Everybody who’s anybody in Los Angeles has at least one Kim Fowley story, and I’ve got a million of them. Here is the first of my three most memorable. (Art by Elana Pritchard.)
Number 1: “Did you RAPE her?”
About half a dozen years ago, I was on this real strong hating rape tip—a tip I’m still on, and I think everyone should be. I mean, I hate all rape, even the kinds our culture regularly makes fun of for no good reason, like prison rape. “Oops, dropped the soap!” Ha ha. Fuck you, you rape sympathizing asshole.
Confession time: this isn’t just a hypothetical for me. When I was in my late teens, I was sexually assaulted, or, you know, technically raped, by an older guy. Despite what some might say about there not being degrees of rape, I would consider it a light rape—he just fed me full of free drugs until I didn’t know what the hell was going on, and then fucked me, when I had specifically gone over to his place adamant that I didn’t want to touch the guy.
It was only once, but it screwed me up for life. I became a crystal meth addict for about five years of my life, and to this day I still don’t know if I’m straight, or bi, or if I’m scared of sex with men because of what he did, or if I should be straight but am seeking out sex with men as an attempt to burn that trauma out of my system, or what the fuck is going on. (But don’t cry for me, Argentina–I am having a very good time figuring it out!)
And I was an adult, and male—I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a minor, or to be a woman, and have that experience in a culture that celebrates rape and trivializes it and blames the victim for wearing low-cut blouses and too much rouge.
But anyway, regardless of that one time, I am definitely bat shit crazy. And one night, about a half dozen years ago, during my usual “find any excuse at all to stay up all night and be exhausted in the morning and possibly get fired” rages, I finally got around to watching Edgeplay, the movie about the Runaways. It’s a total dish-all, no rumor left un-festered romp through the lives of the then-young women who made up the membership of the Runaways, L.A.’s first semi-punk band and a pioneering all-female band that still influences people today, especially 50 year old dudes in Japan.
Kim Fowley, if you don’t know who that is, was their manager. More than anything, that’s the reason why us hipsters—and yes, WE are the fucking hipsters, not some anonymous “them” out there listening to Mumford and Sons—that’s why we even know who he is. And in that film, Edgeplay, the story of the Runaways, there’s a part where some of the Runaways strongly insinuate that Kim Fowley had sex with them while they were minors.
This really fucking bugged me. It bothered me. It TORTURED me, because Kim Fowley was a pop-cultural icon that I really wanted to respect.
I knew that Kim Fowley was gross, and probably a perv, and had been emotionally abusive even with people I kind of know, e.g. his former assistant. But sex with a minor … that’s rape, right? A minor can’t consent. Legally, that’s certainly rape, and ethically… well, these girls might have been as young as 13. That’s beyond rape. That’s child abuse.
And then one night around 2010 I found myself at the L.A. RECORD Christmas party at Bedrock Studios in Echo Park. It was huge, and full of everything: bands and DJs and pinball machines and a creepy Santa Claus with up to 7 hot girls on his lap all night. I myself was full of ecstasy and little bit of mushrooms and maybe some cocaine and a heaping helping of free alcohol. I was lit up like a Christmas tree, wandering around all the various sound-proofed rooms.
And in one room was a little Burger Records pop-up. Sean Burger (if you don’t know who that is, just check any recent Spin Magazine or L.A. Weekly or the NY Times) was sitting there behind crates and crates of old records, chillin’ like a rock star and letting drunk people blow a small fortune on old copies of Johnny Thunders and Parliament/Funkadelic records.
After I was four sheets to the wind, I found myself becoming one of those people, thumbing through the records, regaling Sean over and over again about the production credits of each one, and the ones I liked, and the ones I hated, pausing every 30 seconds or so to pull out a goodie and say, so everyone could hear, “AHA! I HAVE this one!”
And then I came to the Cherie Currie solo record. Actually, it’s not her, but her and her sister, but it was repackaged all weird and had her in red leather on the cover looking all young and hot. And I paused for a minute, and I held up the album to Sean there, and I said, “I think Kim Fowley raped her. I think Kim Fowley fucking RAPED her.”
