"Back in the day" probably ranks among the most abused phrases on the planet, next to similar well-worn expressions we'd rather not hear again (or similar gems like "at the end of the day," "put in a bucket," "unpack," and so on).
But when my thoughts turn to pioneers like these two women, Cherie Currie and Brie Darling, I can't coin a better phrase to describe my own feelings about their contributions that they've made in their respective bands, The Runaways, and Fanny, two trailblazers that should find room in anyone's record collection.
Because, back in the day, rock 'n' roll culture as we knew it -- and popular general, in general -- worked way differently than it does nowadays. Sure, there was no lack of dross, especially in the Top 40, but it's also easy to forget how the same decade that produced the likes of "Undercover Angel" and "The Night Chicago Died" also gave us the first stirrings of punk, rap, and yes, Fanny and The Runaways, the first notable all female rock bands.
I first became aware of The Runaways' influence at record shows, where I specialized in selling live tapes. My top sellers, the ones that always went first, were a live Misfits compilation -- a pretty watery-sounding one, but apparently, with several versions of songs you couldn't find anywhere else -- and Bad Reputation, the first notable Joan Jett bootleg, which captures a 1981 show from Long Island, with plenty of blazing guitar to stroke your earlobes. Needless to say, I played that tape a lot back then, and still pull it occasionally now.
Where the Runaways lived and breathed, Fanny didn't fall too far behind, as I discovered on my semi-regular trips to our local township library, where I discovered The Butts Band's self-titled debut, Electric Music For The Mind & Body (Country Joe & The Fish), Hall Of The Mountain Grill (Hawkwind) -- and Rock 'N' Roll Survivors, Fanny's final album.
Let that sink in for a minute. A library record rack, a cassette box at a record show -- if that's not some kind of deep cultural footprint, what is? Actually, I'll add one more, because I also remember the excitement at going out to the mall and getting Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story (1989), right when it came out, another all-American moment, if you want one.
Nowadays, there's plenty of markers to let everybody know what they missed the first time around, whether it's The Runaways biopic, the Fanny documentary, or all the CD reissues and new releases.
But back then, or back in the day, their work didn't get the respect it deserved, having already been filed and forgotten as curios from another area. With no Internet to suss out what you were getting, you had to scour bookstores, record shows, and relevant shops -- the hippest ones, always way out of town -- and put together the relevant puzzle pieces yourself.
It was an often tiring pursuit, but a strangely exhilarating one, at the same time, because you only appreciated your success all the more, when those proverbial dominoes or puzzle pieces finally fell together in the right way.
So when I found out last fall that Cherie and Brie were coming the Acorn Theater, and had released an album, The Motivator (Blue Elan Records), my excitement rose by several notches. How could I turn down the chance to talk to them, and catch their show? Thankfully, I got to do both, including an advance story for The Herald-Palladium, but inevitably, I only had so much room.
What follows, then, is the longer version of my interview with Cherie and Brie, as it unfolded for them in Los Angeles, and I, back here in Michigan. Pull up a chair, and remember...we still don't give a damn about our bad reputation.
"I WAS READY TO THROW IN THE TOWEL"
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): Reading the (recent) story in Rolling Stone, I was really amazed to find out that, even though you guys are part of the same era, you never met until 2017?
CHERIE CURRIE (CC): That's right.
CR: So how did that come about, and lead to the momentum for this record that you have just done?
BRIE DARLING (BD): I was making a record with two of the girls from Fanny, and I had had this idea to call in some of the women from girl bands – from all different times. We had girls from the Go-Gos, and the Bangles, other members of Fanny that weren't involved in the record yet. And, of course, the Runaways.
Patti Quatro introduced me to Cherie, Cherie came in, and just blew me away. I loved her, from the second she walked in the door, and I had to know her better. And that's what happened. We never got a chance, the girls in Fanny, to go out and support that record, because Jean, the bass player, had a stroke, right when it was released.
Cherie and I, meanwhile, had become friends, and found that we had a lot in common. And the rest is kind of history. Cherie, you can take it from there.
CC: Well, for me, I was actually putting my house on the market for sale. I was in escrow for some land up north. I was throwing in the towel with that damn music business (laughs)!
BD: You'd had it, right?
CC: Yeah, just kind of had it, and I felt like, I was at the end of whatever I was going to be doing. And I was asked to come on in and sing on Fanny Walks The Earth. I don't know if you've heard that record.
