By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
If any one figure in early punk embodied the healthy Valley Girl gone very bad, it would have to be Cherie Currie, the lingerie-clad, platinum-blond jailbaitery who fronted the legendary Runaways. So it’s oddly fitting that Currie’s current occupation is chain-saw artist. With Makita in hand — or maybe an Ekko — Currie can reduce a piece of redwood, pine, palm, elm or cedar into a carefully carved work of art, generally at the rate of about two a day when she’s really cranking.
Still, there’s some serious cognitive dissonance when one first meets the former teenage “Cherry Bomb” snarler and encounters the amiable Chatsworth soccer mom who appears at the door. Inside her Southwestern-style home, her work abounds — from the colorful relief images that adorn her walls (the “relief carvings,” as she calls them, are one-dimensional and done with a dremel tool, a kind of rotating blade with different bits) to the completed and in-progress pieces of full-on chain-saw art, which are generally wooden animals and, more specifically, cute renditions of bears.
“Most of my clientele commissions the bears because they’re very cute,” she says. “They can sell for $250 and up — I’m busy all year with them.”
Carefully goggled and gloved, she strips the bark off a log via chisel and then commences to chain-saw and talk about her art.
“Haven’t killed myself yet with the saws,” she says. “But I have been winged by flying pieces of wood that hit you at 150 mph.”
Luckily, Currie is in excellent shape, possibly as a result of her mid-’80s, post-Runaways career as a personal fitness trainer. In fact, after a couple of hours talking with her, it becomes clear that there’s little she hasn’t done. After she parted company with the Runaways (“We hated each other. The abuse was unreal because I was the singer and always getting photographed. The others were jealous”), she acted in many movies, including Foxesand a turn in ThisIsSpinalTapas the source of that cursed band’s herpes outbreak.
“That scene was on the cutting-room floor,” she says, “but made it to DVD.”
She came upon her new career as a craftswoman, artist and entrepreneur completely by chance. “I was driving over Kanan Dume Road one day and saw these dudes doing chain-saw carving by the side, and I knew I had to get into it. I started interning at the place, the Malibu Mountain Gallery, and before I knew it, I was doing it.”
It wasn’t all that different from her start with the Runaways. “I dropped out of high school to go on the road, and they promised they’d help with my education,” she says. “Of course, the education I got was nothing like the one you usually get.”
For now, her future as carver is bright. She even got a spot recently on the Discovery Channel’s MonsterGarage.In her episode, called “The Logsplitter,” she says, “I got to chain-saw carve next to the legendary Bob King, who’s the best carver out there.”
Currie’s present dilemma is that she can’t do much carving at home because of the noise and wood-chip refuse — all these years later, she’s still the queen of noise — but the West Valley real estate boom has made a move to a workshop or storefront difficult. No matter, she loves her work.
“I was told when I started that all you had to do was visualize something in the wood and do it,” she says. “If you can’t do that, you can’t carve.”
As for the inevitable question of a Runaways reunion — she and Joan Jett did “Cherry Bomb” onstage in Anaheim about three years ago — it is unlikely to ever happen.
“Lita Ford is the main reason,” she says, sadly. “Seven years ago, she set up this reunion thing and we had to talk Joan into it and that was hard, but Joanie finally said she would do it. A tour, a record deal, everything in the works was a go, until Lita heard Joan’s voice on the conference call and then freaked out.”
Apparently, Ford didn’t sense enough enthusiasm from the band’s most famous alum.
“Lita basically says, ‘Hey, if you don’t wanna do double backflips over this, I won’t do it.’ Joan [told her] that she was just off the plane from Hong Kong and was a little tired, but that wasn’t good enough for Lita. Lita goes, ‘I’m a household name, I don’t need this,’ and that was that. She did it again four years ago when we were offered $3 million for a 40-date tour. I think it was a setup from her to kind of string us along and drop it, because she’s still angry.”
Currie isn’t, which is a good thing — she’s got a chain saw and she knows how to use it.
Nazi Mah and Colin Walkden, Mah’s London-born boyfriend, are the kind of couple you might expect to see at the Sunday Farmers’ Market in south Santa Monica. They live on raw food, quote Jello Biafra and drive a car plastered with lefty slogans. The Sunday market has been their shopping ritual for years.
Tawni Angel, 24, is also a regular at the Sunday market. Since 2001, she’s brought in six to eight miniature Shetland horses from her ranch in Moorpark and gives pony rides to the many kids who inevitably get restless tagging along while their parents look at fruits and vegetables.
For a long time, Mah and Walkden took no notice of Angel and her Tawni’s Ponies concession; like the cooked-food vendors, musicians and usual petition gatherers, the ponies were just part of the market’s festival atmosphere.
But last fall, the two started watching the ponies, animals they consider to be “our brothers and sisters,” not servants to man. In an era of spectator malaise, when so many shrug and accept stolen elections and illegal wars while consuming organic tangelos, Mah and Walkden like to think of themselves as the kind of people who fight for their convictions. By November, they decided to fight for the ponies.
They made signs, wrote up petitions and began distributing leaflets every week to the customers of Tawni’s Ponies. Over the last five months, they’ve collected close to 1,000 signatures, which they plan to thrust upon the Santa Monica City Council. But one of their key tactics has been to taunt Tawni Angel.
“Slave owner!” shouted Mah one drizzly February morning as her eyes narrowed on Angel. Even in her baseball cap topped with a stuffed toy horse, Mah, 32, looked fierce.
Other protesters, who along with Mah descended on the market holding signs decrying the evils of pony servitude, chanted and gesticulated toward the parents around the corral, incensed that a miniature horse breed should be shackled for the entertainment of their giddy preschoolers.
“That one’s pregnant!” screamed Walkden.
Angel, used to all kinds of accusations from the protesters, rolled her eyes. “He’s a male,” she said. The parents laughed.
Walkden admits their cause seems frivolous, but says, “Early life lessons lay the foundation for how we live. If there’s any chance for us to live in harmony with our fellow beings, it has to begin with the children, and if one of their first experiences is riding a pony, then they will always remember that animals are here for our use.”
The irony is that Angel considers herself an animal lover too. She originally rented her ranch so she could live and work among horses. What’s more, she says that her ponies work just six hours a week. The rest of the time they roam free on 10 acres. Recently, hurt by the protesters’ accusations, Angel created an informational poster to educate customers about her facility and how she treats her animals.
But Mah and Walkden are unmoved, and some weeks the protests get particularly tense. One Sunday, dozens of protesters shouted, “Shame on you, JJ!” at a mounted, bewildered preschooler, and there have been accusations of assault on both sides. Walkden was even jailed overnight in early January for protesting the market. He insists he won’t stop until the ponies are free.
Last Sunday was calm, with gorgeous weather and a packed market. Mah and Walkden marched alone, gathering signatures and distributing leaflets. One warned of the E. coli risk inherent in pony poop.
Angel said that the claim smacks of desperation: “They’re just plagiarizing the news.”
Although the two sides have grown grudgingly accustomed to one another, Angel is weary, and the protests have affected her business. “Look. There’s no line,” she said, pointing toward the corral. “For the last four years, it was 45 minutes long.” Angel estimates that she loses $600 a week because of the protests but does not plan on quitting. “There are kids who come to see and ride their favorite ponies, and I won’t disappoint them.” With a deep breath she nodded toward her adversaries and said defiantly, “They’ll give up or cross the line and eventually get arrested or banned. I’m not going anywhere.”
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