I finally saw Guardians of the Galaxy last night (remember; I spent the summer in the woods, a good hour’s drive from any movie theater). It’s a solid little family film, with a smart script, funny characters, sublimely ridiculous sci-fi special effects and shoot-’em-up action, and of course, a rocking soundtrack. A mix tape given by a dying mother to her son drives the narrative and the beat; I wonder how many parents had to explain to their children what a Walkman and a cassette tape are.
The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” provides the soundtrack for one pivotal scene in the movie, the song earning its rightful place as a savior of the universe. I hope songwriters Kim Fowley and Joan Jett are getting some nice payout on this product placement — and that a new generation of kids find themselves dancing to the Queens of Noise.
There’s nothing like playing a batch of your favorite records to set your head right. Thanks McAllister and Cass Monster for allowing me to take over She Rocks KXLU last night. Here’s what I played:
Bratmobile- Cherry Bomb
The Runaways– Yesterdays Kids
The Runaways- American Nights
Joan Jett- Bad Reputation
Suzi Quatro- 48 Crash
The Bags- We will bury you
Tribe 8- Manipulate
Fifth Column- Donna
Hole– Softer Softer
Suture- Pretty Is
Jayne Cortez – Sacred Trees
Nina Hagen- Future Is Now
Classes have started at LMU, where I teach; hence my relative silence here at Populism. Balancing writing and teaching is never easy, and my blog always seems to suffer most. I’m hoping that will change, as this is the first year when I am not trying to write a book as well as teach a full load. Instead, I’m busy publicizing that book. Teaser: Some very special activities are being planned to celebrate the publication of Queens of Noise. Watch this space for more.
I try to keep my various duties as integrated as possible. To that effect, I’m teaching a new course called Revolution Girl Style: Punk Feminism Then and Now. It’s a seminar for first-semester students, part of this year’s new Core Curriculum. Nineteen wonderful young ladies are looking to me to train them in the ways of the university (thankfully, I have a writing instructor too — go Liz!), but more importantly, to inspire them with the music and mottos of Riot Grrrl.
On Day 1, I played videos of the Runaways performing “Cherry Bomb,” Bratmobile performing the same song, and Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance two days earlier. The latter is what we educators call “a teachable moment.” The students had a lot to say — it was one of the best discussions I’ve had in a classroom. And it was refreshing to see it all from their eyes — and depressing to realize that they weren’t even born when the original Girl Night occurred (depressing because in 1991, I was already older than they are).
Their first assignment is to read Queens. No, I’m not just trying to generate some easy sales. The idea of the First Year Seminars is for professors to teach to their research interests — and the Runaways is what I’ve spent the last four years researching. Their story encapsulates the perils and power of women rockers before Riot Grrrl. They were a direct influence on Revolution Girl Style — i.e., that Bratmobile cover. And for better or worse, Joan Jett et al have inspired Cyrus’s clumsy attempts to shed her virginal Disney image. Long before the VMAs blew up in her face, Miley was the exploding Cherry Bomb, performing a Runaways/Jett medley live. Yeah, she’s no Cherie Currie or Allison Wolfe, but she doesn’t lip-sync and she means it when she says she doesn’t care.
But Cyrus is a side note. After the Runaways, we’ll talk about the explosion, and then implosion, of Riot Grrrl, and its reemergence via Pussy Riot et al. Here’s the syllabus, subject to change. Sorry: the class is full. Revolution Girl Style syllabus
Stick Joan Jett on a cheesy daytime talk show cum soap opera, performing with an erstwhile Disney cartoonish character, and she still looks totally bad-ass. With her hair black and long again these days, Jett exuded deadsexycool vibe beside Miley Cyrus’s puppy-dog earnest excitement and Oprah Winfrey’s fumbling for something to say, on today’s show featuring ’70s and ’80s women musicians and their progeny. Jett didn’t need Ms. Montana to shore up her vocals, the way Stevie Nicks relied on Sheryl Crow earlier in the show. As they duetted on “Bad Reputation,” “Cherry Bomb,” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” the rock legend’s voice shone in all its hoarse come-on. Cyrus tried to channel some of that old Runaways energy; she stared dotingly at Jett (as she should) and shook her long mane. At least Joan didn’t have to sing with Avril Lavigne, who didn’t once look at Pat Benatar during their Oprah moment “together”. (Benatar sounded great, btw.)
