Foxes on the Run

From The Bystander Effect to Stockholm Syndrome: Sexual and psychological abuse in Rock and Roll cast a 40-year shadow

 

joan_jett-patty_hearst

(Left) Joan Jett post-Runaways, circa 1980s. (Right) Patricia Hearst robs the Hibernia Bank, 1974. [Wikimedia Commons Public Domain]

 

On New Year’s Eve in 1975, Jackie Fuchs, just 16-years-old and a member of the all-girl band The Runaways, was drugged by a roadie and then raped in a motel room by the band’s notoriously sleazy manager, producer and all-around-Svengali, Kim Fowley. The story of a young woman’s assault by a 36-year-old man — revealed this past July in a Huffington Post exposé, The Lost Girlsis sickening. But what makes Fuchs’ tale uniquely chilling is that, as she recounts, the rape took place in a roomful of other people, including two of her fellow band members, Cherie Currie and Joan Jett.

Her revelation of this 40-year-old crime reminds me of the saga of another fox on the run from that era: Patricia Hearst. She was also a teenage girl who appeared self-possessed and revolutionary to a public riding the first swell of feminism’s second wave and hungry for depictions of women who stood up to “The Man” — but who was, it would turn out, a victim of abuse and manipulation by those men. Moreover, the mea culpas, continued denials and psychological justifications offered by primary witnesses to Fuchs’ rape that have come in the wake of The Lost Girls, are redolent of the courtroom defense that followed Hearst’s SLA crime spree: that she was not entirely culpable because her felonies were enacted while she suffered from a little-known disorder called Stockholm Syndrome.

From Patty to Tania

To refresh your memory, in 1974, a year before Fuchs’ joined The Runaways, Hearst, a 19-year-old publishing heiress, was kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, CA, beaten and kept in a closet for several weeks by the homegrown revolutionary group, the Symbionese Liberation Army. During her incarceration, crouched in that claustrophobic cell, SLA members repeatedly threatened her life. She was given an explicit choice: to either to join her captors or to die. Hearst chose life.

Newly-minted member, Patty, was then renamed “Tania,” and trained in the use of weapons and other martial arts. Also, according to Hearst, Angela Atwood, her new SLA “sister,” informed her that, “the others thought she should know what sexual freedom was like.” While girls her age were becoming radicalized through relatively benign activities, like “Take Back the Night” marches, she was receiving “sexual freedom” education from two of the SLA’s male leaders, Donald De Freeze and William Wolfe — in the form of repeated rapes.

After more than 19-months on the lam, Hearst was apprehended by FBI agents and tried for her participation in the SLA’s robbery of the Hibernia Bank. At her trial, Hearst’s defense lawyers first introduced the American public to the concept of Stockholm Syndrome, a psychiatric condition, they explained, in which hostages form a traumatic bond with, express sympathy for, and even protect, their captors. In other words, while Hearst looked like she had been a willing participant in the SLA’s crimes, her willingness was merely a survival tactic.

Meanwhile, Back at the Motel

In an interview with KCRW’s Madeline Brand, Fuchs said, that after being given Quaaludes (possibly several) at that New Year’s Eve party: “The next clear memory I have was lying on the bed propped up on the pillows, and a roadie came over and asked me if I was okay. And then Kim Fowley showed up behind him and he said, ‘Do you want to [blank] her?’ And then he said, ‘go ahead, she won’t mind. Will you?’

“And I found that I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move a muscle. That the drugs had rendered me incapable of doing anything but silently pleading with the roadie to say no. Which fortunately, he did.”

Unfortunately, Fowley wasn’t finished. In his Huff-Po article, reporter Jason Cherkis recounts what came next: “’I remember opening my eyes, Kim Fowley was raping me, and there were people watching me,’” Jackie says. She looked out from the bed and noticed Currie and Jett staring at her.” That was her last memory of the night.”

queensbookRape ‘n’ Roll stories are nothing new to music lore. The exploitation of young women and men is, in some ways, well documented and was recently recapped by noted rock writer and NPR music critic, Ann Powers, in “The Cruel Truth about Rock And Roll.” Even Fuchs’ rape story has been told before by The Runaways’ lead singer Cherie Currie — first in recorded interviews soon after she quit the band, again in her autobiography, Neon Angel, and later still in former bandmate Victory-Tischler Blue’s disturbing Runaways documentary, Edgeplay. However, in none of these versions does she name the victim.

Instead, in language hauntingly similar to Angela Atwood’s, Currie called the incident, “Kim Fowley’s Sex Education Class.” The story of how Fowley taught “you dogs to fuck,” would be recounted again to music writer Evelyn McDonnell for her 2013 biography of the band, Queens of Noise: The Real Story of The Runaways, by both Currie and Kari Krome, one of the band’s founders.

Although McDonnell says she was told it was Fuchs under “deep cover,” she couldn’t reveal the information without Fuchs’ corroboration (which she didn’t have) and for legal reasons (Fowley was notably litigious). When McDonnell asked Fowley directly about sexual abuse in the band, he told her, “They can talk about it until the cows come home but, in my mind, I didn’t make love to anybody in the Runaways nor did they make love to me.” Yet, hinting at the truth, McDonnell ends the chapter that contains these conflicting allegations with the strong disclaimer, “Maybe somebody is lying.”

Queens of Silence

As recently as three years ago when The Queens of Noise was being researched, and almost four decades after the deed, Fuchs was not yet ready to come forward. She had her reasons, most of which were rooted in fear. But, primarily she remained mute because, even though this horrific crime happened in a roomful of people, nobody had stopped it — and tellingly, nobody present that night offered to talk about it afterwards. Certainly no one proffered comfort.

As Cherkis tells it, “Jackie showed up at the next band practice some days later, not ready to stop being a Runaway. Although she was nervous about how her bandmates would treat her, she at least expected them to acknowledge that something bad had happened. But the girls hardly registered her presence.

“Jackie took her bandmates’ silence to mean that she should keep quiet, too. ‘I didn’t know if anybody would have backed me. I knew I would be treated horribly by the police — that I was going to be the one that ended up on trial more than Kim. I carried this sense of shame and of thinking it was somehow my fault for decades.’”

There were other reasons to remain silent. As Cherie Currie says in Edgeplay about the well-documented verbal and emotional abuse the girls suffered at the hands of Fowley: “I knew what was happening to me was wrong. I knew what was happening to Joan, Lita, Jackie — that was wrong. But we couldn’t do anything about it because he was producer. He was manager. And he said, without him we would go nowhere.”

The-Runaways-Music-Life---June-422321Fuchs, like the other teens, wanted success. Such was Fowley’s sway that — even though the majority of his musical accomplishments resemble a collection of bizarre novelties hawked by a carnival barker — she remained convinced he could make her a star, so she “compartmentalized” her feelings and played on for another 18 months. She says she remained as much to keep her bandmates’ dreams alive as her own. She didn’t quit until 1977, when during a tour of Japan she suffered an emotional collapse.