CR: I haven't – I've heard of it, though. I know of it.
CC: Oh, you should listen to it, it's great. I'd heard the songs, and I was being asked to back (them up, vocally) – and I thought to myself, “Who is this singer?” I mean, first of all, I'd known of Fanny since I was a kid. I mean, I was, “Why isn't she a big star?”
And I was so intrigued by the songwriting, by the production, I just wanted to do this project – and then, when I met Brie and her husband, Dave Darling, who's a six-time, Grammy-nominated producer, I mean, something clicked with all three of us.
Now I'm not selling my house, and here, I've got a record out with Brie, we are getting ready to go on tour, and it's really exciting.
BD: Yeah, we're pretty excited about it.
"I'M A HAPPY CAMPER"
CR: So then, how did you guys – since these are mostly duets, right – how did you decide to divvy up the vocal parts (on The Motivator)?
BD: Well, Cherie, you've got a good sense of this one, because she kind of made this happen, so you go ahead.
CC: Yeah, when we decided to test the water a little bit, of course, Brie had thrown “Gimme Shelter” into that, which was a song – basically, Dave just wanted to hear what we sounded like together, was more the idea.
But then, when we really loved how we sounded together – I think Dave's first idea was that, I would do a few songs, and Brie would do a few songs, we'd back each other up.
Brie was doing scratch vocals on all the songs, “The Motivator” happened to come around, and Dave had made up his mind that I was going to sing lead on that song. But I had a completely different idea.
I heard her on that second verse. I mean, it's clear as a bell, and it wasn't until I got in the studio – she, being the team player that she is, even though she really loved the song, she loved singing the song, she was going to let me have it, being the cool chick that she is (BD laughs).
CR: Right (laughs along).
CC: And the thing is, is that I just turned to Dave, Brie had excused herself from the studio, and I said, “I'm telling you, this has to be a duet.” And I said, “Please put her scratch (vocal) in that second verse, and hear it.”
And he did, and he just said, “Wow.” And so, the fact that we brought her in... To see the look on her face, when her vocal came in on the second verse – and we just really realized, we just make each other better.
So why not share these songs, really capitalize on what this union is, and make it a joint recording, because our voices just sound great, when we do duets?
The thing is, is that we're a team, and this is what this whole project is all about.
BD: Plus, I really loved singing in the studio with Cherie right there. It makes me sing better, and she inspires me. She does something, I hear something, and it's not like I copy her. But she inspires me to step up my game, and I love that. I love being pushed.
And it's a real support thing between us, in a lot of ways. Not just the singing, but in our making decisions about the band, what we do onstage. It's really a great team, and it's my favorite thing I've done so far. So I'm a happy camper.
"ONE FOOT IN THE BUSINESS, AND ONE FOOT OUT"
CC: It's a breath of fresh air in a business where women are usually a little cutthroat, and always jealous, and always afraid of someone else's talent. To me, it's just why I'd had enough.
BD: Not just women, men, too, men can be...
CC: Yeah, most all people. Well, I guess you have to be somewhat narcissistic, to be in this business, anyway – but the thing is, that I'd reached an age where I was just not gonna play (laughs). I'm not gonna play the game anymore.
CR: Yeah, I understand.
BD: It's heartbreaking. When you're in a band, you have this hope that you're having a family, and you want it to be this beautiful thing. And sometimes, it hurts, really bad, and it's disappointing. So far, we're two years in, and we're having a ball. And hey, we have our struggles, too.
CC: Yeah, Brie, but we're just having a great time.
CR: What I've found, in interviewing a lot of folks, and trying to play with folks, as a musician, is... This business attracts a lot of people who have a lot of talent, but they often seem to have something missing.
CC: Interesting. Me bringing up the whole narcissistic thing – I mean, I'm not exactly sure that's the right word, but you have to develop some sort of it (narcissistic quality), to even survive in such shark-infested waters.
And not just this business – Wall Street, it's the same kind of mentality, I believe. I really felt like, I just didn't have it in me. I mean, sometimes, you have to just give up the fight, because it's just not worth it.
It's not worth the heartache, when you can't be a loving person, or be a supportive person in this business, without, in the end, getting stabbed in the back, is what it felt like, to me.