It was ironic to hear today’s teen idol singing the jailbait-virgin Runaways anthem. Chuck E. Starr told me that when the Runaways released “Cherry Bomb” as their first single, most DJs wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. That was before it was okay for starlets to cavort on strip poles on family television.
I was damn disappointed Joan and Cyrus didn’t get the stage time Nicks and Crow did. Joan is a goddess! Give her her props. They did get in a few bon mots.
“Rock ‘n’ roll when I grew up really had a context and a meaning. I felt like it was a religion for me,” Jett said. She talked about the sexism that still exists in the music industry. “I think there are many glass ceilings. I had a hard time in the Runaways being taken seriously.” Her advice: “Push back the pushback.” Oprah loved that one.
Miley offered the appropriate words of respect for her elder and hero. “It always meant something for me seeing Joan stand up for chicks playing guitar.”
Most of the show’s performers (who also included Salt N Pepa) came out for a feel-good singalong of “We Are Family” with Sister Sledge at the end. Except Joan. She’s too cool for shtick, as manager Kenny Laguna says. Not too cool for Oprah and Miley, but lines do have to be drawn. I hope she sells 10,000 more CDs for the prime exposure. And that Miley really doesn’t give a damn about her reputation.
“1776: Bicentennial. 1976: Bisexual.” So said a T-shirt that rock-star groupie turned rock-star DJ Chuck E. Starr liked to wear during what he calls the summer of the Runaways.
“That’s when all the magic happened,” he told me recently as we met for coffee in the desert, where the one-time LA nightlife legend now tends to others’ health needs, as well as his own.
One of the great pleasures of researching Queens of Noise, my book on the Runaways, is getting to meet the colorful survivors of an era of great freedom and indulgent excess. In the last month, I’ve joined Rodney Bingenheimer, the other DJ who spun “Cherry Bomb” as if it were a number-one hit, for his daily supper at a Hollywood IHOP. He remembered how great the band’s music was — and the hostility the all-girl group could provoke: “The only time I got offered payola was NOT to play the Runaways.”
Germs drummer Don Bolles praised Joan Jett’s production of the band’s album GI: “She did help us make a better record.” Journalist and one-time garage rocker Don Waller showed me the early coverage of the Runaways in Back Door Man, the seminal fanzine he helped put together. “I feel like I ran away and joined the circus,” Waller says of those days.
That sense of having lived through something special — and maybe still living through it — permeates the interviews. What that something special was — the era, the place, the people, the politics, the music, the drugs, the fashion, the freedom — is what I’m trying to document and analyze. I’m going to try to start posting updates regularly to this blog. Coming up: The managers take credit — what Kim Fowley and Toby Mamis did for the Runaways.
As Barack Obama recently demonstrated, the standard bribe for getting small children to move across country is to promise a pet. This is how we got Otis, the best little dog in the universe, when Bud moved his daughters to live with me in New York 11 years ago. Now, Cole has Cherry Bomb.
Our second day in LA, we got no bed, clothes hangers, corkscrew, trash cans, or other needed items. We got Cole a red-striped corn snake. He named it after one of his favorite songs.
Check out the videos, assignments for my MA program, shot with the Flip Camera USC has loaned me. The task was to shoot an interview, and to shoot and edit a video using five specific shots in order (hands, face, wide shot, over the shoulder, and one other angle). Since we were kind of house bound this weekend, Cole was my subject for both. And Cherry.