Ironically, Japan was the only country in which the band ever achieved legitimate stardom, complete with screaming mobs of fans. If Fuchs had been less traumatized, the adulation of thousands of devotees should have spurred her to soldier on despite the myriad dysfunctions rampant in The Runaways’ exercise. After all, this is what they had been working toward. This is the reason she’d maintained her silence.

Denial

Fuchs’ disclosure landed like a firecracker in the drought-parched Hollywood hills, sparking an immediate conflagration of media outrage from voices within and outside the music world. Many were supportive of Fuchs and others condemned Fowley — who died of bladder cancer this past January. Los Angeles music writer Chris Morris spoke for many when he wrote:

“I had no love for the man. I always viewed him as a viper that walked upright. Though I found myself in the same room with him on innumerable occasions for more than 35 years, I always gave him a wide berth. His reputation preceded him, and it was not one I found attractive.”

The online conversation quickly devolved into a “she-said, she-said” clash over whether or not Curry and Jett had witnessed the rape — and if so, why they hadn’t tried to stop it. In response, both women issued statements on their Facebook pages denying that they had observed a criminal act on the night in question.

Currie, who has spent a lifetime on the fringes of Hollywood chasing the dream of a musical career said:

“I have been accused of a crime. Of looking into the dead yet pleading eyes of a girl, unable to move while she was brutally raped and doing nothing. I have never been one to deny my mistakes in life and I wouldn’t start now. If I were guilty, I would admit it.”

Jett, the band’s most famous alumnus and 2015 inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame issued this terse comment:

“Anyone who truly knows me understands that if I was aware of a friend or bandmate being violated, I would not stand by while it happened. For a group of young teenagers thrust into ’70s rock stardom there were relationships that were bizarre, but I was not aware of this incident. Obviously Jackie’s story is extremely upsetting and although we haven’t spoken in decades, I wish her peace and healing.”

Read carefully, neither of these statements disputes that such an incident occurred.

The Bystander Effect

pressplayFuchs seemed mostly baffled by the denials — particularly since her version of events had already been corroborated by several people present — markedly by Kari Krome, who was both in the hotel room that night and who has revealed that she, too, was sexually abused by Fowley, beginning when she was only 14.

In her own Facebook statement, Fuchs said: “My rape was traumatic for everyone, not just me, and everyone deals with trauma in their own way and time …  I only wish that if my bandmates can’t remember what happened that night — or if they just remember it differently — they would stick simply to saying that.”

That the former bass-player was able to acknowledge the deniers with such equanimity, may be due to the fact that, before revealing her secret she had researched and found a plausible justification for the passive behavior of the onlookers that night: a phenomenon called the Bystander Effect. As with Stockholm Syndrome, the Bystander Effect is a psychological experience that produces inverted behavior in response to a crisis. In this case, when multiple witnesses are present at the victimization of an individual, they fail to act in the victim’s defense — and the more spectators present, the more pronounced becomes the abnegation of responsibility to help.

As she said on KCRW, until she read an account of the night of her rape in McDonnell’s book, “I had directed my anger at the bystanders for not intervening. That was when I first began to realize that perhaps, it wasn’t really their fault and I should be directing my anger at the man who raped me.”

Like the Harvard trained lawyer that she is, Fuchs worked hard to provide that roomful of New Year’s revelers — most of them teenagers and likely drunk or hampered by chemically-induced inertia — with a plausible defense. “One of the things I’ve tried to do with every bystander,” she said, “is let them know it’s not their fault.

It’s a good argument. It might even be true that no one stopped the proceedings in that hotel room in 1975 because of the discouraging influence of the Bystander Effect. However, the fact that no one in her band mentioned it, commiserated with, or offered comfort to Fuchs in the 18 months that followed — nor in the 40 years since —  is in need of additional analysis.

A Family Affair

For starters, as Fuchs posits, all five members of The Runaways were Kim Fowley’s victims. As their ersatz guardian he kept them hungry, both emotionally and literally, rarely paying them enough money to buy food. Fowley also regularly demeaned his “Fab Five” by hurling everything at them from foul invectives like “dog cunt” to handfuls of garbage — in what he called, “heckler’s drills. And, according to drummer Sandy West (who died in 2006) he took particular relish in abusing Currie and Fuchs.

Currie contends that Fowley used the tactic of dividing the girls to conquer and control them. First, as with Patty Hearst, they were removed from their families and sources of emotional support. Later they were separated from each other, which was easily accomplished with a group of girls who, in many ways, had nothing in common but a desire to be famous.

It has been noted, that in cases of familial child abuse, a parent need only mistreat one child to control the rest. In a The Kansas City Star article titled, “It isn’t rare of a parent to single out one child for abuse,” Debra Wolfe, the executive director of the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research at the University of Pennsylvania says of children who must watch the abuse of a sister or brother: “For them to be witnessing this and feel powerless to protect their sibling is really daunting.”

“In the most severe abuse cases,” the article continues, “siblings are sometimes forced to participate. Siblings might be told by their parents to withhold food from a targeted child. [And] being asked to isolate the targeted child from family activities can cause profound guilt later for the other siblings.

Fuchs was already the odd-woman-out in The Runaways. She did not take drugs. She was the one with the “girl next door” look. She was also, by all accounts, the smartest member of the band and the one “with a mouth on her” who challenged Fowley over his mismanagement of the girls’ earnings and career. It makes sense, that if he were to choose a single person to break in order to control the others, it would have been Fuchs.

With one vile degradation, he was able to neutralize her, separate her further from the others and to achieve complete domination over the teens. For the remainder of her time in the band, Fuchs would be further marginalized — often by her bandmates —until, by the end, she was nothing but the butt of the joke.

As, Tischler-Blue (a.k.a. Vicki Blue), who replaced Fuchs on bass when she quit the band recounted, “I heard about that [the rape] nonstop. They would talk about Kim fucking Jackie like a dog. It was kind of a running joke.”

Neon Angel

neonIn Edgeplay, Currie states that, though she kept lines of communication open with her family during her years as a Runaway, she didn’t tell her father everything that went on with Kim Fowley. If she had, says Currie, “He would have pulled out a gun and blown his [Kim’s] brains out. I still hope someone does. Because I think if anyone deserves it, that man does.”

If she felt that way in 2003, why in 2014 would Currie invite her former tormentor to live in her home and to nurse him through the final months of his terminal illness? Why in 2015 would she deny a horrific and memorable incident that she’d previously (and repeatedly) written and spoken about?

In a 2010 Spin article Currie said, about her relationship with Fowley: “It’s like battered-wife syndrome. Some women love the abusive men they’re with and that’s kind of the way I was with Kim. I really wanted his approval.”

Dr. Frank Ochberg, M.D., a psychologist who worked as a consultant with the FBI in the mid-‘70s on hostage cases [such as Patty Hearst’s], and who interviewed victims of such crimes says: “A terrorist or a criminal (or, for that matter, an abusive spouse or parent) may be a source of terror and then a source of relief from the state of being terrified and infantilized. That person, by not killing you, by giving you the various gifts of life, evokes a primitive and profound feeling… often difficult to put into words.

“These positive sensations could last a long time. Months. Years.”

