Living Like a Runaway
published: 9 /
In her ‘Raging Pages’ book column Lisa Torem reflects upon ex-Runaways’ guitarist Lita Ford’s 2016 autobiography, ‘Living Like a Runaway’.
In the foreword to ‘Living Like a Runaway’, the former Twisted Sister member Dee Snider recalls his first honest listen to the all-female band The Runaways. Although Snider was at first dismissive about the group, he got excited when “a driving, chugging guitar came blaring out of my speakers”. Twisted Sister and the Runaways were touring mates, and Snider came away with a clear comprehension of the metal queens’ talents.
Ford moved on from being the Runaways’ lead guitarist to forge a career as a groundbreaking player who would far exceed what pop society expected from a female instrumentalist during her time. In fact, as Snider bluntly says: “Let’s face it, up to that point, with rare exception, a “female rocker” was pretty much viewed as an oxymoron.”
To rise above these low expectations - and markedly sexist assumptions - Ford had to assume an aggressive stance. That defiance as well as her myopic vision is revealed, and then rekindled, in each chapter. At ten, she thumbed her nose at the nylon-stringed acoustic guitar her mother bought, and she also disparaged her conventional music teacher, deciding to teach herself.
Ford seemed to thrive on danger. Although she had a choice of where to complete her secondary education, she settled in on the more dangerous option, describing her high school as “more a prison yard than a high school”. But as fate would have it this is where she met three young men who encouraged her musicianship.
“Police helicopters were starting to circle,” she recalled about her unorthodox “sweet sixteen” party which ultimately attracted a raucous crowd, causing her card-playing relatives to shout above the noise. This was an early sign that showed how much Ford enjoyed bucking convention.
Fast forward to a promising call from braggart Kim Foley, who got Ford situated with two other teens: drummer Sandy Pesavento (later West) and rhythm guitarist Joan Jett. Ford and Pesavento relished hard rock riffs and bonded immediately. With Jett, well, not so much: “Joan liked more glitter-rock stuff.”
But there was more scouting to do. Foley’s search to find “a blond Mick Jagger” came in the form of singer Cherry Curie. Finally, bassist Jackie Fuchs came aboard and the Runaways were ready to be signed by Mercury Records.
Their international touring days brought out weird behavior in their male fans: “The guys were going nuts, turning over cars, throwing knives and condoms on stage”. But behind the scenes, there was plenty of in-fighting. Ford frequently got upset with Cherie, whom she accused of blowing off interviews, leaving Lita and company with too much on their plates.
Ford ultimately embarked upon a solo career and became a mother, but that latter part of her life, despite her devotion to her sons, was wracked with dramatic custody battles which left her misunderstood and emotionally depleted.
The book includes a beautiful section of glossy black and white and color photos, which draw together stellar moments of Ford’s personal and professional life. The photo section also serves as a welcoming respite, as this fast-paced book rarely slows down.
‘Living Like a Runaway’ is a steroidal read which holds no prisoners. ‘Raging Pages’ thinks every metal-fan’s nightstand should hold Lita Ford’s lickety-split read.
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