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The Runaways' Sad Song

Bassist's new documentary captures the dark side of riot girls

July 29, 2004 12:00 AM ET
When Vicki Blue first edited Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways, the bassist turned writer/producer had pieced together a mostly sunny look back at the band. But when the licensing rights for the Runaways' music were denied, she went back to the drawing board, dug deeper and the film got darker.

"I had to sit there and really stare at this footage and the moments in between the beats with these girls and pull out a different story. What I learned -- and to this day it blows my mind that I was there -- is there's such a level of damage. We all are damaged from our stints in the Runaways. There was a lot of abuse that happened in the band, and I don't mean like, 'Oh we're poor babies and we didn't get a record deal. Waah!' There's some real serious psychological damage that happened to us and it played out in our adult lives. That became the new story."

Formed in 1975, the Runaways were the brainchild of Los Angeles scenester-svengali Kim Fowley. The youth and sex appeal of the teenage girls figured heavily into the marketing of the group, a fact that didn't bother Blue when she joined the Runaways in 1977, but one that became increasingly troubling down the line.

"We were marketed as teenage jailbait," Blue says. "At the time I thought I was fully cognizant. I thought, 'I'm aware that they're marketing me as a piece of meat and it doesn't really matter because I'm going to be a rock star and I have a good head on my shoulders.' Maybe I fared better than some of the other girls, who for some reason didn't have the same mental make-up I did and are still out there trying to be rock stars. They're still out there trying to achieve that glory, and it's sad. It's a really sad film."

Procuring an interview with Fowley proved to be a challenge, with the producer first asking for $10,000, then $5,000, then $1,000, and finally agreeing to do it for free, if he could sing his answers to questions with a guitar player accompanying him.

"I shoot Kim, I get incredible footage," says Blue. "And then we're talking about licensing and he goes, 'Well, you know you owe me a publishing deal. You have to license those answers from me. Those are songs.' He wanted me to pay him royalties on every answer because every answer was a different song. It sent me over the edge. I thought, 'Oh my God, he's done it to me again.'

"We laugh about it now because we talk," Blue continued. "We're OK with each other, but at the time I thought I was going to blow his head off. That's Kim Fowley for you. Ultimately I had to license some footage from VH1. They were shooting him for another show so I sent the producer some questions to ask Kim, and that's how we got our footage. When he commented on that, I told him I learned from the master. And, of course, he had to laugh."

Of the original Runaways only Joan Jett declined to be interviewed for the documentary, and her no vote on licensing the music forced Blue to turn to former bandmate Lita Ford and Runaways friend Suzi Quatro, who helped furnish some of the band's recordings and unreleased music, which will compose the August 24th release, Music From and Which Inspired Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways.

Blue was encouraged to make the film by director Rob Reiner, who she first met during the making of This Is Spinal Tap, which he directed and she appeared in. Reiner allowed Blue to trade on his name in an effort to help secure equipment and offered an extended opinion upon the film's completion.

"I was mesmerized by Blue's wonderfully raw look at what a group of young teenaged girls went through in the late 1970s," Reiner said. "It is a real and unvarnished account of a truly dysfunctional band."

Edgeplay will close out the Don't Knock the Rock Film and Music Festival in Los Angeles on August 15th, and Blue hopes to have the movie available on DVD this fall.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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