Maybe Currie’s late-life largesse toward Fowley was simply the result of her ability to forgive. “He apologized to me on the phone a year ago,” she said in Spin, “saying if he had to do it over again he wouldn’t have treated us that way. He didn’t know how to handle 15-year-old girls. In his own crazy way, he loved us.”

Or maybe Currie forgave because Fowley spent his final months producing Reverie, her first new album in over 30 years — an album that she hoped would finally get her name onto the star maps and out of its decades-long exile in obscure Hollywood limbo.

She Loves Rock ‘n’ Roll

And what of Jett’s denial? “Anyone who truly knows me,” begins her statement rebutting Fuchs’ allegations. With her guitar slung butchly over her shoulder — reminiscent of Patty Hearst posing with her machine gun at the Hibernia Bank — Joan Jett has long been the picture of cool and has inspired more than one generation of girls to start their own bands. Unlike, Currie, the multi-million-selling rocker has enjoyed a stellar career. Also, unlike Currie, she has always kept mum about her personal life — employing a sometimes-refreshing throwback persona: the strong, silent type.

Silence has been golden for Jett and is likely one of the behaviors that has helped her to outlast many other performers. She did not appear in Edgeplay to dish about the past with her old pals. In fact, she actively obstructed the film’s making — as she would later obstruct involvement by other band members in The Runaways, the 2010 Kristin Stewart-starring biopic. She has never conclusively confirmed nor denied the ongoing speculation about her sexual orientation and seems content to weather gossip and bad publicity by waiting it out.

In a spinner.com interview, explaining part of her enigmatic persona — namely her ambiguous sexuality — she said: “If you open up a door to your whole life, once that door’s open, you can’t shut it. You can’t open it up for some parts and keep it closed for others.

“It really boils down to this: I want to please everybody. I want every guy and every girl thinking that I’m singing these songs to them, because I am. If I make a hard, fast case on where I stand then that takes away a lot of the fantasy. Music entails a lot of fantasy… Some people might think it’s a cop-out. I don’t care. That’s how I feel.”

During her years in The Runaways, Fuchs has described Jett as the band’s peacemaker — someone with an innate bent towards conciliation.

jettspeechHer April 2015 acceptance speech at the induction ceremony at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, likely didn’t please everyone when, in remembering her first band, Jett commended its producer by name.

“If Kim were still with us, he’d be here, sitting at my table and probably taking bows on this occasion. Rightfully so. Thank you Kim.”

She makes other notable assertions in that speech, too.

“I come from a place where rock and roll means something. It means more than music, more than fashion, more than a good pose. It’s the language of a subculture that’s made eternal teenagers of all who follow it. It’s a subculture of integrity, rebellion, frustration, alienation and the glue that set several generations free of unnatural societal and self-suppression.

“Rock and roll is political. It is a meaningful way to express dissent, upset the status quo, stir up revolution and fight for human rights.

“Rock and roll ethic is my entire life…”

Jett has performed many commendable acts. She’s toured extensively with the USO, lent her name and efforts to charities to benefit people and animals, and provided a leg up to other female performers entering the music business. When considered exclusively through her official words and deeds, the adult Jett seems precisely like the kind of person who, if she witnessed “a friend or bandmate being violated,” would “not stand by while it happened.”

In a Jezebel piece, biographer Evelyn McDonnell recounts that Jett has always denied witnessing Fuchs’ rape. “Jett told me while I was writing Queens that she had absolutely no memory of the incident as described in Neon Angel; her spokesperson told the Huffington Post the same thing.”

She goes on to note that, “Joan was also 16, perhaps stoned, possibly traumatized. She is not the villain here.”

To be clear, Jett is also not defending Fowley in this matter.

Since most of us, by design, do not “truly know” Jett, the only thing that can be ascertained for certain about her motivations regarding almost anything is that she “loves rock and roll” and has lived most of her life in service of its fantasies and “ethics.”

While Currie will probably continue to post confusing screeds that simultaneously confirm and deny Fowley’s monstrousness, Joan Jett, the rock star, will likely “put another dime in the jukebox” and wait out the speculation.

Dead End Justice

In 1976, Patty Hearst was convicted of bank robbery and using a firearm in the execution of a felony and sentenced to seven years in prison.

This was also the year that The Runaways’ eponymous debut album dropped. Along with the band’s one hit, “Cherry Bomb,” The Runaways features a classically ludicrous Kim Fowley concoction called “Dead End Justice.” Sung by Currie in a kind-of first-person narrative style, the song follows the trials of a sexy, jailbait teen, a “dead end kid in the danger zone,” who parties, runs wild and is eventually arrested and thrown into juvenile detention. The music peters out towards the end, culminating with Currie’s melodramatic recitation of her escape from juvie, along with fellow detainee, Jett. The final dialogue goes like this:

But Joan I’m getting tired
I’ve run out of fire
I can’t go any farther

But Cherie you must try harder

Joan, I’m down, it’s my ankle

I can’t go on, but I can’t leave you

What do I do?

Save yourself, you know what you gotta do

After 40 years, Fuchs finally knew that she had to “save herself,” and maybe a few others along the way. As she told Yahoo’s Chris Willman: “Sometimes it’s really hard to know what to do and when to do it. But it is never too late to try to do the right thing.”

The Neverending Story

In the wake of Fuchs’ disclosure, it’s important to note that a violation like this should have come as a surprise to no one. In fact, the only surprising thing is that we hadn’t heard about it earlier.

Except, we have heard it. For the past three decades, countless outlets, from cable news networks and well-publicized court cases to Lifetime channel movies and tragic memoirs, have reiterated that girls and boys are routinely sexually abused by adults (mostly men) who hold sway over them. It happens in suburban rec rooms; it is perpetrated by the leaders of every major religion; it is hidden in the ledgers of the Boy Scouts of America; and it happens throughout the sports and entertainment industries. The reports of these abuses are so numerous that to hear one more is almost mind numbing.

Documentarian Amy Berg, best known for her Oscar-nominated film Deliver Us from Evil, about the abuse and rape of 25 children by a single Catholic priest, has recently released, An Open Secret. This 2015 documentary recounts the personal testimonies of five child actors and models who were sexually abused by the managers, publicists and agents with whom their parents entrusted them.

Of course, there is the case of comedian Bill Cosby, who is currently accused of serially drugging (with Quaaludes, the same drug given to Fuchs) and raping upwards of 50 women — at least one of them, Judy Huth, only 15 at the time of the assault.

tattooTo take this story to the music business we need only look to the case of British television personality Jimmy Savile. Savile was best known for hosting two shows on the BBC: the music showcase, Top of the Pops, and the long-running children’s program, Jim’ll Fix It (1975-1994) on which he promised to make children’s “dreams come true.” His death in 2011 unleashed a tsunami of deferred survivor testimonies regarding Savile’s decades-long sexual abuse of hundreds of boys and girls. The wave of allegations also brought down a network of fellow pedophiles who hail from the music world, such as rocker Gary Glitter — who coincidentally wrote the Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ hit, “Do you wanna touch me?”