And Sean, who is a classic stoner and therefore far more relatively sober than I will ever be, calmly replied, “Well, why don’t you ask him? He’s right there.”
And I turned around, and right there in the hallway, right behind me, was fucking Kim Fowley. He was talking to some young girl, who seemed really impressed with him, and maybe a little charmed, and that made me all the more suspicious and enraged.
And so I took the Cherie Currie album and walked right out the door, right up to Kim Fowley, and I pushed it in his face, interrupting his conversation, and I said, point blank, “Did you RAPE her?”
His response was instantaneous, and unemotional. “I never touched her. Anyway…”
And he went right back on with his conversation with the young lady! I didn’t know what to do. I was deflated.
And the thing was… I instantly believed him. Kim Fowley is many things: a braggart, a hustler, a meanie. But he’s not known for being too dishonest about his proclivities. I don’t really know the man’s soul, but I think if he had done something sexual with the Runaways, he might not have called it “rape” … but he wouldn’t have passed up a chance to say something creepy and self-aggrandizing. Whatever he called it, he would have admitted something.
And it got me thinking, “Am I just wrong about this anyway?” I mean, I hate to say it, but all my rock and roll heroes, e.g. David Bowie, e.g. Angie Bowie, e.g. Chuck Berry, e.g. Mark Lindsay, e.g. every 60s band-member you can think of, even Allen Ginsberg, had probably ridiculous amounts of sex with very young groupies, and I doubt they asked for ID first.
And on the other hand, some of my favorite authors and rock celebrities were underage groupies, people like Cynthia Plaster Caster and Suzy Shaw and Pamela Des Barres and Cameron Crowe, who (aside from Cameron) spent their entire post-adolescences seeking out sex with older men and don’t seem to feel the slightest regret, or need to apologize, for acting on what their classmates could only fantasize about. Would I be demeaning them by saying their fond recollections, their trophies, their seemingly very enthusiastic choices, don’t count? It would have been perfectly legal if they had just married their conquests first, or got legalized permission from mom and dad (e.g. Pele Massa and Ted Nugent). And if I don’t think marriage is needed to legitimize love, why would the lack of marriage de-legitimize teen lust, the kind I would have totally wanted to expend on David Bowie if he’d just visited me my teens (especially in his Labyrinth outfit)?
Yet was I a creeper for even having these thoughts? Were these the same apologetics that we’ve been hearing in regards to Roman Polanski, and Jimmy Page, and Tupac Shakur, and Julian Assange, simply because people liked their work?
Well, after years and years of just talking about it to people at bars, I finally did some thorough research on the Kim Fowley story that had so upset me. And it turns out Kim Fowley did NOT have sex with the Runaways…
But this one time, he did have them all sit in a room together while he had sex with an adult woman in FRONT of them, to show them “how to fuck.” And that is really, really, really, really fucked up. And despite the fact that Joan Jett stayed his life-long friend, and that Cherie Currie let him move in with her during his dying days, and despite the fact that as a teenager, I would have loved to see a live sex show, exposing minors to a sexual act is child abuse, right? There’s just no getting around that. They may have forgiven him, later, and he may have eventually recanted how he treated the Runaways. But there is no excuse for child abuse. Some of the Runaways ended up having real problems later in life, and I’m sure that having the man who was basically their guardian have sex in front of them did NOT help with that.
But I dunno. This all happened in the decadent 70s, which does not excuse it, but does explain it. There are monsters far worse from that era who’ve been roaming around in Thailand and neutral portions of Europe. And the Runaways DID forgive Kim Fowley. And he did apologize. And maybe, in a world where we still make a mockery of the rape and torture of young men in prison, a crime we all know about and do NOTHING to stop even as we laugh at the victims, maybe I can let an old man who just died of bladder cancer off the hook for this horrible, horrible thing he did.
It’s not because he’s famous, or that I like his music, or that I kind of knew him, or that his crimes were so long ago. It’s that, ethically, I think, I THINK, it’s the right thing to do. But I think I’ll be figuring this out for many years to come.
-D. M. Collins