rolling Stone and an insert ad fell out on to the floor. The deal was this; you taped a penny to the card, mailed it in, and you could get twelve albums! There was something about buying a certain number of records over the next few years. Who cares? The albums listed in the ad were OK, some I already had. I needed to find another member of the Columbia House Record Club and get access to the database (again, music websites were almost twenty years off). My friend David Coston (and fellow Kiss Army member) had some of the monthly catalogs. I was ready to find 12 punk rock albums. Unfortunately, there were no punk rock albums. No Television. No Sex Pistols. But “punk” in those days was much broader. It included Patti Smith, Blondie, and The Talking Heads, all of whom would make it to the record clubs.

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So I used my 12 spots to fill out my record collection. A few Kiss albums, A Rock N Roll Alternative by the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Cat Scratch Fever by Ted Nugent (I didn’t want to my ass kicked). I had 11 and needed one more. There was an album called Queens of Noise by The Runaways. I had read about them in Creem or Hit Parader. They were all girls but they looked serious. It seemed pretty punk to me so I put the catalog number (271338) in box #12.  All the music I had listened to had been boy bands who liked to wack off on endless solos. Maybe an all girl-band would be my ultimate punk weapon against Nugent bully masculinity.

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When the twelve albums arrived, I quickly forgot about the other eleven. The snarling teen chicks from the Sunset Strip were my ticket into the subterranean world of underground rock. Loud, fast, rules. The booming bass of “Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin” drove my neighbors in the Woodridge subdivision to drink (or crank up their Waylon Jennings). I stared at the picture of Joan Jett, Jackie Fox, Cherie Currie, Lita Ford, and Sandy West, on the cover of Queens of Noise, and dreamt of escaping with them into the backstreets of Hollywood. I would never again feel the need to listen to what everyone else was listening to. I was on my own.

I continued to follow The Runaways as my identity as the lone punk fan at Redan High School evolved. David lent me his import copy of The Runaways Live in Japan and I leant him Waitin’ for the Night. Soon I got my hands on those Ramones records. I talked to Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie on The Entertainment Page and they gave me tickets to the Parallel Lines show at the Fox Theater (with Rockpile opening). I started dressing more “new wave” (which caused endless taunts). I would sneak a safety pin on to my Blue Oyster Cult concert shirt; peg my flaired Levi’s from The Gap with mom’s sewing kit.  I found import singles at record stores by bands with funny haircuts. I told people I went to the Sex Pistols show in Atlanta, but you had to be 18 to get in and I was only 14. I did see The Runaways with The Ramones that year and lots of people (including myself) trying to be “punk.” I was sad when singer Cherie Currie left the band and then The Runaways split up. But when Joan Jett’s first solo album came out in 1980, all was forgiven.

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By 1980, I had become a bit like Mike Damone in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. I wasn’t making out with girls to side one of Led Zeppelin IV (or any other music). But I was the guy with the great concert tickets. For whatever reason, my parents seemed perfectly OK with letting their teenage son camp out just about anywhere for concert tickets. In 1979, I dragged a sleeping bag and a lawn chair outside a Rich’s department store in the blackest part of Dekalb County (to insure a smaller line because all the white kids were at Lenox Mall) for the Kiss Dynasty tour (2nd row). In 1980, I camped out downtown in the freezing winter for Springsteen’s The River tour (20th row). That summer, I was back downtown camping out for Who tickets, for three days (8th row). Good seats meant I could usually find a date. I had front row center for AC/DC’s historic Back In Black concert at the Fox Theater and took the first girl who said she wanted to go.

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Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation was one of the first cross-over records from the underground. The Talking Heads and Blondie were on mainstream radio but they did it by sounding more commercial (even, gasp, disco). But Joan did it by sounding more like Suzi Quatro. Bad Reputation rocked hard. Even better, the girls who ignored me (unless I had front row tickets to see The Kinks) dug the female voice blasting out of the speakers in my 1973 Gran Torino. It was actually cooler to listen to Joan Jett than Christoper Cross! 16 was going to be my year. When I landed the job at Turtles Records on Memorial Drive, the geeky kid who liked “fag rock” suddenly was on the inside. I would be selling tickets to concerts I used to camp out for. I could sell cool music to the indbred, Nugent-loving rednecks to blast out of their Trans Ams. And I sold a shit-load of Joan Jett.