And let us not forget Lou Pearlman, the man who created the boy bands ‘N Sync and The Backstreet Boys and who “allegedly” used some of its young members for sexual favors before stealing their earnings.

These are just the incidents that we know about. These are the ones in which the victims faced their rapists, or in which the powerful perpetrator died and could no longer pose a threat.

In a 2002 interview with CNN’s Larry King, Patricia Hearst responded to a question about whether or not it would be “hard to look at” her former captors when called as a witness at their upcoming trial for a 1975 murder:

“…for any victim of a violent crime, when you actually get to go in and realize and see their faces and know that they can’t hurt you any more, there is no feeling like that. It finally frees you from a lot of demons.”

With her exposure of a 40-years-old rape, Jackie Fuchs has both faced Kim Fowley and re-branded his posthumously engorged legacy as effectively as does the protagonist in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — when she retaliates against her sexual attacker by etching the indelible words, “I am a sadistic pig, a pervert and a rapist” into his flesh. More importantly, this revelation has initiated a conversation that may lead to a much larger story.

After all, The Runaways weren’t the only girl band Fowley managed.

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The Real Queens of Noise

THE BAND THAT SPAWNED ONE of rock’s most durable female icons was bornqon in a suburban rec room in greater Los Angeles. Suzi Quatro-wannabe, Joan Larkin, had to take four buses from the San Fernando Valley to meet up with drummer Sandy Pesavento at her Brady Bunch-like homestead in Huntington Beach. But, the moment the two 16-year-olds began to jam on “All Shook Up,” they knew they’d finally found rock ‘n’ roll compatriots. This guitar-drum duo, who rechristened themselves Joan Jett and Sandy West, would form the nucleus of The Runaways, the first all-girl rock band to get a record contract. The rest of the lineup would variously include: Micki Steele, Lita Ford, Cherie Currie and an ever-changing roster of bass players.

Jett and West may never have come together without the assistance of Hollywood music producer, Kim Fowley. Legendarily eccentric Fowley, the original “Mayor of the Sunset Strip” — who trolled its nightclubs with DJ Rodney Bingenheimer — hit upon the idea of creating an all-girl band after meeting 14-year-old lyricist, Kari Krome at a party. Since Krome could neither play nor sing, Fowley recruited musicians. But, as music writer and journalism professor, Evelyn McDonnell tells it in her book, Queens of Noise, The Real Story of the Runaways, “few girls were picking up electric guitars and drumstick in the mid-‘70s.” And when they did, as Fowley discovered, the public’s response would be less than exultant.

During its three-year lifespan, The Runaways were never much more than a cult band. Three decades later, the release of Floria Sigismondi’s
eponymous biopic brought the band wider acclaim. But the 2010 film, which focused on Jett and Currie (played by Kristin Stewart and Dakota Fanning) to the exclusion of the other players, was based almost solely on Currie’s memoir, Neon Angel. As such, it bears the flaw of all movie biographies — mainly, that a lot has to be jettisoned to squeeze a lifetime into in 90 minutes. McDonnell’s book remedies those omissions with dozens of interviews conducted with the entire cast of players, including women who auditioned and didn’t make the cut, those who did briefly and left, former managers, roadies and a variety of people who were part of the 1970s music scene in Los Angeles. What emerges from her investigation is a story more complete, messier and more heartbreaking than Sigismondi’s truncated script could contain.

The band debuted as a trio in late ‘75, with Micki Steele on bass and vocals. Soon Fowley added guitarist Ford and singer Currie. Exit Micki Steele, who was replaced with Jackie Fuchs (a.k.a. Fox).

This “Fab Five” ensemble was drilled and rehearsed to exhaustion by verbally abusive, Fowley — whose favorite invectives included names like “Dog Shit” and who liked to pelt the girls with garbage while they played to prepare them to become the kind of “Rock and Roll Pigs” who could withstand any assault. The pummeling paid off when Fowley got them signed to a recording contract with Mercury Records. He also had them sign a partnership deal with him that McDonnell describes as, “…fascinating, hilarious, disturbing, prophetic, ingenious, and pure Fowley. It’s hard to believe any attorney acquiesced to it, no matter what their experience with entertainment law…” The Mercury contract was more straightforward, but imposed a “grueling workload for teenagers who were also supposed to be getting their GEDs or diplomas.” Neither deal was in the ultimate best interests of the adolescents. Then again, the story of exploitation in the music business is hardly unique.

In 1976, the band recorded their first album, The Runaways, and began a two-month U.S. tour that was inadequately financed and was chaperoned by a road manager who was a sexual predator. A European tour followed and then a second album, Queens of Noise, was released in early 1977. Take five teenagers, add nonstop work and travel — far from the restraints of parents — and you’re bound to get some acting out. And act out they did.

McDonnell recounts stories of the group’s rampant drug use, sexual exploits and hotel room thrashings, all the while trying to sort the facts from the myths. Many of the reports are contradictory, depending on whom she interviewed. One tale from that period depicts Fowley sexually abusing a fan in a motel room while horrified band members watched — something only half of them recall and Fowley flatly denies.

Jackie Fox, the sole, narcotic-free Runaway, is quoted from a 2009 blog entry: “’Unfortunately it’s been almost twenty-five years since the Runaways were a band and even under the best circumstances memory is a funny thing.’”

Or, as McDonnell bluntly states, “Maybe someone is lying.”

In June of 1977 the band went to Japan. It was a tour that would mark their greatest triumph as well as their undoing. In Tokyo, where the song “Cherry Bomb” was number one, they were given the full Beatlemania treatment by thousands of plaid-skirted schoolgirls. This was exhilarating to some members and terrifying to others. Fox suffered a meltdown and flew home before their gigs were completed. Currie, who had become a highly sexualized focal point for the Japanese media, quit soon after Fox. The Runaways Live in Japan would be their last album as a quintet and remains a testament to their legitimacy as musicians.

Back in L.A., Vicki Tischler (a.k.a. Blue) joined on bass, Jett took over all vocal duties and they recorded their third studio album, Waiting for the Night. Another European tour followed, and then, late in that same year (by which time Blue was already out, replaced by Laurie McAllister) a fifth album, And Now the Runaways, was recorded. However, before it could be released, the combined forces of internal strife, lack of funds and rampant sexism in the rock world had taken their toll. The Runaways disbanded for good.

In just-over three years the band had recorded five albums, toured the U.S. and Europe twice, triumphed in Japan and run through several bass players. As McDonnell documents, during most of that time, masturbatory male rock critics across two continents had savaged the musicians, referring to them as “bimbos,” “sissies,” and “bitches” and portrayed them as rock imposters who they’d rather fuck than listen to. That Currie performed wearing a Rocky Horror Picture Show-inspired corset and Fowley packaged the band as jailbait (despite the fact that Jett and West were likely gay) fueled some of this talk. Yet, it is clear from the existing live performance footage that they were always a tight group of teenaged pros with decent chops. As McDonnell writes, “it’s hard to believe they didn’t become one of the greatest acts of their time.”

