By Evelyn McDonnell
The story of Kim Fowley sexually abusing a young, intoxicated woman in a hotel room after a Runaways show is grim and horrifying. I would like to say it has knocked many readers into a stunned silence – but in these days, it instead seems to have ignited a firestorm. I personally need more time with the story to say all that I want to say. But I know that the Internet waits for no one (and is woefully unavailable where I am currently living!), so here are some of my current thoughts.
For one, the story is not entirely new. Cherie Currie spoke about it in Victory Tischler-Blue’s 2004 movie Edgeplay; the Runaways singer also wrote about it in detail in her 2011 memoir Neon Angel. I discuss it at length in my 2013 book Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways. What has been publicly reported for the first time is that the woman in question was Jackie Fuchs, aka Jackie Fox, the Runaways’ bassist at that time. For the first time in almost 40 years, Jackie spoke about the experience at length, to a Huffington Post reporter, in a long, brutal story that quotes several corroborating witnesses and reports other instances of Fowley abuse.
On New Year’s Eve 1975 Jackie Fox had an experience that damaged her psyche and changed her life. Her perception of what happened to her is hers and hers alone; it can not be taken from her, and she has now shared it with the world. I am glad she was able to speak out about this. I hope the revelations in “The Lost Girls” will help her heal and move on, and that it will inspire other women to come to terms with their own experiences. Jackie is a genius – literally – and a beautiful and talented woman. What happened to her is unconscionable.
However, I have issues with the story’s sometimes sensationalist tone, the reporter’s methods, and some of the response to it online – particularly the way other women tangential to this story (including Joan Jett and myself) are also being targeted and blamed, by men. Excuse my professorial tone (occupational hazard), but here are some takeaways for me:
Journalism lesson #1: The dead can not sue. You can say anything about someone if they are dead. The living, on the other hand: Be precise and have backup. These were the words said to me by the lawyer for Da Capo books, in fact, as he was vetting Queens of Noise. We were going through my chapter about Kim Fowley with a finetooth comb, as in 2013, Kim was very much alive. He died in January 2015, almost 40 years after the incident in question – six months before Jackie’s revelations.
Journalism lesson #2: Do not out rape victims. I knew that Jackie might have been the victim; I had been told that on deep background. I also suspected that Kim’s aggressive and vulgar behavior toward women might have crossed the line between offense and assault on other occasions. I repeatedly asked almost everyone I interviewed – including Runaways members Fox, Currie, lyricist Kari Krome, Joan Jett, and Blue — if they knew if Kim had ever crossed that line, with anyone. Almost everyone said no, perhaps because Lesson #1 applies to civilians too, and Kim was usually lawyered up. Currie and Krome both discussed with me what Cherie in her book calls “The Sex Education Class” (because, she writes, that’s what Kim said he was giving the onlookers). But to me, Jackie explicitly dismissed Cherie’s recounting of the incident, and told me that she was not at any event like it. I interviewed her a couple times for several hours, and tried in various gentle ways to get her to speak about this, but apparently she was not ready. That is fine. That is her right as a victim of abuse. Fox needed to tell her story herself, and now she has. However, with her denial – as well as Kim’s denial of the incident, and of having sex with any of the Runaways, ever – I could not report what was at that point hearsay and confidential. Lesson #3: Don’t betray promises of confidentiality.
With Kim dead and Jackie speaking, many people are now talking about what happened that New Year’s Eve. One key figure has not publicly spoken: Rock’n’roll Hall of Famer Joan Jett. In “The Lost Girls,” several people who witnessed the incident say Joan was there. Jackie says that in fact, Joan watched. Jett told me while writing Queens that she had absolutely no memory of the incident as described in Neon Angel; her spokesperson told the HP the same thing. Joan is taking some heat online for not speaking out about this. While I would certainly like to hear from her, attacking her as somehow complicit because she hasn’t released a statement is unfair. Jackie herself did not speak about this until now. Joan was also 16, perhaps stoned, possibly traumatized. She is not the villain here.