I guess I've always had one foot in the business, and one foot out. I could never fully engulf myself in just the cruelty of it all.
"IT REALLY WAS OUR WORLD"
CR: But, to go back to your record, how did you go about picking these songs? Because one thing that strikes me on hearing (the duo's versions of) “Gimme Shelter,” or “For What It's Worth,” they seem to be more current now, than they did at the time.
BD: Isn't that crazy how that happens? Sometimes, a good song, a real song, written about what's really going on in the world – and I think that, really, maybe things never really, really changed. Human beings, we go through the same struggles, over and over and over again. So we find ourselves experiencing some of the same things.
For me, a lot of things like “Get Together,” is talking about, what's really important in life? Loving one another, and making that effort, and that speaks volumes, to me.
It's a period of time – like, when Fanny had the last album out, The Runaways were coming up. And I actually did go to see her (Cherie) perform, in the mid-'70s. I didn't meet her, but I saw her perform, at SIR Rehearsals.
It was like, we were handing over the torch, without having met. There was some music coming out, ending right around that time, but that was part of our reference in life, that music, that we listened to.
CR: So it was part of the soundtrack of your life, as it were, I guess.
BD: There you go.
CC: Oh, absolutely. I mean, these songs made us feel good as kids. I mean, you know, a natural high, that euphoria. If you can grab that, and hold onto it, then every time I hear these songs, the original – still, I go back to better, simpler times. And Brie and I really wanted to pay homage to people who have written such outstanding songs, that changed, and mattered, to our lives.
BD: Yeah. And Cherie's younger than me. And for me, I don't know if that was the time, when I first started listening to music, when it was simpler – with the Vietnam War going on, and everything – but it was still a time when music really spoke to the young people.
And it did make me feel like, there was a place in my head and in my heart, that I could go, and I could express myself, and I could play with my rock 'n' roll band, and be a person, have my own brain, and get away from some of the things that were, that I couldn't understand, when I was a teenager, because I started playing when I was 14. I don't know if Cherie was born yet (laughs).
BD: She was. I'm kidding (laughs). But yeah, it's pretty incredible, what music means to young people, or at least, from our day. It really was our world. And yeah, soundtrack of our lives, for sure, like you said.
"WE'RE JUST GETTING STARTED"
CR: So how you might see this evolving, then, for the next record? Because that's always the million dollar question.
CC: Yeah, I think Brie and I, just going out on tour together, I think we're going to write songs together, obviously – and probably take our experiences, and turn them into music. We'll always want to put a couple songs from our past, covers, on the record.
We've got a four-record deal, but we're just looking forward to getting out onstage together, getting our sea legs, and having fun, and being able to see the fans, and all that good stuff. It's about fun. This isn't about going out there, and... We're not planning on taking over the world, like we did, when we were kids.
CC: It's about really, truly enjoying what we've done in our lives, and what brought us to this point, yeah.
CR: For sure.
BD: The originals on the record, the three originals, we wrote those while we were doing the record. So we were just getting to know each other, and we clicked so well, that these ideas – those are brand new songs that just came out, while we were actually working.
So if that's the kind of stuff that we can create, in just those couple of months, I'm going, “Wow, I mean, we need to come up for air here,” because we've just been slamming, getting ready for this tour, and all this stuff following the release of the record.
But yeah, once we get out there, and we're driving in the van, I'm sure there's going to be some things that we get to share, because the songs that we wrote are about real situations, and real feelings.
So I think that we're going to experience those things together. We're just getting started. We got a whole lot to learn about what we have to say together. I'm so looking forward to that.
"FOR ME, THAT'S THE MAGIC"
CR: Well, I really enjoyed those too. I think it seems like it was a natural evolution, and will continue to progress. It's also nice to see guys in your situation committed to doing new stuff, not just relying on the glorious past to get you a passing grade, if you will.
CC: Yes, absolutely! And we've both been songwriters throughout our lives. And it's just so neat, to actually have someone to work with.
BD: I know! I love it.
CR: Yeah. And bounce ideas off of, as well.
BD: Both of us are inspired by things that we've thought together, or loved together. And, for me, that's the magic. But there are a couple of songs, like Cherie mentioned, and I was, “Oh, my God, we got to do that on the next record!”
So there's a couple that poked their heads out after the fact, that we'd loved to do, too, so... But I'm not going to tell you what they are.