By the end, the reviews had gotten better, the songs had moved away from Fowley’s Hey-hey-we’re-the-Monkees-with-vaginas lyrical schtick, but what The Runaways never achieved was radio airplay — the make-or-break component of musical success. Aside from their anthem, “Cherry Bomb,” which never even broke into the top 100 on the U.S. pop charts, and some rotation on KROQ in their hometown, the girls couldn’t crack the airwaves. More than anything, that may have been what finally killed the act. Abuse is one thing. But abuse without success is intolerable.

Some band members found that elusive success post-Runaways. Joan Jett, who had always garnered the most praise from critics, was saved from druggy-self-immolation by replacement Svengali, Kenny Laguna. Under Laguna’s management, she went on to record a number of hit songs, including “I Love Rock and Roll,” and remains the best-known former-Runaway. Lita Ford achieved commercial success through a fortuitous alliance with Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne and a string of metal-rock albums. Cherie Currie pursued music and acting careers, the highlight of which was co-starring with Jodie Foster in the 1980 Adrian Lyne movie, Foxes. Jackie Fox became an entertainment lawyer, Vicki Blue, a filmmaker — notably of the Runaways documentary, Edgeplay — and Micki Steele, a member of the hit band, The Bangles.

Sandy West, universally praised as a hard-hitting rock drummer, was not so fortunate. She died of cancer in 2006 after spending her post-Runaways years chasing a never-gonna-happen reunion and becoming involved in an escalating series of drug crimes that would land her in prison. Laurie McAllister, who went on to play bass in another Fowley girl band, The Orchids, died in 2011.

Whatever path these former Creem Dreams took to adulthood, The Runaways experience has refused to release them from its thorny, emotional grip. For over three decades, acrimonious lawsuits regarding rights to the band’s songs, name and likeness and monies owed have raged between the women — in ever-shifting alliances and enmities — and between the women and Fowley. To this day, “all the members are wary, suspicious and defensive — aggressively so,” writes McDonnell.

She should know; she’s clearly done her research. One has a sense when reading McDonnell’s book, which alternates in tone from no-nonsense to wryly amused to compassionate, that no matter how many accounts of Jett, West, Ford, Currie and Fox may follow, Queens of Noise will likely remain the final word on this band.

“They came. They saw. They fought and fucked and played and hustled and sang their hearts out,” writes McDonnell. “They didn’t conquer, but they weren’t defeated.”

Or, as Joan Jett says of her first band, “‘It was an amazing time, probably the best time of my life.’”

Queens of Noise, The Real Story of The Runaways, Da Capo Books, available wherever books are sold. Check out Evelyn McDonnell’s blog: Populism.

Small Cars are the New Big Dicks!

It’s easy to look at the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico and shake a metaphorical fist at the greedy owners and shareholders of BP, whose need for higher profits in the shortest possible time frame is to blame for the shoddy work that led to failures in the pumping operation. One can quibble about which part of the drilling device failed or which company is to blame — Halliburton’s concrete, Transocean’s blowout preventer, BP’s corner-cutting. But blaming any corporation for the gulf disaster is like blaming your parents for the fact, that in middle age, you still can’t get your life together. At some point, we all have to take personal responsibility. Or, more succinctly, it’s the cars, stupid!

It’s not BP’s fault that Americans have squandered the lessons of the three-decades-old oil shortages of the 1970s. It’s not BP’s fault that we as a nation went from producing and purchasing smaller cars for a brief period of time, to buying larger and larger vehicles as if dinosaurs were still dying every day and bleeding barrels of oil into our Ford Excursion’s 44-gallon gas tank. It’s not BP’s fault that it took the Japanese to introduce hybrid cars while our failing auto manufacturers were lobbying Congress to keep CAFE standards low so that they wouldn’t have to retool their factories. It’s not BP’s fault that somehow, after all these years, we stupidly still equate big cars with big dicks.

If big dicks are synonymous with small brains, then the dick-car equation is probably true. But the time is long past for letting those with small thoughts call the shots, because we are all suffering now. Like the great flood of the bible that wiped out the non-righteous, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a symbol that we need to examine as a parable for our current lives.  When we make decisions based on our selfish, personal needs and don’t take the welfare of the rest of the world into consideration, we sow the seeds of larger disasters. What we need now is to realize that we are all just tiny parts of the organism that is the earth. Each decision we make determines the future course of that organism. A John Lennon put it, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Goo goo ga joob.

Maybe you understand all of this and want to make better decisions. You no longer want to be a cancer invading the organism; you want to be an antibody. You use canvas shopping bags. You eat organic foods. You don’t buy air fresheners that require electricity to fill your rooms with chemically derived nature scents. You even want a new car, but frankly, you can’t find one that drives well, looks good and saves gas.

For decades the auto manufacturers have been making Americans choose between the things that look good and the things are good. Let’s face it, it’s not just the carmakers, it’s true of all retailers. To get the nice-looking, status items as a decent price we’re always being asked to fund near slave-labor, environmental degradation or something else that isn’t wholesome — and I mean wholesome in the Merriam-Webster sense meaning: promoting health or well-being of mind or spirit. The only really attractive small car to be developed during the last decade is the re-vamped Mini-Cooper. The few available hybrids were designed to look like rolling freak flags, which has a certain appeal, but will never pull in the car-as-cock crowd. It’s a dilemma.

There are a few things that we can do to tackle this problem right now. The first is that, no matter how they look, whether or not they can get from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, or are named after a stud horse, we have to choose small cars. And I don’t mean smaller cars; I mean the smallest cars we can find that will allow us to get our families and ourselves from point A to point B. The money we save in gas — which, by the way is going to skyrocket the closer the straw gets to the bottom of the glass — will allow us to pay the Home Depot truck to deliver bulky items. We don’t all need to drive mini-mansions on wheels because we occasionally buy lumber or transport boxes from IKEA. There are alternatives.

Second, we need to begin to lobby the automakers to give us the cars we want. If Americans can put a rocket on the moon, blah, blah, blah, then certainly modern industrialists can figure out how to make lovely, gas efficient cars. They could have done it three decades ago, but there was no will to do so. Look, we bailed out GM. They owe us. Tell them we don’t want their 20-MPG Buick LaCrosses, we want more things like the 30-MPG Chevy Aveo — and that’s not even good enough. We want an Aveo, but we want it to look and handle like a Camaro with an average of 40 miles per gallon. Plus, we want every car to be a hybrid, and not just the Escalade that still only gets 20 MPG. In fact, we don’t want any SUVs. Those cars should only be for people who live on farms or have to keep tools for their plumbing business in the back. Tell GM to stop making big cars almost entirely if they don’t want to go bankrupt again.

Don’t just pick on GM. They have sucked for a long time and their inability to build reliable cars lost them business to the Japanese, who could and did. They have made shortsighted blunder after blunder, but they’re not the only ones. Ford didn’t need a bailout, but they built that inexcusable gas-guzzling SUV, the Excursion. And, if the best thing they can think of is to bring back the Mustang, at least make that a hybrid. Tell them! We’ve relied on Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mazda to innovate. We appreciate the gas-efficiency and superior engineering. But they can step it up, too. How about a good-looking hybrid from the Japanese? How about it? The Germans also build attractive, reliable cars, but they’re still stuck on performance. Kilometerleistung, nicht performace! They made the Volkswagen Bug, they invented farfegnugen and they can do this.