The fact is, almost no one said anything about what happened in that room for years – including most of the witnesses now coming forward. The witnesses who recalled the incident to me, in varying forms and details, admitted they never spoke about it with the victim afterwards, never offered her support, and were embarrassed for her – and perhaps ashamed of themselves. Perhaps, some of them thought she was having fun – Jackie admits she was “frozen” and neither fought nor spoke. At least one sworn witness account, from Rick Cole, says that Jackie seemed to be a “willing participant” but may have been intoxicated. After all, weird scenes inside hotel rooms were commonplace in 1970s rock’n’roll. Girls younger than Jackie regularly offered themselves to rock stars. Quaalude and Mandrax use was rampant; the drugs loosened libidos. There were a lot of drugs and alcohol in that room. There was not the same consciousness about date rape that there is in 2015. Fox says in “The Lost Girls” that the current discourse about rape culture and Bill Cosby helped her find her voice. But others may have interpreted her silence at the moment and during the 40 years since as complicity. We now know it wasn’t. She was not willing and was intoxicated. She was 16.
This is one of the important reveals of Jackie’s story: While numerous books and movies have celebrated groupies as free-spirited nymphs, Fox makes it clear that not all women in similar situations were enjoying themselves. And of course, she was a musician, not a courtesan. Stoned on Quaaludes she says she was fed, she was largely unconscious. In fact, much of the event is reconstructed from others’ memories by reporter Jason Cherkis. (Jackie herself has written in the past about how faulty and divergent memories of the night in question are.) Cherie seems to have been the only person who told Kim to stop. Then she left the room, as did others who were disgusted. Not everyone saw the same thing (Currie’s account in Neon Angel differs from the one in HP, for instance). No one knew how Jackie felt about it. They didn’t ask. She didn’t tell them.
What she felt was ashamed. “I carried this sense of shame and of thinking it was somehow my fault for decades,” she told the HP. “I stuck it in a box in the attic and walled it in.”
Lesson #4: Don’t lie to your sources. Cherkis deserves credit for getting Jackie and others to tell her story. However, I take serious issue with the way he has positioned himself as the oracle savior of the Runaways, and specifically attacked me as an apologist for Fowley. He repeatedly cites my book without ever naming me as the author. He never called me for a comment. He did call me a few months ago saying he wanted to write something about the Runaways in conjunction with Joan’s induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. I knew that Jackie sometimes blogged for the HP; I also knew that she was looking for a reporter to talk to about something, she wouldn’t tell me what, exactly. I asked Jason if he had talked with Jackie. He said no. I suggested he do so. Jason has now said online that he was already in contact with Jackie when he called me. Cherkis also asked me for a source’s phone number. Lesson #5: Don’t give out sources’ private information. I suggested he could find it himself, which he apparently did. Although I did not know him at all, I attempted to help him as a colleague. In return, he exploited my research in his article and has repeatedly attacked me online. The irony of this male bullying in the context of this story has not been lost on me, or on many other journalists who have rallied to support me. Cherkis’s unprofessionalism in my brief encounter with him casts a shadow over “The Lost Girls.” I wonder who else he misled.
Cherkis’s account also gives short shrift to Currie’s efforts to bring this story to the public. Cherie deserves better.
I wrote a book about the Runaways. It was not a book about any one member, or manager, or incident. It was a Rashomon story with multiple conflicting points of views. I interviewed more than 70 subjects, some multiple times. I perused numerous documents, recordings, and videos. I told many stories that had never been told before, and there were some stories that were not ready to be told. I did not apologize for Kim; I never have. I also did not give him the narrative power over the Runaways history that Cherkis has now reinscribed. I purposely wrote something more complex than a victim story; doing so involved trying to understand why many people – including Jett, Blue, and guitarist Lita Ford – praised Kim Fowley, while others savaged him. I told both points of view. Kim was not happy with what he called the feminist tone of my book. He certainly did not see me as his apologist.
Jackie Fox has now revealed just how much the Runaways had to overcome to try to achieve their rock’n’roll dream. The experience of listening to their music will never be the same, but now, when we hear them sing, “We’re the queens of noise,” we have a deeper understanding of the depths of that ironic moniker.