One of best parts of record stores in those days was the in-store appearance. Artists promoting their latest release would hang out in record stores and sign autographs. There’s a great scene in the film FM of a young Tom Petty doing an in-store at the Tower Records on Sunset.  I skipped school in 1980 with a few other new wavers to meet the B-52s at an in-store at Oz Records in Stone Mountain. Before that I stood line for an hour to meet the Ramones at an in-store at Peaches. Turtles had plenty of in-stores. I got to organize appearances by Missing Persons and Iron Maiden. When Joan Jett released I Love Rock N Roll in 1981 I prayed we’d get the in-store.

I Love Rock N Roll became a smash hit pretty quickly. It had the same Gary Glitter-turned up to 11 sound as Bad Reputation, but by 1981, rock radio was tired of Nugent and Styx and all that wanking. The kids just wanted to rock. So they began to play more of the gritty new sounds from “independent” artists. Joan had been turned down by 23 record labels for the Bad Reputation album and just decided to create her own record label, Blackheart Records. By 1982, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were all over the airwaves and featured regularly on the new craze, MTV. I got to do a lot of the “I knew her when,” thing. Like tales of when I saw Joan with The Runaways play with The Ramones in a wrestling hall in 1978.

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My store didn’t get the in-store. Instead it went to the Turtles #12 at Northlake Mall. But I was there with an armful of Runaways albums to prove that I knew her before MTV. I wore my green satin Turtles jacket and yellow Turtles T-shirt. I didn’t want to be confused with the screaming fans that hadn’t heard of Joan before 1981. I was an insider. An industry person. An 18-year-old fanatic. I tried to be super-cool with her but in the photo of our encounter you can see a big streak of Clearasil on my jaw that I forgot to wipe off. So I wasn’t that cool, but Joan seemed impressed that I was a big Runaways fan in Podunk. And she had the coolest leather jacket.

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My fandom of Joan hardly waned over the years. I was excited to see her on the bill with The Who later in 1982. There was no stop in Atlanta so a fellow dorm-mate from Oxford College named Chris Jones and I drove down to Orlando to see the November 27th massive concert at the Tangerine Bowl. The Blackhearts were on the bill between The B-52s and The Who. When the Florida rednecks saw me in my mod gear (similar to what The Who themselves wore in 1965), I got shit like “Faggot!” and “You must be here to see the B-52s, you faggot.” But nobody asked me if I was AC/DC. Chris and I got as close to the stage as possible. It was an open field even though 11 fans had been crushed to death at an open-seating Who concert in 1979. It didn’t matter, I had to be as close to the action as I could.

When Georgia’s B-52s (who recorded “Rock Lobster” at Stone Mountain Studios!) hit the stage, the few hip kids cheered but the Florida rednecks were having none of it. The booed and shouted homophobic slurs, but that Athens party band partied on. Then some geniuses began taking their shoes off and hurling them at the group, ignorant to the fact that their beloved Who were viewed with the same curiosity less than twenty years earlier. Shoes began raining down on the new wave combo and the B-52’s began to look nervous, like they were going to be devoured by an angry mob of backwater zombies. Then this biker momma to the left of me reached into her purse and pulled out a rather large dildo and flung it towards the stage. It hit keyboardist Kate Pierson straight in the face. The rednecks howled in approval and the B-52s walked off the stage.

When Joan Jett and the Blackhearts took the stage, the hillbillies started up again. They paid full-price for their tickets and didn’t want to see any “faggy” bands. They wanted The Who. When the first pair of sneakers hit the stage, Joan stopped mid-song, gave an intense glare, and shouted out, “Fuck you, asshole!” Then she walked back and turned up her guitar amp. The band launched into “I Love Rock n’ Roll” and the crowd went nuts. She tamed the savage redneck with a black eye-liner stare and power chord.

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I saw Joan again in 1995 after I moved to Portland. After the brutal 1993 Seattle murder of Mia Zapata of The Gits (seriously, one of the most balls out rock bands unknown to the masses), Joan jumped into the effort to find the killer. She formed a band with the surviving Gits called Evil Stig (Gits Live backwards) and did an album and tour to help fund the investigation. When they played at LaLuna, Joan was bald and as mean as ever. Evil Stig played the best of The Gits and The Blackhearts, including “Crimson and Clover.” I’ve always been impressed with Joan commitment to supporting the issues of women and sexual minorities through kick ass rock. Her 1993 song, “Activity Grrrl,” about the Riot Grrrl scene is required listening in my Youth Subcultures class. She’s a true hero and I have her autograph.