Last, we have to begin teaching kids that big is not better. When the government and the people put their will to it, children get the right messages. Nancy Reagan told kids to say no to drugs. Michelle Obama is telling them to get off their obese butts and exercise. They learned to reject smoking and to care about recycling. Now they need to learn that big cars do not mean big dicks. Big cars do not mean success. Big cars mean oil-coated pelicans, dolphins and really greasy popcorn shrimp. If the kids get the message, we know they will nag their parents for the next decade. More importantly, when they become adults — or hit driving age — they won’t want an SUV. They will think an SUV is an animal-killing, ozone-destroying, uncool way to get around. They will be right.

The problems we face on the globe are complex. There is no one solution. Obviously, it would be better, in many respects, to take public transportation rather than having everyone drive their own vehicle — no matter how fuel efficient. But, we’re not there yet and if you begin to look at all the difficulties humans face at this crossroads, you will become overwhelmed and paralyzed. Choose to change what is close-at-hand. Make new decisions. Ask the government and corporations — who want you to consume stuff — to give you the things you really want.

Remember, the decisions you make today really are a matter of life or death. They were thirty years ago, too, but we put them off — like we put off exercise or quitting self-destructive vices. But it’s not just about you anymore. It’s about me and your friend’s children and the pelicans. Start the change somewhere, but start, because there’s a flood coming and we all have to start building an arc to the future. Small cars are the new big dicks!

You are the walrus. Goo goo ga joob.

Face-cation

Perhaps it was a little perverse to deactivate my Facebook account two days before my birthday. After all, I deprived my 200 “friends” of sending me digital pictures of balloons, cakes and one sentence glad tidings. I also deprived myself of spending the day in the company of a digital device, repeatedly checking to see who was sending me the aforementioned greetings — and conversely wondering why others were not.

Don’t they like me? Don’t they look at upcoming events? Wait, I’ll meet you in a minute, I just have to check my wall again.

Instead, I spent the day in a national park, scaling a mountain. I had no cell phone reception for two days. I had access to email, but didn’t read it. It was the nicest time I’d had in months. In the parlance of television, it was like the episode of The Simpsons in which the “Itchy and Scratchy” show becomes so boring that all the kids in Springfield turn off their TVs and go outside to play in the sun.

There are many reasons to log off of Facebook. While I have spent many pleasurable hours perusing photos of friends and feeling a detached sense of connection with the many acquaintances I’ve gathered throughout my life, I’ve also felt a growing dismay at how much time it takes to keep up with the flotsam of other people’s lives and random thoughts. If I had a dollar for every hour I’d spent reading about what others ate for lunch, how their dental appointment went or what their cats vomited on the rug that day, I would have, let’s just say, a lot of dollars.

Lately, people have been complaining about Facebook’s lack of privacy. But, let’s face it, the minute you interact with any website, your privacy is compromised. If you don’t want anyone to know what’s going on in your life, don’t go online. I’d already stopped posting anything but the most blatant self-promotional items anyway. No, this abandonment of social networking wasn’t due to privacy concerns.

It came about as a result of watching how one of the most successful people I know leads her life. She spends her days working, attending classes and calling or getting together with her flesh-and-blood network of friends. She does not have a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account. She barely answers emails unless they are vital. In short, she does not live life in front of an illuminated screen. Studying her, it occurred to me that I might be doing something better with my time. Like writing a book, watching a sunset or even looking for work. And didn’t I used to have hobbies?

I began to feel about Facebook the way I felt about being an arts critic. I’ve spent a good deal of my life reviewing movies, books and music. It seemed like an honorable tradition when I began, until the day it occurred to me that I didn’t want to dedicate myself to reviewing other people’s art — I wanted to make art. Similarly, I am relinquishing the pleasures of watching the lives of others — at least, the edited version they want me to see — in order to live my own.

The friend with whom I spent my birthday suggested that I should blog about the experience of leaving my Facebook family. I guffawed at the idea that we’d come to a point in society that the mere act of quitting one form of contrived social interaction was news — and possibly a means to commerce.

According to Technorati, the blog tracker, about 175,000 new weblogs are created each day and many of those blogs are started with the express intention of making money. “Do what you love and the money will follow,” one self-help tome from the 1980s told us. So, if what you love is your collection of Victorian buttonhooks, or tracking chem trails, the idea is that you can just start writing about it and the users and advertisers will flock to you. Using that logic, writing day-in and day-out about the hardships of withdrawing from something as ubiquitous as Facebook should yield a bumper crop of attention and revenue.

Still, what would one say about it? I could 12-Step it. I admitted I was powerless over Facebook and my life had become unmanageable.

I could talk about the withdrawal. What are people eating for dinner? How are they doing in Mafia Wars?

I could brag about how I’m going to the beach or learning to cook gourmet meals instead of reading about other people doing those things and posting the photos to prove it.

In the end, isn’t this kind of blogging just trading one version of blather for another — one version of virtual living for another? Furthermore, how does this get me off the computer?

The reality is, I miss the events feature of Facebook. I like knowing what’s happening and where to go to see art or attend a festival. Facebook has become the single best source of free advertising for those who previously could not afford publicity. But, that’s about all I miss.

When I retuned to civilization after my birthday trip, I listened to some phone greetings, read a few congratulatory emails and texts and even opened a couple of cards that came in the mail. Almost everyone I would have liked to hear from contacted me in the numerous ways still available. Almost everyone. (Don’t they like me?)

Am I going to keep a continuous blog about what it’s like to take back a measure of psychic freedom? I doubt it. Will I reactivate my Facebook account one day? Maybe.

Right now, I’m going outside to join the kids playing in the sun. See you later.

Blue Grit

Victory Tischler-Blue, Palm Springs, 2010. Photo by: Vern Evans ©VTB

Runaways’ veteran, Victory Tischler-Blue chats about the new band biopic; her 2003 documentary, “Edgeplay: A film about the Runaways;” and Andalusian horses

In 1977, when 17-year-old Vicki Tischler joined the all-girl rock band, The Runaways, she had no idea that she was becoming part of a sisterhood that would influence the rest of her life. The Runaways, best known for the song “Cherry Bomb” and for launching the musical careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford, was the brainchild of rock impresario Kim Fowley. Rechristened, Vicki Blue by bandmate Joan Jett, Tischler toured with the group for nearly two years and recorded the albums: Waitin’ for the Night and And Now, The Runaways.

After landing a small part in director Rob Reiner’s classic rock mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap [1984], Tischler-Blue began to switch her focus from music making to filmmaking. She eventually settled into a role behind the camera as a television and film producer and founded the production company Sacred Dogs Entertainment Group. In 2003, she made her documentary debut with a labor of love titled, Edgeplay: A film about the Runaways.

