My ex told me to check out the trailer for the new movie, The Runaways.
"What is this Little Debbie BULLSHIT?" I said. "This is a disgrace."
Director Floria Sigismondi's "pretty-in-glam" Runaways promo wasn't the underground punk scene I remember from Los Angeles in the 1970's.
Want a picture? I was 18 in Long Beach in 1977, and my hippie girlfriend— who once looked like Joan Baez— cut off all her hair one day, made a minidress out of a Hefty bag, and started shredding on a bass guitar she pulled out of a pawn shop. She wrote "Suck My Cock" on it with a black Sharpie.
Joan Jett, one of The Runaways' founders, is an executive producer on the new Sigismondi film. I fondly remember Joan coming to see me in NYC, in 1997, to get her copy of Nothing But the Girl autographed— which, among other things, is the heaviest punk dyke erotic photography portfolio ever published. That meant a lot.
I decided to give the movie a second chance. Maybe the trailer was sanitized so as not to frighten Mom and Dad— or worse yet, conservative American teenagers.
I just got back from a matinee this afternoon. I think I was the only 52-year-old woman there who once wore pistachio suede hot pants and razor blades hanging from my nipples, strutting down Sunset Strip, hanging like a monkey from the dripping water pipes in the Pussycat Theater basement, pulling other girls' heads out of toilets who were throwing up all the pills they'd swallowed because some punk girl had fisted them and broken their heart.
Let me make something clear that the movie only hints at: The Runaways band would not have happened, could not have been conceived, without the Underground Dyke Punk Groupie Slut culture that stretched from the San Fernando Valley to the bowels of Orange County.
What is wrong with saying that? Do dykes never get to claim anything? Is the historical lens going to stay coated with Vaseline and excuses FOREVER?
I'll tell you why dyke rock'n'roll legacy is important. Because in order to stand up to the shitheads who tried to keep young women out of EVERYTHING, you had to NOT GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THEIR SEXUAL APPROVAL.
You had to NOT want to get married and have babies with a nice boy. You had to be FINISHED with "virtue."
We did not care if the guys called us "sluts" and accused us of "wishing you had a dick." We were beyond wishing; we did whatever we wanted.
A lesbian in the '70s was thought of as someone involved in mainstream feminist politics or the folky Back-to-the-Land milieu. Most girls I knew in the punk scene couldn't relate to that, or thought of it as their mother's trip. We were urban, we were not into politics as usual. Everyone called themselves "bi," although that was really code for: don't tell me what to do.
The mainline feminists didn't know we existed, and were horrified if they came anywhere near us. The old-gay bar dykes thought we were nothing but jail-bait drama queens, which was pretty close to the truth. After all, we were very young, very high, and doing everything for the first time, as fast as possible. It was LOUD. REALLY LOUD. Sexual freedom was an absolute.
Joan Jett, the guitarist/songwriter, and the Runaways' late drummer, Sandy West, were what would now be described as two butch brothers looking to start a band. The three other girls they recruited— Lita, Jackie, Cherie— were all tough bisexual femmes.
But "tough" has its limits when you're sixteen and exploited by the likes of a Svengali like Kim Fowley. One is unlikely to emerge in good health. The most accurate piece of The Runaways movie is the part that shows how they were starved and tricked like junkyard dogs.
The mosh pit and the queer liberation scene were an organic ecstatic teenage wasteland, true compost, but no one knew how it was supposed to come together.
Some of my punk friends were apolitical-- No Future. I took to wearing a "Commie Pinko Dyke" button on my t-shirt along with the safety pins. Girl groups like The Runaways were totally closeted in the press, marketed as masturbation fodder for dirty old men. They were "sell-outs" cause they got a record deal. Ha! They suffered more for it.
My girlfriend, "Melody," packed up her Slits records and moved to San Francisco— "you're a bourgeois loser," were her last words to me. I was living in her apartment, but my new boyfriend accidentally burned the whole place down when he left dirty laundry on the heat register. All my clothes, books, and records turned to black bits on a charred lawn. The same afternoon, our neighbor, Tina Chavez, took a handful of Tuinals because she said she couldn't live without Lita Ford— and her ancient fag roommate was so toasted on poppers he couldn't dial 911.
I didn't want to go the Elks Club downtown anymore and deal with the boy and police riots. I drove up from Long Beach to Crenshaw/Slauson to see Bitsy Gomez, who usually had a butch-girl-trucker solution to everything.
She listened to my whole sad tale, took me up on her roof and said, "Let's light up and shoot my guns."
One year later...
I put on my studded dog collar, (exactly like the one Kristen Stewart wears in the movie), and went to a very serious political gay and lesbian convention convened to fight the burgeoning "Moral Majority." Anita Bryant was the Pre-Sarah Palin.
The Democratic Party lesbians took one look at my lipstick and leather and flipped out. "You are a slut! You are an operative of pimps and pornographers! The S/M white slavers are controlling you!"
Does anyone wonder what happened to ignite the feminist sex wars and the queer erotic explosion of the Eighties?
Now you know why it all had to blow up.
Let's listen to a little dyke punk anthem, shall we? Gives me goose-bumps every time:
Yeah, my, my such a sweet thing
I wanna do everything
What a beautiful feeling
Crimson and clover over and over
Crimson and clover
OVER and OVER
Crimson and clover
OVER and OVER
Crimson and clover
OVER and OVER
Music: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, a MUST.
Photo Credit: Top -- This is Jill Posener's classic photo she took for On Our Backs in the 80s, which we later published in our book, Nothing But the Girl. I have no visual record of my scandalous behavior in the 70s L.A. girl gang punk scene, but this scene comes the closest.
Bottom: The real Runaways in action, like I remember them. I told you so!