CR: Well, we'll have to wait to be surprised by the next one, I guess.
BD: That's right.
"LET SOMEBODY ELSE KEEP TRACK"
CR: How do you guys feel, when you look on your respective back stories? We have the Runaways movie, the Fanny documentary, the Rhino boxed set that came out, some years back.
So you finally have your place in the culture after, what, 40 years? Does that feel a bit bittersweet, that the acceptance took this long? I mean, how do you look at that?
CC: You know what? To be honest, I'm pretty amazed, that in our current society, that anyone even took the time. All I know is that I'm just so happy I grew up in the time I did, before social media, and all this craziness that is kind of hard for me to wrap my head around. But I never thought that the Runaways – I thought we were all but forgotten.
I thought that, 22 years ago – and for almost 20 years, I didn't even listen to our music. And it wasn't until I started looking at videos, listening to the music again... I went, “Wow! We really were trailblazers.”
We were following in the footsteps of Suzi Quatro. I think that the Runaways wouldn't have existed, had it not been for her. Big shout out: I hope she gets in the Rock 'n' Hall of Fame – please!
CC: Hey, I'm just glad that the people do remember Fanny, the Runaways, and Suzi Quatro, and women that really worked hard, to kick the door open.
BD: It's a funny thing. Instead of looking back at the past, I've always looked at, what am I gonna do next? And I'm just discovering, that that's how I've looked at it, all my life.
Right now, I'm looking at some things – because we've got this event that's coming up, that Cherie and I are gonna do – I'm looking at some of the things I've done in the past, I'm going, “Wow, did I do that?”
I mean, I'm not even aware of listening to the records. I want to keep moving forward. I'm excited about what I'm going to do next. I'm good with somebody else keeping tabs on the past.
CC: I like that a lot, Brie!
BD: But I wanna do it with you, girl. I like that. Let somebody else keep track of the past.
CR: Let somebody else keep the flame, I suppose, right?
CC: Yeah. And you know what? Thank you for that, by the way. If it wasn't for people like you, we would have been all but forgotten.
BD: Well, I appreciate it. I'm just not doing that anymore.
CR: I understand that you want to keep on keepin' on. Conversely, what do you think accounts for that turnaround.
Because, I've got to say, when I was preparing for this – I looked, for instance, at some of the old music press things of the Runaways, like in CREEM – and there was some horrible kind of stuff written, and said. Even by publications you'd think would be on the cooler vanguard really fell down, in that respect. So what accounts for that turnaround, you think?
CC: Well, I guarantee you, that most all of them were written by men.
CC: Sometimes, men like to dig their heels in, and not give women a chance, especially teenage girls. And Brie, her whole experience, I think, also, with Fanny – I mean, the music was different. These chicks really know how to play. I mean, they were superb musicians.
The Runaways were more of the three-chord crunch, in your face, or like, as Joan would say, just kick you in the face, from an attitude. But, I mean, we evolved. It had to happen. It was going to happen.
Now, I mean, as you can see, it's almost like a tidal wave, at this point. And of course, women and their feelings, on the subject, I should say – which I don't care to get into.
CC: But it is a tidal wave now, of women's unhappiness with the male dominating type, the world we live in. So I think it'll all burn itself out, and maybe we'll have something a little more (favorable) afterwards, I guess.
BD: For me, I guess I've always felt blessed in doing what I love, playing drums and singing, and if somebody gave me a hard time around upon it, I don't remember it so much, as to how much I enjoyed doing it.
CC: I think you got really good reviews, Brie (laughs)!
BD: I'm sure it got done. But to be honest with you, I didn't give a fuck. I just really enjoyed, I loved doing what I loved doing, and I just didn't let it get in my way, I don't think. And if somebody didn't like it, it was their problem, and not mine.
And today, I think, if you want a place, take your place on that stage, or in this business, just be freakin' good at what you do. And that way, if you're the best one in the group, nobody can push you off that spot. So take your place, and earn it. Be good at it.
That's one thing, that when I look at the old tapes of Cherie doing what she's doing, she was just – she owned that spot! And nobody was pushing her off it. And I love that. I get goose bumps talking about it, because her voice, her presence, her performance, everything about her was so commanding... In that day, she owned it 1,000%.
CC: Welcome to it! This tour is just you out front with me, so...
BD: I love it! I honestly love it.