The gritty, behind-the-scenes band documentary enjoyed critical acclaim, despite relentless legal obstruction from Jett — who refused to appear in it and actively blocked the filmmaker’s ability to use Runaways music in the film. Edgeplay survived the setbacks and ran for two years on the Showtime Network.

And now, there is a new Runaways movie — this one sanctioned by Ms. Jett. Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi, and loosely-based on Cherie Curry’s torrid memoir, Neon Angel: The Cherie Curry Story, the feature film follows the fictionalized rise and descent of the band. The Runaways stars Kristin Stewart, Dakota Fanning and Scout Taylor-Compton (as Joan Jett, Cherie Currie and Lita Ford, respectively).

Since the movie’s January debut at the Sundance Film Festival the band’s members have been back in the spotlight; Urban Outfitters stores are selling Runaways T-shirts; and Twilight bloggers can’t stop marveling at Kristen Stewart’s transformation from lamb to lesbo; and all of this fuss, before the film has hit a single multiplex screen.

Victory Tischler-Blue is sanguine about the current commotion. She’s been here before. In an interview from her ranch in Palm Springs, she discusses filmmaking, music, horses and her ongoing journey as part of the karmic sisterhood she joined as a teenager.

Q. What are your feelings about the new Runaways movie?

A. I think it’s fantastic on more than one level. I love that this current film is bringing more eyeballs and awareness to our band and to all of our personal projects as well. After 30-something years — how amazing is that? For me, the Runaways has become the gift that keeps on giving.

When Lita and I were in Lake Tahoe filming some scenes for The Gillettes [an upcoming reality series executive produced by Tischler-Blue and starring Ford], Scout Taylor-Compton, who plays Lita in the film, drove up to meet us.

She said that the way the actresses learned about the Runaways — despite the near-constant presence of Joan Jett and [her business partner] Kenny Laguna on set — was that they sat down together, on their own time, without the director and learned about everybody from watching Edgeplay. In fact, even the director mentioned in a recent L.A. Times article that she pulled the film’s most talked about and anticipated scene — the Joan/Cherie lesbian pussy bump — from Edgeplay.

That said, I’m not really sure why the filmmakers felt the need to create a composite bass player character named Robin — when they had Jackie [Fox] and me to pull from. It’s also ironic that the only two band members who actually remember everything, because they didn’t get high or drink, are the two that are excluded from the story. It’s a well-documented fact that Joan, Cherie and Lita have very few, if any, memories of being in the band.

Personally, I’m amazed at how much sweat equity these actresses invested in the project and how much it meant to them. Scout was also incredibly forthcoming when she told me and Lita about how oppressive the atmosphere was on set. I really want to acknowledge what the actresses went through because they were paid far less than they would normally earn, but it was important to them that they do it right. Much like it was for us in the band.

Q. There was a lot of press coverage of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie at The Runways film premiere at Sundance in January. Where were you?

A. I was in Palm Springs, Lita was in Miami and Jackie was in Los Angeles. We were not invited to any of the screenings. There’s a running joke within the band that the subtitle for the new Runaways movie is “Revenge for Edgeplay”.

Joan and her partner have serious issues with the fact that I popped the Runaways movie cherry with Edgeplay and have spent a lot of time and resources trying to legally derail my projects and me. And it’s not just me; she’s gone after Jackie and Lita too.

The Christmas before last, Joan Jett sent me a gift in the form of a lawsuit — with regard to the domain therunaways.net — a site I’ve always owned. The claim was that I was operating the site in bad faith. FYI: the “site” was a one-page placeholder that was a memorial to Sandy West, our drummer who passed away in 2006 from cancer.  But my story isn’t unique. The bottom line is that Joan is known throughout the music and film industry as being extremely litigious with claims that don’t hold water — especially when there’s been a lull in her career.

Q. What is it about The Runaways that you think people are still responding to 35 years after the band’s breakup?

A. I don’t know. I’m really surprised by it. Jackie, Lita and I are all kind of shocked about the attention this is getting.

I think there are a couple of things people respond to. First, The Runaways captured teen spirit. I have the double-edged viewpoint of having watched them as a fan and later having been part of the band. When I used to watch them, I thought they epitomized all the things that I was about and loved — the rebel thing. When I made Edgeplay I tried to capture that same rebel feeling.

Also, I think people like to watch teenage girls morphing into middle-aged women. Whatever it is, I’m fascinated, grateful and blown away by the interest and attention.

Q. You’ve recently reunited with Lita Ford to make, The Gillettes: An Extreme American Family — a reality show about Ford and her rock ‘n’ roll clan. Whose idea was it and what can viewers expect to see on The Gillettes?

A. The idea came out of a conversation I had with Lita and her husband. They asked me to produce it. So, I came up with a concept, wrote the treatment and we started shooting footage last December. What you can expect to see is the daily life of a family that is outwardly extreme but really, pretty conservative and normal. The show follows Lita pulling it together to go back on the road after ten years of living on a Caribbean island, home-schooling her sons and making sure everybody’s Mohawks are standing stiff.

Q. You’ve had a passion for horses since childhood. What’s in your stable now?

A. I raise, breed and train Andalusian horses. They’re a beautiful breed and somewhat rare in the U.S. The three I currently own are from the purest Spanish bloodlines and worth a small fortune. But, I made a huge mistake – I got attached and fell in love with them and can’t look at them as commodities anymore. They’re my children.

Q. What’s your next project?

A. I’m currently executive producing an episodic television drama titled Rarebirds. I’m also developing a film and book project celebrating the life and work of 1960’s male physique photographer, Mel Roberts. Plus, I’m putting together a book of Andalusian horse photographs titled Pura Raza Testosterone and having a gallery show to launch the book.

Q. Knowing everything you know now, what would you say to a teenage daughter who ran away to join a rock band?

A. Have fun and don’t take it too seriously!

THE RUNAWAYS opens nationwide, March 2010. For more information on EDGEPLAY: A film about the Runaways, go to sacreddogs.com

Story in Record Collector News, March 2010

Read about Runaways drummer Sandy West in LA Weekly.

Love and Sex Addiction: It’s the New Black

For most of us, self–realization is something to which we aspire, yet, are only compelled to seek in the aftermath of painful encounters with others. It’s not a system without its pitfalls, but it’s the one we’ve got. If we’re lucky, we don’t lose too much of our pride, money or health in the process of hunting down human affection. But, in all likelihood, we leave behind a little bit of each with those we choose and lose over the course of our lives. And sometimes we leave more than a little.

Love JunkieYet, whatever our losses or setbacks, as Americans we believe in redemption. We are the country who puts our trust equally in both God and in the promise of a comeback. We believe we can resurface after being pulled under by scandal, illness or heartbreak — and we can come back stronger and better. However, before we can ascend from our ashes, protocol requires us to confess our sins — just ask Bill Clinton.

Love Junkie, is Rachel Resnick’s confession to forty-plus years of looking for love in all the wrong places, and the devastation in almost every area of her life, to which that obsessive search led. She begins the memoir with her “ah ha” moment. This is the instant known in twelve-step programs as “hitting bottom.” Resnick’s goes like this: One night she comes home and discovers that her house has been broken-into and vandalized by an ex-boyfriend. Instinctively she calls a friend for support who consoles her, in part, by telling her that her ex is a “psycho.”