The other members of the Runaways have had a more challenging time. Lita Ford was on top for a while in the MTV days, thanks to Sharon Osborne. Her hair was massive, and, for a brief moment in rock history, she beat the headbangers at their own game. Jackie Fox went to Harvard and got her law degree. I was in L.A. in the late 1980s with Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, the band I managed, and we caught Redd Kross doing a show at the Ford Amphitheater and they brought Cherie Currie out on stage. She had appeared on their crazy Tater Totz album (a vanity project rooted in Yoko Ono absurdism). They brought the house down with The Runaways’ “Cherie Bomb.”

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In 1998, I was in LA for a sociology conference or something, and staying with my friend Jim Barber. He became Drivin’ N’ Cryin’s manager after I was fired, and later he was Courtney Love’s boyfriend (which means he’s in this book). I noticed in the LA Weekly that the Runaways’ drummer, Sandy West, was playing at The Coconut Teaszer on Sunset and had to go. I was with Christina, my first wife, who was about to learn about my Runaways obsession. The show in the tiny club was great. Sandy wasn’t the teenager I saw 20-years earlier in the wrestling hall, but she rocked full on, banging the drums like a construction worker (which she was at that point). And the night took off when her old vocalist, Cherie Currie, joined the band for a run through of some Runaways classics. I was back in my bedroom in Stone Mountain, staring at the cover of Queens of Noise. Amazing.

After the show, the members of the band, including Sandy and Cherie, hung out on the patio in the warm West Hollywood night. I talked to Sandy about how much I enjoyed the show and how great her drumming was. Then I told her the story about how Queens of Noise was the random 12th pick for the Columbia House Record Club in 1977 and it changed my life. Sandy loved the story so much she dragged me over to Cherie and made me repeat the whole tale. I added that it was that record that gave me the confidence to stop listening to Ted Nugent and start finding other underground music.

I’m so glad I had that moment because Sandy was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and died the following year. And now, thanks to the Dakota Fanning/Kristen Stewart film, everyone knows about The Runaways.

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I attended the Portland premiere of The Runways on April 5, 2010. It was a benefit for one of my favorite Portland organizations, The Rock N Roll Camp For Girls. (My 40th birthday party was a fundraiser for the camp.) Sandy West’s sister was there and so was Cherie Curie. During the Q&A, I mentioned that I saw The Runaways with The Ramones in 1978 and it was a big punk rock event. I asked Cherie if she thought they were a part of the punk rock phenomenon and she just made a face. “I didn’t know what punk rock was until we went to London and saw all these people with pierced faces and spitting on each other. It was disgusting! No, we were just a pure rock and roll band. We just wanted to rock.”

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As she made her way out of the Hollywood Theater, I cornered her with my Queens of Noise album, the one I got from the record club in 1977 that Joan Jett signed in 1982. I tried to tell her about meeting her with Sandy in Hollywood in 1998, but the other fans began to move in. I was happy to get her to add her signature and pose for a picture. Even if it meant missing out on free tickets to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts because I missed my raffle ticket being called. The fact that the film brought a whole bunch of kids the music of The Runaways is good enough.

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2011 Postscript: After the 2010 meeting, Cherie Currie accepted my friend request on Facebook. I love that your childhood heroes can now share your random thoughts and vica versa. However, Cherie’s random thoughts tended toward ragging on President Obama and generally trying to be the female Ted Nugent. I found it strange that the woman who still brags about having sex with Joan Jett would turn out to be a right-wing asshole.

In June, Cherie reposted a YouTube video I had linked to my page of nutjob Arizona governor Jan Brewer claiming that illegal immigrants were coming to America just to have babies (Brewer later claimed that they were all drug mules and beheading people). Cherie’s comment on my video read:

It amazes me that a woman doing her job and protecting her citizens give her the title a right-wing bigot. I give her the title of ‘Stronger and more American then the man we made President’.

When I tried to engage her and her teabag army in some civilized debate about the Arizona immigration law, she defreinded and blocked me. Sometimes it stings to find out your rock idols are true douchebags.

