Rock and roll, sex and the Runaways


If you read one more long piece on the repercussions of last week's story about Runaways bassist Jackie Fuchs and her account of being raped by Kim Fowley, I suggest it be Ann Powers' essay for NPR on the backdrop of rock and roll, sexuality and teenage girls. Including her, back in the day.

First off, she acknowledges the story's bombshell nature in the rock world. "Like any secret laid bare after years of only furtive acknowledgment, this one has disrupted many lives and caused reactions ranging from rage to self-righteous moralizing to Fuchs's own remarkably generous forgiveness of those who knew something terrible had happened but didn't directly respond," Powers writes. She notes that Fowley's reputation is now, once and for all, "rightly destroyed" by the detailed and deeply reported revelations. She mentions many other instances of men in rock abusing girls and boys, "all ones I pulled from the top of my head, without doing any research" — not intending to excuse or justify Fowley at all, but to set the scene for how he could so easily get away with it.

It's her connecting of the dots between sex and and rock and roll, and Powers' personal association with the music and rock culture, that gives texture to the story that I haven't picked up elsewhere.

Here's an excerpt:

Fuchs's account hit the music world like a bomb that obliterated all taste of cherry from our mouths, demanding the acknowledgment of certain painful facts from anyone who loves 1970s pop culture, that groundbreaking all-female band in particular, or the romantic notion that music celebrating and enacting sexual openness is a force for freedom and empowerment. (Full disclosure: I'm one of those people.)


Here's the truth: The history of rock turns on moments in which women and young boys were exploited in myriad financial, emotional and sexual ways. This most sordid secret history lurks in the background, but it's not incidental: from the teen-scream 1950s onward, one of the music's fundamental functions has been to frame and express sexual feelings for and from the very young, and its culture has included real kids, the kind who feel free but remain very vulnerable, relating to older men whose glamor and influence encourages trust, not caution. The worst, weakest and most self-deluded of these men have stepped over moral lines, over and over again…

Men have behaved abhorrently toward young women whose only mistake was in assuming they'd be treated with respect. Yet the music itself, so redolent of pleasure, muddies peoples' responses. We want to enjoy it and to take its dares. And for young girls and boys, it does express real sexual feelings, often otherwise denied. The craving for that expression has led to a startling number of cases in which deeply inappropriate responses to it have been rationalized or simply overlooked.


Loving rock and roll requires engaging with a terrible reality, one that the music itself has not solved and sometimes helped its fans to forget. It's this: The real erotic freedom many women, and young people in general, have experienced through rock and roll is always partial and precarious. As great as it feels for a girl to let the noise and rhythm surge through her body, that body still moves within a world where others wield all kinds of weapons to contain you. And they may do so even if they're great artists, "good" guys, even legends. They may do so even if, unlike the clearly amoral Kim Fowley, they mean to do their best.

It's crucial that the truth that Jackie Fuchs has raised, truth that keeps resurfacing, not be turned against young women. Society needed rock and roll partly because the fact that young people are sexual had been kept under wraps in ways that stigmatized the very people whom moral arbiters meant to protect….

Fuchs, meanwhile, spoke to Powers' successor on the music beat at the Los Angeles Times, Randall Roberts, for a story in the paper and on the website today. Example:

Why did you decide to come forward now?

About a year and a half ago, a book about the Runaways came out ["Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways," by Evelyn McDonnell], and it had [Runaways affiliate] Kari Krome's version of what she had seen, and for the first time I read an account that jibed with what I did remember of that night. It started to shake loose some memories that I had worked really very hard to forget.

I'm getting a lot of heat for having waited 40 years, but I had to wait until I remembered what happened to me enough to even know there was a story there.

Lina Lecaro of the LA Weekly has also posted a first-person reaction as someone who knew and defended Fowley through the years. For her the question isn't whether the rape occurred, but whether she and others gave Fowley too much benefit of the doubt. "I agree with even the staunchest Fowley haters that this story needed to be told, to bring peace for Jackie and those coming to terms with what happened so long ago…," Lecaro writes. "Like The Runaways themselves, we all had to grow up fast this week." Sample:

Yes, I have a few mutual friends who are standing behind Fowley, fervently disputing the accuracy of Fuchs' story and asking the big question: Why now, 40 years after the event in question? Fowley’s widow even messaged me on Facebook and warned me not to believe everything I read. (She declined further comment on the record).

For most of us who knew Fowley, though, the doubt is not with Fuchs, but with ourselves. Were many of us who knew him in later years, like The Runaways in the '70s, blinded by his ominous, flamboyant presence — and even more so, by the attention the infamous Svengali gave us? Is this why we didn’t dig deeper when we heard the rumors about him?

To be clear, I didn’t know specifically about Fuchs’ rape, but there was a questionable incident involving a drugged-out “groupie,” recounted in Cherie Currie’s book, Neon Angel, and Evelyn McDonnell’s bio Queens of Noise. And everyone knew of Fowley’s reputation, especially in the quaalude-rampant early years of the band. But he was always an unapologetic freak who seemingly never censored himself. His brutal blather came off honest, to a fault. A lot of us believed him when he said he never had sexual contact with any of The Runaways. I believed him.


A few colleagues and some seething Facebook commenters think Fowley's controlling persona and penchant for younger gals never should have been glorified in the first place. Some have gone as far to say that those of us who were friendly with Kim, or ever wrote about him, are just as much to blame because we contributed to the mystique.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching about this. I realize I'm often getting the edited-for-media-version when I meet someone, and though I’ve always known that, I thought I was savvy enough to see through phoniness, even coming from a master manipulator like Kim

Previously on LA Observed:
Jackie Fuchs of the Runaways details rape by Kim Fowley*
Evelyn McDonnell, author of Runaways book, comments on rape story

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