book review: NEON ANGEL

Title: NEON ANGEL: a Memoir of a Runaway
Author: Cherie Currie with Tony O’Neill
ISBN: 978-0061961359
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: It Books (March 16, 2010)
Category: memoir
Review source: publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

Thomas always warned me that downers and booze didn’t mix. The more you drank, the harder it was to remember how many pills you’d taken, so you’d end up taking more and more. It could be a lethal combination, and you’d hear of people all the time who ended their evening by choking to death on their own vomit. Even though I was only seventeen, I’d already known a few people who’d check out in this sad, undignified manner.

If people have seen the preview for the film The Runaways and wondered why Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie seems to have more screen time than Kristin Stewart as Joan Jett, it’s not merely that Fanning possesses more talent than Stewart. NEON ANGEL: A Memoir of a Runaway by lead singer Cherie Currie inspired the film. Currie joined The Runaways a year after its formation. Guitarist/singer Joan Jett and drummer Sandy West met Currie at a local teen hangout in Los Angeles. Soon after, the band really took off. It was a novelty for five teenage girls [guitarist Lita Ford and bassist Jackie Fox rounded out the band] to perform powerful rock sings in the early 70s. Unfortunately I can only think of one completely female band since The Runaways– The Donnas. In NEON ANGEL, Currie chronicles her days in the groundbreaking band The Runaways as well as her life before and after her one-of-a-kind experience as the band’s sultry blonde lead singer dubbed “The Cherry Bomb,” after one of the band’s songs penned by Joan Jett.

When the show finally ended, a dozen security guards had to clear a path to get us out of the venue in one piece. We huddled our way toward the waiting limo, and I realized that this is what it must feel like if you’re an infamous prisoner running the gauntlet of a screaming mob on your way to court. Desperate hands reached out to us, trying to tear away a piece of our clothes, a chunk of our hair, anything they could rip away from us to keep as a memento.

The good part of this memoir: Currie presents an honest recollection of the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll that took over her teenage years. Older men fantasized about [and more often than not acted on] being with these teenage hot-shots. One night, The Runaways’s manager basically lent Currie out for the night to another teen idol. Another time this same manager made all five girls watch him have sex with a younger woman. He claimed he was showing them the way to do it. She sugarcoats nothing. Currie recalls the plethora of drug-use and her subsequent addiction to cocaine, over-the-counter Benzedrine [speed], prescription pills and alcohol.

When The Runaways toured, Currie found herself so homesick that she couldn’t function without drugs. Once home, she still couldn’t even make it through a day without being drugged out on something. Currie has a twin sister Marie who felt a bit slighted that her sister catapulted to such fame and left her behind. Up to the moment that Currie joined The Runaways, Marie had been the popular one. Currie finds herself in many turbulent relationships especially with family members. She writes about two rapes [one that included abduction], an abortion, and some pretty rotten relationships.

Currie remembers positive moments with The Runaways as well: her friendships with Joan Jett and Sandy West, the fame and the surrealness of being in such a popular band that opened for Cheap Trick and The Ramones and played some of the hippest venues like CBGB’s in New York. She relished some of the opportunities to meet bands she adored and other people she might have never encountered had she not been in this band.

It was a week or two later, on the set, that I really stopped and took a good look at myself in the dressing room mirror. I looked tired. I hadn’t been sleeping much. It was taking more and more Benzedrine to get me going. And the worst thing was that the more I used one morning, the more I would need the next just to get the same effect. And then that palpitating would begin again.

The negative of this memoir: Currie repeats herself often, perhaps to pound home the point that drugs destroy lives. Or that she managed to overcome her drug addiction and now leads a fulfilling life as an artist, mother, and occasional actress. Parts of the memoir drag on and there’s a simplistic writing style, it could have used additional editing. I’m sure the memoir proved to be a cathartic experience for Currie and honestly, how much fault can I find in that?

–review by Amy Steele, March 22, 2010

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