2017 Postscript: I put on Queens of Noise when I posted this. (I streamed it on Spotify because my autographed vinyl copy is framed.) Christ, it sounds as good did 40 years ago. “Born to Bad” is a monster anthem, Jackie’s zooming bass on “Neon Angels,” and Lita Ford shredding on “Johnny Guitar,” lordy. Why isn’t this album in there with the rest of classic albums? Oh, yeah, chicks. Now excuse me while I play some air bass in my kitchen. 1977 = 2017 FTW!

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When our heroes are raped: Loving and learning from The Runaways.

July 13, 2015

A few years back I started writing a book about all my rock star stories and the lessons learned. I was going to call it Jukebox Hero, and there was gonna be a big chapter on the 70s band The Runaways. The recent Huffington Post article about the rape of bassist Jackie Fox by the band’s “manager” Kim Fowley has got the band back in my head and the normality of the rape of young girls in the public discourse. Or at least it should.

The Lost Girls. One famous band. One huge secret. Many lives destroyed.

But first the story of how The Runaways turned me into a riot grrrl before Carrie Brownstein was in kindergarten.

A thousand years ago, in 1977, before iTunes, there was the Columbia House Record Club. You could get 12 vinyl albums for a penny (with some vague agreement that you would sell your soul to the devil, or buy more LPs later). At the age of 13, I used it to complete my Kiss collection. I also got the ELO album that Mission of the Sacred Heart is based on. But I only had 11 selections. What to get to finish the order?

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A friend had the recent Columbia House catalog. I found a little section for “punk rock,” something I had been reading about in Creem Magazine. They had Patti Smith, the Ramones, and a group of five teenage girls called The Runaways. Of course, being a 13-year-old boy I chose The Runaways. The end of that story is that record ended up being my favorite of the 12 and opened me up a whole universe of music you couldn’t hear on the radio. The music for us misfits, born to be bad.

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That album was Queens of Noise, their second album. They were only a few years older than me, probably 11th graders. They looked mean and not cutsie, which made them hot. I wasn’t old enough to know that girls weren’t supposed to rock like this. I would blast “Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin” from bedroom in Stone Mountain. Lita Ford’s massive guitar groove and Jackie Fox’s epic bass-line would echo through the Woodridge subdivision. Punk rock. This was my band and these were my people. My generation, baby! That was the year I saw Led Zepplin in concert and fell asleep. Give me loud, fast and hard.

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I finally saw them play in February of 1978 just a few days after my 14th birthday. I was finally allowed to go to concerts without my mom. They played at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium, a hall that usually hosted wrestling matches, opening for the Ramones (with The Dynamic Atlanta Cruise-O-Matic first on the bill). Jackie Fox and singer Cherie Curie had just left the band, so it was just Joan Jett, Lita Ford, drummer Sandy West and new bassist Vicki Blue blowing the doors off. They didn’t play “Neon Angels,” but I was still in heaven. Not because they were “hot girls,” but because they were my age and they rocked with a fierceness Beyoncé could only dream of. Oh, and the Ramones were pretty great too, but that’s another chapter.

When Joan Jett’s first solo album came out, Bad Reputation, all the hip kids at Redan High School got it. That means me and two or three others. The rest were still jamming to Ted Nugent and Styx. Then “I Love Rock and Roll” came out right as MTV was landing and it was all over. My little secret rock singer belonged to the masses and a million karaoke bars.

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I got to meet Joan in early 1982. I was working at Turtles Records & Tapes and she did an in-store appearance at the Northlake Mall store. I took my Runaways albums for her to sign and she appreciated the pre-hit fandom. In the picture of us together, you can see a white streak on my jaw-line. That’s a big dollop of Clearasil I didn’t properly wipe off my face. I was 18, OK?

A few years later, I became friends with Mickey Steele of The Bangles. We were in Nashville and I was talking about my love for The Runaways and how they really set the stage for “girl bands” like The Bangles. That’s when she told me she was IN an early version of The Runaways and co-wrote “Born to Be Bad” on the Queens of Noise album! Shortly, after that I became good friends with LA music icon Phast Phreddie Patterson. Turns out The Runaways first show was in his living room! I was so close to this band that meant so much to me when I was a pimply teenager.

But still there was no mention of the abuse the girls had suffered as young females in this patriarchal business in this patriarchal culture.

I knew about Kim Fowley because I studied the liner notes of every album I put my hands on. He wrote songs on Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare and Kiss’ Destroyer albums. His name was on the American Graffiti soundtrack. He wrote, “Alley Oop!” None of those sources let on that he was a sexual predator. OK, maybe Kiss’ “King of the Night Time World” was a clue. “It’s so bad, goin’ to school. So far from me and the dirty things that we do.” He wrote that.

