By now, your social media feed will will have shown you a link from the Huffington Post’s new long-form site Highline to the story about former Runaways bassist Jackie Fuchs/Fox being discovered, groomed, and ultimately drugged and raped by the band’s producer/Svengali Kim Fowley in front of a motel roomful of onlookers—allegedly including Fuchs’s bandmates Cherie Currie and Joan Jett—on New Year’s Eve of 1975. Fuchs was 16 years old. Fowley was 36. Click that link. The 6,000-word article, written by former Washington City Paper crime reporter Jason Cherkis, is lurid, graphic, melodramatic, infuriating, and unbearably compelling. Whether or not you care about the Runaways, you should go read it. It’s long, but you won’t notice till it’s over. The following excerpt gives a good indication of how brutal the whole piece is:
Fowley invited other guys to have sex with Jackie before removing his own pants and climbing on top of her. “Kim’s fucking someone!” a voice shouted from the door of the motel room to the partygoers outside, calling them in to watch. Arguelles returned to the room to see if this was all a big joke.
On the bed, Fowley played to the crowd, gnashing his teeth and growling like a dog as he raped Jackie. He got up at one point to strut around the room before returning to Jackie’s body.
“I remember opening my eyes, Kim Fowley was raping me, and there were people watching me,” Jackie says. She looked out from the bed and noticed Currie and Jett staring at her. She says this was her last memory of the night. Jett, through a representative, denied witnessing the event as it has been described here. Her representative referred all further questions to Jackie “as it’s a matter involving her and she can speak for herself.”
Though the story is shocking, the worst thing about it is that it isn’t surprising. The Runaways’ iconography was all about their jailbait sexuality, and Fowley’s persona was all about fucking any girl he could get his hands on, the younger the better. And yet the idea that somehow he never interfered with this band of teenage girls that he recruited, produced, styled, controlled, and profited from has persisted for decades—abetted by the official accounts of the women themselves, several books, a sanitized feature film, and, more broadly, the agonizing process by which monstrous acts are subsumed by a collective will not to disrupt the romance we still attach to rock ’n’ roll’s hedonistic glory days.
The desire not to examine the past too closely is powerful, but so is the yearning for acknowledgement felt by people who have suffered. This has led to an excruciating, seemingly irreconcilable cul-de-sac of discourse on social media about famous men accused of monstrous acts. The most obvious recent example is Bill Cosby. Fuchs, who has never before told her story publicly (though rumors of it have circulated for years), says she was moved to come forward last fall when one woman after another began to come forward with stories of being drugged and raped by Cosby. Fuchs’s circumstances were slightly different, but the effects of the decades of shame and anguish she felt were not.
Kim Fowley was nowhere near as famous or beloved as Bill Cosby, and their public faces could hardly have been less similar. While Cosby cloaked himself as a wholesome, and later self-righteously upright, entertainer, Fowley flaunted his lasciviousness. He made the threat of sexual violence a primary component of his persona. And he was richly rewarded for it by the commercial and journalistic machinery that rewards rock ’n’ roll stars for being outlaws. Though the Cosby-as-rapist revelations surely send a deeper jolt into the American psyche (and though it certainly isn’t a contest), the news about Fowley feels worse—at least today, anyway—because it barely counts as news.
Though he always denied ever having abused the Runaways, he typically did so with knowing euphemism (“in my mind, I didn't make love to anybody in the Runaways”) that left the door wide open; the wink lay in legally credible, blatantly implausible phrases like “in my mind” and “make love.” Because of the way things are in the world, he got credit for being clever enough to reap the benefit of the doubt. Not for nothing was his 2013 autobiography entitled Lord of Garbage. As portrayed in the brilliant rock journalist Evelyn McDonnell’s book Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways, Kim Fowley was a guy who always knew exactly what he was getting away with.
When Fowley died in January, he was mostly celebrated as an American original whose darker tendencies were generally subsumed by his undeniable creative energy and charismatic eccentricity. (McDonnell’s obit was a bit more circumspect.) This is because he made a lot of great records, and because he was a remarkably colorful character, and because human lives are complex. But it’s really way more because he never got caught. Reading Fuchs’s story makes it—or should make it—impossible to ever again consider Fowley’s legacy without also considering its human cost. Something that is rarely remembered about showbiz hustlers: The people they fuck over on their ceaseless quest for glory have to keep on living.
(A personal note: It’s very difficult to avoid sounding sanctimonious when writing about crimes that stir a legitimate sense of moral outrage. But I also don’t want to deny the power of Fowley’s appeal as an enigma. The likelihood that he had made victims of many young girls was a cloud that loomed behind the silver lining of the fascinating rock ’n’ roll story [and records] he represented. One of the damaging aspects of lifelong immersion in art and culture is how easy it has always been to ignore the reality that belies the legend. Though I didn’t know Fuchs’s story on the two occasions when I met Fowley—at the Troubadour in LA in 1999 and at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010—I certainly knew he was a legendary sleaze. I would like to be the kind of person who refuses to shake the hand of the kind of person Fowley never made any bones about being, but I must confess: I was mildly starstruck and totally charmed by him, not to mention flattered that he knew and remembered who I was.)
One of the great moments in the past 20 years of American cultural life came when Jerry Falwell died on May 15, 2007. Another came that same day when Anderson Cooper lobbed Christopher Hitchens the fattest, slowest softball question of either man’s career: “I’m not sure if you believe in heaven, but if you do, do you think Jerry Falwell is in it?”
“No,” Hitchens replied, “and I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.”
Burn on, Kim Fowley.