Forget the Spice Girls, says tattooed monster of rock Joe Pop. Forget The Donnas. Forget Kittie, or Girlschool, or any other girl group ever. The Runaways were the original, and they will always be the best.
Spring 1977. I'm 14, and entering the wilderness of adolescence - a world of mood swings, raging hormones and experimental dress sense. I feel the need for a new soundtrack to my life, something to replace the random Xmas gifts of Abba and Elton John. I'm just beginning to realise that there is a whole world of music out there. It's quite hard to know what to do, as I have no older siblings or cool friends to guide me. I just about get up the courage to enter my local record shop, a hippie hovel reeking of patchouli and Hawkwind. I have no idea what I'm looking for.
I'm cruising the racks looking at album covers. Nearly everything has some swirly Roger Dean cover, and even I, with my limited knowledge, know that's something to avoid. Eventually I come across something that catches my eye. The cover is of a girl with white blonde hair, a sequin shirt, and way too much eye makeup to be respectable. I have to have it. I pay my £1.99, and leave.
, I pore over the gatefold sleeve of this group called The Runaways. The
rest of the girls in the band were pictured brandishing their guitars, shag
hairdos, and powder blue eye shadow with attitude. They looked like a surly
gang of teen dyke shoplifters in their polyester tank tops. They reminded
me of the tough girls at school who I both admired and was scared of. One
in particular was Donna Kirkpatrick.
At 15, she had already broken off 4 engagements, had 2 inches of brown root showing through blonde hair, no eyebrows, too much mascara, a wraparound Starsky and Hutch cardigan, laddered black tights and battered cream peep toe high heels, a love bite, and an ankle chain. Every day she would come in late to class, reeking of cigarette smoke and boredom, to sit at the back of the class, disliked by everyone who thought her a 'slag'. Then at home time, her 23-year-old boyfriend would pick her up in his car, to whisk her off to drink Bacardi and Coke in pubs. Through my shy, inhibited eyes, she was a goddess. She lived a life totally removed from homework, parents and cleaning out rabbit hutches.
those of you who do not know, The Runaways were an American girl group who
released their first album in 1976. They were all aged about 16. The band
was assembled by a manager/ Svengali, and legend has it the member were
recruited in the car park of an L.A. glam rock disco's car park. I'd like
to imagine this is true, that the girls were found sitting on car bonnets,
drinking underage, and popping pills. The fact that The Runaways were a
'manufactured' group doesn't bother me that much. Some great groups - Public
Enemy, The Supremes, Sex Pistols, Spice Girls - were put together this way.
All that matters to me is the end result. And to me, both then and now,
The Runaways are as authentic and valid as I need.
If you haven't
heard them, The Runaways records sort of mixed a Suzy Quatroesque Glam
thump with a pre-punk, almost Ramones type minimalism. The songs were
snotty, bratty, and full of bravado, underlined with the vulnerability
of being an adolescent. Key words in the song titles and lyrics were 'night',
'streets', 'wild', 'bomb', 'fire', 'wasted', and 'neon angels on the road
to ruin'. At 14, this was a world I wanted in on.
to me about this Runaways album was that it was the first music I ever mimed to a mirror to. I don't know where I got the idea from; no one ever told me what to do. I just instinctively picked up a dead light bulb to use as a mike, and pouted and posed as I felt a 'rock star'would. I did sort of realise that this was something you did alone, behind closed doors: a guilty secret. The fact that I, a boy, was mouthing the voice of a girl didn't seem strange either. In retrospect, I now see this as a milestone passed on my queer journey.
Well, The Runaways made a couple of albums before splitting up on New Year's Eve 1979. I often wonder what being an ex-Runaway is like. I do, however, know what became of them.
, attempted suicide while the band were on tour in Japan, then left to
study law. Her replacement was called something like Vikkkkiii Blue.
these days, I don't play Runaways records that much, preferring the soothing
tones of some ambient Talvin Singh experimental doodle or other. But now
and again, when I'm feeling a bit petulant, I'll play an imaginary guitar
to 'Queens of Noise', and pretend that I'm still a bad girl.
And Donna Kirkpatrick, wherever you are, I hope you are not living in some grotty flat, on your fifth kid and third marriage. I hope you are driving fast down a motorway, drinking Bacardi from a bottle, with a lover half your age by your side.
Joe Pop (firstname.lastname@example.org) edits the fab queer free zine Pop! Send cheap sulphate and nude photos of yourself to BCM 5524, London WC1 3XX, and he might just send you a copy.