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In 1997, I was in LA and saw that drummer Sandy West was playing a show at the Coconut Teaser on Sunset. It was a great set and Cherie Currie showed up to do a few old Runaways songs with her. After the show I told Sandy my Columbia Record Club story and she dragged me over to Cherie to retell the story. I was hanging out with the Runaways! I’m glad I got to meet Sandy as she died of cancer in 2006. She was a true pioneer for women in rock music.

By the time the movie about the Runaways came out in 2010, the Kim Fowley story was out. The 2004 documentary Edgeplay:A Film About the Runaways danced around it. Fowley was in that film but Joan Jett was not. But the 2010 film, starring Dakota Fanning as Cherie Curie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, heavily leaned in to the idea that Fowley was more of a warped Svengali than a visionary of feminist rock. “Creep” would be the better word. I was sad that Jackie Fox’s role was written out of the film (I now get why she refused to allow her likeness to be used) but it did give me another chance to meet Cherie.

There was a screening of the film at the Hollywood Theater in Portland and Cherie talked a bit after the movie. When I asked if they thought they were “punk rock,” I dropped that I had seen the band in 1978. There was a a groan from all the young women who would have loved to have been there. The benefit of being old I guess. Anyway, I reminded Cherie that I met her with Sandy and got her to sign the Queens of Noise album that Joan had signed 28 years earlier.

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After that we briefly became Facebook friends but she routinely attacked me and my friends for our liberal views, finally unfriending me. Turns out she’s a Tea Partier and sort of a female Ted Nugent. Kind of ironic for a woman who brags about having sex with Joan Jett. Dagger to the heart, Cherie.

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This past week The Runaways are back in the news cycle with Jackie Fox’s revelation of the story everyone has danced around for all these decades. On New Year’s Eve 1975, she alleges, just a week after her 16th birthday, entering into a scene that has occurred in endless permutations. Back at the hotel, after the show, a roadie gave the teenager multiple quaaludes. The short version is that Fowley then entered the room, took her blouse off and raped her with the handle of a hairbrush while other members of the band watched. The Huffington article is hard enough to read so imagine the worst.

Fowley went down to cancer in January so he can’t reply. But Fox’s (real name; Jackie Fuchs) motive to telling the story now is to better understand the bystander effect and how her young bandmates are not to blame for not intervening in the attack. Of course, right-winged Currie quickly posted a message that she was the victim of these allegations and would mount a Go Fund Me campaign so she could afford a lie detector test. (Facepalm.) And Jett has said he doesn’t remember the events as told by Fox but if it had happened that way she surely would have stopped it. (You really want to imagine Joan Jett kicking Kim Fowley’s ass through the wall). Both women showed their support for Fox and her path through this. None of us were there so we’re likely to let our sympathies determine what we think the real story is.

The more important thing is how common this story is and how much we DON’T WANT TO BELIEVE IT. You (I mean, YOU the reader)  know so many women who were victims of rape when they were very young, but there is this denial that is just infuriating. Just think of all the people who defended Bill Cosby. When Fowley died in January, Joan Jett delivered a heartfelt eulogy at his Hollywood funeral. Many wondered how a woman who was the “godmother of riot grrrl” and helped to organize the Home Alive project after the rape and murder of Gits singer Mia Zapata could honor a man who was well know to sexually prey on underage girls. Is it just because “that’s the way it was in those days”? Or is our rape culture so normalized we’ll let a abusive monster slide because his name is on a stack of cool records?

It’s confusing because I want my daughter to love The Runaways the way I did when I was 13. If I have to tell her to turn down “Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin,” I will know that I have met one of my primary parenting goals. But she’s going to know that the rape of girls is part of the story and such a common tale behind so many things she will love. I would like her to think, WWJJD? (What would Joan Jett do?) but in this example, that might be the exact wrong thing. I don’t know. We can’t blame people for paralysis that being a bystander can create. But we can celebrate those who bust through it and act to defend those in desperate need of action. Jackie Fox is a really important name in the history of rock music. But her story is more important.

Side Note: Today is the first anniversary of Andrea and my beautifully simple wedding in a casino chapel in Reno. I hate that we are apart, but pledge to be her ally and supporter until death do us part. I love her more every day and there will be fireworks when I see her in five days!