Lita Ford's 'Runaway': A fun, funny memoir of a rocker chick
When Lita Ford was 11 years old, she told her parents that the nylon-string classical guitar they bought for her birthday wasn't exactly what she had in mind. What the future "queen of heavy metal" wanted was something electric.
Living Like a Runaway
By Lita Ford
Dey Street. 272 pp. $26.99 nolead ends
nolead ends When Lita Ford was 11 years old, she told her parents that the nylon-string classical guitar they bought for her birthday wasn't exactly what she had in mind. What the future "queen of heavy metal" wanted was something electric.
So begins Ford's Living Like a Runaway, a mostly fun, often hilarious coming-of-age memoir of a rocker chick who can rip through serious lead guitar solos as good - or usually better - than the next guy, a goal that snapped into focus after her first Black Sabbath concert. "It never occurred to me while I was growing up that I was doing anything out of the ordinary by liking the type of music I did," she tells us. "No one told me that girls can't do this."
Ford was just another restless teenager getting into fistfights in the JC Penney parking lot in Long Beach, Calif., when she found the next shiny penny on her way to the rock and roll wishing well: a phone call from Kim Fowley, the controversial producer-songwriter.
Fowley was searching for attractive girls who could play instruments for what he called "an all-girl teenage band of rebellious jailbait rock-and-roll bitches." A few Deep Purple tunes at an audition later, and Ford was signed up for the ride of her young life.
The Runaways have been broken up since 1979, but the behind-the-scenes stories about the band are still increasingly distressing. Last summer, former Runaways bassist Jackie Fuchs (stage name Jackie Fox) gave a startling interview alleging Fowley raped her at a party while she was unconscious. (Fowley died last year.) Readers looking for more insight into Fox's alleged assault won't find it here. Ford has said she wasn't at the party and knew nothing about the attack, and doesn't address it in the book. In fact, her time in The Runaways - from audition to dissolution - take up only a few chapters of the memoir, which frames the band as springboard for Ford's solo career. Fair enough, considering she was only 20 years old when they split.
The book takes off when Ford's solo career does. Many of Ford's delightfully detailed misadventures are of the classic rock and roll variety involving copious amounts of alcohol, drugs, and casual sex. Ford's confident and casual tone lacks the self-consciousness that sabotages lesser rock memoirs. It's boring when memoirists try too hard either to live up to a cliché rock-and-roll reputation or to atone for their sins after cleaning up.
Ford doesn't suffer from such pretensions. She tells plenty of colorful '80s rocker stories. She is invited to tour the kitchen of a fancy Japanese restaurant but instead of giving her a sushi demonstration, the chefs dump a giant sack of cocaine on a cutting board. Ford is unexpectedly funny. An anecdote that involves a life-size replica of Koko the gorilla and Ozzy Osbourne had me laughing out loud.
This isn't a girl-power book. Ford doesn't dwell on the challenges she faced as a woman in rock, but she's frank about what she had to put up with: "Some bands didn't want to be blown away by a girl, so they would try to screw me up any way they could." They pull tubes out of her amp, mess with her monitor settings, and try to throw beer cans at her on stage. She responds by being prepared. She tapes notes with her settings to the monitor, and keeps lights low so she can dodge objects while playing.
After a long run of success including the 1988 hit song "Kiss Me Deadly," Ford's career and life start to unravel, and the writing does, too. In short, she marries a guy she just met, has kids, and moves to a remote island, where she lived off the grid for years. Divorced now, Ford informs the reader via an author's note that she left painful details about her marriage out of the book for the sake of her children, who, she says, are being kept from her. (She has since become an advocate against what she calls parental alienation.)
It's a bummer note in an otherwise freewheeling rock memoir, but that's what she chose when she said yes to The Runaways all those years earlier: life on the grid, plugged in, where everything happens.