When it comes to band histories, I like to read differing viewpoints from band members. It’s why you’ll find reviews of 3/4ths of KISS here, and when I first heard about Lita Ford’s book I couldn’t wait for it. Looking back at my review of Cherie Currie’s Neon Angel and thinking about the Runaways movie, I wondered if I might have been unfair to Lita. Aside from her two big hits I know little of her solo career, and that movie barely portrayed her as anything beyond an uncooperative banshee. Subsequent reading about The Runaways’ history, in particular a harrowing account by Jackie Fox (TW: rape) left me willing to give Lita the benefit of the doubt when I read her book.
Now, if you’ve followed up on recent news about Lita, you’ll know this book had been delayed because reasons. Many speculate her ex-husband is involved, and toward the end of the book Lita touches on some of the conflicts that split her family. I don’t know the real reason for the delay – be it post-marital gag orders or dissatisfaction with ghostwriters – but the book’s out and nearly matches Cherie’s in terms of explicitness and cautionary anecdotes.
Unlike Neon Angel, Living Like a Runaway (AMZ) devotes only half the book to the Runaways. We are guided through a very supportive family to guitar lessons and discovery by Kim Fowley to a brief period of hard work and little, if any compensation. Lita stresses in this time (and pretty much through the entire book) about how serious she is about playing the guitar and striving to shatter ceilings and stereotypes. In a way, that’s good. Metal and hard rock needed Lita Ford, and aspiring female musicians needed to see Lita in a position where she could give the old masters like Iommi and Blackmore and (insert your guitar god here) a run for their money. Lita tells her story with pride, but I get the impression it comes at the expense of others. She claims to be the only member of The Runaways serious about music, and while she’s welcome to that opinion one can argue for Joan Jett and her multi-decade career.
The second half of Runaway covers the struggle to stay on top amid misogyny and apathy in the music business. I don’t doubt Lita here. Cyndi Lauper’s memoir covers similar frustrations with labels and managers who didn’t necessarily have her best interests in mind. Even hiring a female manager – Sharon Osbourne, no less – didn’t solve problems in this regard. You can’t help but feel for a woman who can garner the Grammy nods and critic praise yet keeps tapping that ceiling. She claims people didn’t know what to do with her. Uh, put her on stage and let her play?
Runaway is also full of juicy, sometimes sexy and sometimes squicky, hell-yeah-rock-and-roll moments. I won’t reveal the conquests – have to leave something to the imagination – but they come in spurts and asides as though Lita’s trying to balance the business side with the glitter. You may come away with a lower opinion of certain people in her life; I certainly did.
Living Like a Runaway is not a bad book, not a great book, either. Between the horrors of Kim Fowley and the ex-husband she doesn’t name (Wikipedia it if you must know) and the Spinal Tap-esque road stories it will jerk your emotions. I still think Lita should go into the Hall of Fame as a Runaway, if not as a solo act. Maybe this will help.
Kathryn Lively is not the Queen of Metal. Maybe the Queen of Meh.