“Her words comfort me, though there’s a dull nagging thought — who’s psycho? I picked him. I kept him. I kept him even after he began debasing me, just as I picked and kept a lifetime of other men who seduced and then debased. So, if he’s a psycho, aren’t I a psycho, too?”

Ah ha!

As Resnick shows, a breakthrough in consciousness is only the beginning. Transformation happens only after painfully honest self-examination, and she devotes her narrative to just this kind of self-scrutiny. How did she get to be a forty-something with an Ivy League education and little more than a string of failed love affairs to show for it? Well, kiddies, as Freud once one said, it all starts in childhood.

Employing a well-crafted, deceptively conversational style, Resnick’s memoir uncovers the roots of her compulsion to pursue serial, abusive relationships; namely, her parents. She was born to an alcoholic, love-addicted mother and an emotionally (and literally) abandoning father, and then shuttled between various foster homes throughout her adolescence. Her narrative alternates between past and present to illustrate adult situations and then compare them to the childhood traumas from which they sprang. If she has, as she suspects, an attachment disorder, its basis is abundantly clear.

She is fearless in telling stories that others would not tell to their priest. Resnick admits, in detail, to submitting to serious sexual and emotional degradation. She explains how her addiction to having a partner at any cost made it difficult to pursue her career, financial security or motherhood. Instead of working on her paid writing, she admits to crafting dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of obsessive emails to men — like the one she calls, Winchester, who tells her point blank, that he does not love her.

“Winchester — who fits perfectly, chemically, into my crazy need — writes back just enough to keep me going. And periodically, of course, he comes over for mind-blowing sex.

“Winchester is like pure heroin. But that’s only because I am an addict.”

Obsessive emailing is only the tip of the iceberg of self-defeating behaviors that Resnick finally recognizes are classic symptoms of love and sex addiction. At least that’s what they call it at the Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) meetings she finds herself in after getting out of the long, brutal relationship that is the centerpiece of her story. And while the program she enters helps her personally, as an author she is too thoughtful to rely on hackneyed twelve-step jargon to tell this tale.

In the end, it is this innate thoughtfulness, searing honesty and self-effacing humor that save her from blindly plunging down a path that leads to irredeemable tragedy. And, those same qualities save her book from the dull, self-obsession of lesser memoirs.

Rachel Resnick’s Love Junkie, with its stark examination of a rarely discussed addiction, heralds the next wave of mass psychological awareness in the U.S. It took decades for Americans to expose the closeted skeletons of alcoholism, drug addiction, rape, spousal abuse, child molestation, eating disorders and co-dependency. As each of these issues stepped into the light of media scrutiny and spawned a cable television movie or Oprah appearance, it seeped into the mass consciousness and began to be seen for the pervasive problem it had always been. And, like some kind of national group therapy, once a problem had been named, it could finally be owned and treated.

With books like Love Junkie, television dramas like Californication (and actor David Duchovney’s admission to real-life sex addiction) and the VH1 program, Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew, love and sex addiction is about to become the new black. And while, as Resnick discovers, “No one is going to save you,” this cumulative closet-opening will likely move many suffering people one step closer to recovery.

Now, we just need Oprah to get on board. After all, no one likes redemption better than Oprah.

Revisiting Peyton Place

Grace Metalious’ infamous novel, Peyton Place, was published in 1956. In a year marked by such media events as Elvis Presley’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Marilyn Monroe marrying Arthur Miller, My Fair Lady opening on Broadway and Grace Kelly moving to Monaco to become a princess, Metalious’ novel about small-town scandals competed for, and won, its own sensational niche. And, while musical adaptations of Pygmalion don’t exactly blow our minds anymore, Peyton Place still has the ability to shock.

Hope_Lange_in_Peyton_PlacePeyton Place tells the story of that eponymous, small, New England town and its inhabitants during the last years of the Depression and into WWII, but is focused primarily on the experiences of two girls, Allison MacKenzie and Selena Cross. On the surface, they are strikingly different. The former is the daughter of Constance MacKenzie; a single widow who owns a respectable business, and the latter is a “shack dweller” who lives in filth and poverty with her syphilitic mother, Nellie, and a violent, drunken stepfather, Lucas Cross. While the girls begin the story as best friends, their differing temperaments place them on separate trajectories. Allison is bookish and immature. Selena is world-wise and world-weary. One derives her comfort from fantasies, the other from cold reality.

Yet, they are not as different as the prudish Allison would believe. Hidden skeletons in their respective closets bind them to each other and to their small-town neighbors. And, as Metalious reveals, what spectacular skeletons they are. Incest, illegitimacy, cuckolding, alcoholism, abortion, venal acquisitiveness, power wielding, pettiness, religious hypocrisy, sexual deviancy and murder are all happening just behind the whitewashed picket fences. There is not a deadly sin left unearthed in Peyton Place, and it is from the strangely contemporary-feeling scandals depicted throughout, that the novel derives its ability to shock more than 50 years after its publication.

Metalious accomplishes this trick by first setting up the superficial, moral parameters of the townsfolk and then systematically throwing each character into a crisis. For instance, the neer-do-well town scion, Rodney, gets a girl pregnant and then has his father pay off the girl’s family to get her out of town. Norman, a cloistered mommy’s boy who is given “medicinal” enemas — well into his adulthood — peeps on a man performing cunninglingus on his pregnant wife and never recovers from the illicit shock. Allison MacKenzie finally discovers that she is a bastard and that her fantasies of a princely father are just that. Most shockingly, Selena Cross becomes pregnant after being raped by Lucas, and the town’s upstanding doctor gives her an illegal abortion. Selena later murders Lucas, when he tries to rape her again, and buries him in the sheep pen.

The descriptions of sex, the inquisition of the era’s mores and the dialogue hold up as well as anything from fiction written by more accomplished and respected authors. This might be because two unsung editors at Julian Messner purportedly rewrote the book before publication. But, who writes their own books anymore anyway?

While it would be easy to scoff today at the uproar caused by the publication of Peyton Place in Ike’s America, there is no theme explored in this story that isn’t still being beaten to exhaustion on the Lifetime Television Network or in the media generally. The recent disapproving uproar caused by Mackenzie Phillips’ revelations that her father drugged and raped her when she was a teen, and the flock of apologists who descended upon the world’s stage to protect that other child rapist, director Roman Polanski, illustrate that the plight of Selena Cross is just as relevant today as it was in 1956. (See related story in the New York Times.)

In 2006, it was reported that actress Sandra Bullock had signed on to portray Metalious in a biopic about the author. Nothing has been reported since, but, given the utterly-contemporary feel of her 50-year-old best-seller, a fresh look at the author seems relevant — though hopefully Bullock will do a better job at depicting Grace Metalious than she did with her uncomfortable rendering of To Kill a Mockingbird author, Harper Lee, in the film Infamous.

Peyton Place is worth another look; if only to realize anew that, though American women have come a long way, baby, we still have much further to go.


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