book review: Living Like a Runaway

lita ford. living like a runaway

Living Like a Runaway by Lita Ford. Dey Street Books| February 23, 2016| pages | $26.99| ISBN: 9780062270641

RATING: 3.5/5*

“The power and the grit that come out of heavy metal music and the way it makes people feel and act attracted me, and ever since I can remember I’ve been drawn to it.”

An easy conversational read that grips with its sincerity as well as with the sex and drugs and rock and roll, Lita Ford’s memoir Living Like a Runaway revolves around content and tone. Edgy. Confrontational. Honest. Lots of swearing. Lots of run-on sentences. The writing falters at times. Most won’t be reading it for its scholastic merits. 80s heavy metal icon Lita Ford dishes about The Runaways, her solo career, being a woman in rock and roll, her romantic hookups—with Eddie Van Halen, Nikki Sixx, Dee Dee Ramone, Toni Iommi of Black Sabbath and others– and more. The chapters on The Runaways run flat and lack energy. The passion-fueled intense guitarist fails to draw those emotions and details to the page.

Not so heavy on the drugs. Lita dabbled but never got wrapped up in the excess as much as others in the 70s and 80s. Maybe it’s the close relationship she maintained with her parents. Although Ford joined The Runaways at age sixteen and lived on her own to pursue her musical career, she remained close to her Italian mother and British father. She wrote the song “Lisa” about her mom. Seems the music bug hit after Lita attended her first concert– Black Sabbath—at age 13. Lita’s mom bought her an acoustic guitar and Lita gave up on lessons after two weeks and started teaching herself to play songs by listening to the radio. Her parents met in an Italian hospital during WWII. They supported everything she did and even hosted parties for her musician friends.

In 1975, Lita Ford became part of the world’s first major all-female rock group The Runaways along with Joan Jett and Cherie Currie [I read her memoir about The Runaways—Neon Angel–years ago]. It was a band put together like many boy bands, based on looks and perhaps talent ensures and maybe not. Lita describes The Runaways as “an all-girl jail-bait rock band.” The music part went well. Lita loved playing and touring. The business aspects weren’t that great with the teens touring the world with questionable management. Touring is messy. Managers and others aren’t completely honest with and take advantage of youth. It was a whirlwind for the teens who ended up developing their musical talents and styles along the way. Lita writes: “Inside the music scene, though, people recognized our ability, and we were hanging out with the big dogs: Queen, Kiss, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Rush, Led Zeppelin. We were interesting, original, musically talented bad girls, and everyone wanted to meet us.”

Too young during the Runaways heyday, I remember Lita Ford in the MTV 80s when she had such hits as “Kiss Me Deadly”—long blonde hair, full-on black leather and wicked guitar riffs– and well as her duet with Ozzy Osbourne, “Close My Eyes Forever.” I admired this strong, beautiful California-blonde playing guitar to rival the best. However I’ve always steered toward alternative music. During the 80s I mostly listened to The Cure, Depeche Mode and of course pop like Madonna and Duran Duran. Although it was impossible to escape hair metal bands in the 80s and I did see Poison, Def Leppard and Whitesnake the summer after my senior year of high school.

Lita broke out as a solo artist with the debut of Out for Blood in 1983. Lita writes: “I was a bona fide rocker by the time the Runaways broke up, which means not only had I grown into my own musical style, but also that they all really don’t care about you. They want to use you. They want your money and they want your fame. And then they spit you out when they’re done with you.” So there’s that. Lita chronicles her albums, her hits and tours as a solo artist. Her band consists of guys and her writing partners were always men as well. Interesting but not sure how much to read into it. That I’d like to discuss with Lita Ford. I’ve found that many solo female artists have bands full of men. After the Runaways maybe she needed to move away from working so closely with women. Or it’s just the nature of the music industry—it’s male-dominated. Sharon Osbourne managed Lita. It’s a rocky relationship that Lita suggest didn’t work because Sharon assumed Lita and Ozzy were physically involved. Lita insists that she and Ozzy never hooked up and Sharon had nothing to be concerned about. She writes: “As much as I truly loved Sharon, I couldn’t help but feel she was undermining my hard work. I continued to wonder if she thought I had fucked Ozzy. Maybe that was why she was doing this. Let me tell you, he was fucking everything that moved, so to speak—except me.” [Don’t plan on being invited on The Talk.]

“Another fucking battle for me in the industry.”

Being a woman in rock, Lita dealt with sexism all the time. On tour with Poison, she describes how the band’s crew would select women from the audience and bring them backstage for the band to choose from. She writes: “The women probably thought they were going to a party, but they were just pieces of meat for the band and crew that one night. It was a game to them. It was degrading to women in general, and it was upsetting to me to see other women being treated like fucking cattle.” After she collaborated on the song “Hungry” with Michael Dan, its overtly sexualized message wasn’t well-received. Lita notes: “At the time, a song like “Hungry”—sung by a female—wasn’t something that would get played on the radio. As a result, it was banned from radio and the video turned out to be a disaster.” She adds that MTV would not air the video but did play 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny.” Double standards abound.

In the early 90s, Lita struggled as many 80s rockers did. In 1993, Michael Jackson’s team called her to replace the guitarist on the Dangerous tour. However she surprisingly didn’t get the part despite her talent. Michael’s longtime guitar player Dave Williams told her: “[sic] Michael didn’t want me in the band because I had too much credibility and had my own name in the industry.” She grew more disillusioned with the industry and decided to leave the scene in 1994. She and her husband moved to Oregon, then Florida then to Turks and Caicos. She writes: “I stopped listening to music completely. I didn’t feel in control of my life. I was growing resentful of my marriage, because it had taken me away from the people and things I had known all my life and loved the most.”

Living the island life, Lita grew further isolated and miserable—“We were living like the fucking Amish. I loved being with my boys, but I felt trapped living in that house and being on that island.” Her husband wanted this solitude and separateness but Lita didn’t like the woman she became after home-schooling her boys and being cut off from the music scene for more than a decade. The increasing sequestration led to soul-searching and a final breakdown. Lita moved out, filed for divorce and returned to California to get back into music. In divorcing her husband she lost custody of her sons. One thing is clear: Lita’s a tough and resilient woman.

–review by Amy Steele

 FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Dey Street Books.

purchase at Amazon: Living Like a Runaway: A Memoir

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