“There would be no Riot Grrrls if it wasn’t for Joan, there would be no Joan if it wasn’t for Suzi, and there would be no Suzi if it wasn’t for Elvis.”
So says Toby Mamis, dissecting the lineage of two of the most famous clients of his music-management career. Mamis was publicist for Suzi Quatro in 1975, when a young teenager looking like a mini Suzi started hanging around the LA hotel where the pioneering rock bassist/singer and her entourage were staying. Mamis wound up letting Joan Larkin (she hadn’t dubbed herself Jett yet) and a male friend stay in his hotel room. They became friends. A few years later, after Jett had become a star in her own right as rhythm guitarist and songwriter for the Runaways, Mamis became the band’s manager — after they had booted Kim Fowley.
The last link of that lineage — Joan to the Grrrls — is getting honored in an album to be released June 28, Take It or Leave It– A Tribute to the Queens of Noise: The Runaways. Kathleen Hanna, “the raddest girl of all,” will perform the camp epic “Dead End Justice” with Peaches, produced by Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys (Hanna’s husband). That’s just the most incredibly awesome track of a lineup that includes the Donnas doing “Queens of Noise” (I saw the Donnas open for Jett in New York in the mid ’90s), the Toilet Boys playing “Born to Be Bad,” the Dandy Warhols on “Cherry Bomb,” and tracks featuring Cherie Currie and Sandy West. The two-disc album’s being released by Main Man Records. I’ll take it.
“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.