Interview: A Taste of Cherry Vanilla

lickme2.jpgIf you are still looking for the perfect gift for a jaded pal who's done everything and been everywhere, give her a copy of Cherry Vanilla's rock and roll groupie bio, Lick Me- How I Became Cherry Vanilla (by way of the Copacabana, Madison Avenue, the Filmore East, Andy Warhol, David Bowie, and the Police)

Cherry Vanilla's tales of rock and roll hedonism offer the reader an opportunity to re-experience the madcap adventures of a young woman who enjoyed the decadent and glam lifestyle of New York in 70s as David Bowie's first US PR rep. She lived and loved hard on the rock and roll groupie circuit, acquiring an enviable list of lovers that included Bowie and Kris Kristofferson. Eventually, Cherry became an entertainer herself and launched a punk act that toured the UK backed by Sting and Stewart Copeland of the then-nascent band, the Police.

Cherry Vanilla gradually retired from the limelight and moved to Los Angeles. She runs the U.S. office for the composer Vangelis and resides in Hollywood. Just off a quick tour of New York to promote her book before the holidays, Cherry participated in the following email interview:

I really appreciated the candor of your book. Unlike most rock bios, you were not coy about the drugs and sex you enjoyed during your youth. Was there any part of your story during those years that you didn't feel comfortable sharing?

Oh sure, I mean I talked about such highly personal things, like my OCD and my earliest methods of sexual stimulation and masturbation. And I talked about being a murderess by having abortions, and about humiliation and rejection, and the fact that I really wasn't such a great singer. Those things are all so hard to just blurt out publicly in print the way I did. But my goal was to be one hundred percent honest, and to not hold anything back. That's what I always want from a biography, the absolute truth, cringe-making moments and all. So, that's what I strove to give. And I am happy I did, despite how difficult it was. You know, I'm a person who moves on quickly from devastating things. But bringing all of these past situations to mind in the writing, that brought back a lot of the pain that I had long ago buried in the little corners of my mind. It wasn't only uncomfortable, it was a kind of torture. But then it was also a kind of a catharsis as well. I feel much lighter now.

How long did it take you to write the book and what inspired you to do it?

It took about two years. Pamela Des Barres asked me to be in her book, Let's Spend the Night Together, and based upon my chapter in it, her agent negotiated a deal for me with the same publisher, Chicago Review Press, to write my own book. My whole life inspired me to write LICK ME. All the while I was living it, I felt like I was living in a movie. I realized that the things that were occurring in my life by sheer good luck and destiny and the things I was doing to further magnify and glorify those situations were the stuff of a fantasy life. I remember thinking to myself many a time, wow, this is something quite special, rare, exciting and high. So, I always knew I would write the book one day. It was just a question of having someone put the fire under me at just the right time in my life. I'm so glad it didn't happen earlier, because the years have given me perspective.

I liked your poems and songs. Do you know of any songs written about you? Were you someone's explicit muse?

There are two Shawn Phillips songs I write about in the book, though I can't even remember the names of them now. I didn't write the titles in my diary, even though they seemed to be so monumentally important to me back then ... well, you see what I mean by perspective. There are so many songs with the name Cherry in them, and a couple of 'em might be about me. But I've never bothered to find out for sure. I can hear little influences here and there in Bowie songs, certain expressions I might have used or glimpses of things I might have called his attention to. Stewart Copeland once told me that the Police's song, "Roxanne" was about me. But I got highly insulted (not really), because I had already heard it was about a French prostitute. In truth, I think it actually is about a prostitute. But with the way I used to slither around on the piano and act like such a whore on stage with them, I think there probably is some element of truth in what Stewart said. Off-stage I was such a wholesome young woman in a monogamous relationship with Louie Lepore, my guitarist, that it was sort of like I did have to "turn on the red light" each night and sell my songs. Explicit muse? The only one I could guarantee that about would be Louie. I pretty much dragged the songs out of him when we were together.

What piece of clothing from 1974 do you miss the most?

Forget about the clothing; I just miss the body I had then! The body I could squeeze into all of those great vintage pieces I used to find at a New York shop called Early Halloween. And to think I used to think I was fat then. You see what I mean about perspective. I guess I don't really miss clothes. I mean, clothes are made to pass through our lives and not necessarily be held onto. I do wish I had been photographed in more of them though. It would be nice to have captured some of those looks for posterity.

When and why did you settle down in Los Angeles? What's your favorite neighborhood?

I moved to LA fifteen years ago. I had always wanted to move to California. When the San Francisco flower child thing was happening in the 1960's, I wanted to be a part of that. But New York was so fabulous and so familiar to me at the time, I just couldn't tear myself away. I'd visited and worked in LA a few times over the years and I always kind of envied the people who got to live in such a sunny, beautiful place. But I tended to go in the other direction, to Europe and the UK. I found myself in Massachusetts at the age of fifty-two, with almost nothing to my name and therefore almost nothing to lose. So, I figured, OK, if I'm gonna be homeless, it might as well be in some place where at least I won't freeze to death. Thanks to some friends out here, I was able to get myself back on my feet and make the lovely life I've enjoyed for all of these years. I love the big city things all combined with the mountains, the flowers, the palm trees and the sea. I get a thrill every time I drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, with the top down on my car and my sunglasses on. That's all I have to do any time I wanna feel like a star. And with all of the lies we're feed by the governments of the world, including ours, I love the fact that the truths that reach the most people on the planet do so through the movies and TV shows that are made right here. In a way, it makes LA the center of the universe. And the city is broke! What a joke. My favorite neighborhood is my own neighborhood, Hollywood.

Patti Smith seems to have embraced the idea of being a Rock & Roll Crone. How do you feel about growing older and what do you enjoy about aging?

Mostly I enjoy feeling free to express myself fully. You know, you get to a certain age and you think, well, I won't be around too much longer anyway, so I might as well say whatever the hell I want to say. And I like that people start showing you more caring and respect, that they think about your comfort and your safety, offer to pick you up and take you to the party, instead of letting you drive yourself there. I like that I have wisdom and information to impart about things the younger generation seems to have a keen interest in, things like be-ins, peace marches, Theatre of the Ridiculous, easy backstage access, pre-AIDS sex and pre-911 air travel. I like the fact that the worst possible photos of me are already out there, along with the best ones. So, I don't have to keep up the glamour-girl pretense anymore. I love the way that I've come to accept my body, old and imperfect as it is. I was never as comfortable in it as I am right now. I love that I can entertain all of the sexual fantasies I want, without feeling the slightest compulsion to act upon them. I love that I can look back and be so content with the life I have made, while still having the burning desire to keep on creating something new. Let's face it, with all of the drugs and the chances I took, I just love that I'm still alive and kicking!

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