In the aftermath of the Huffington Post’s story about former Runaways bassist Jackie Fuchs (Jackie Fox) being drugged and raped by Kim Fowley, those of us who knew the man have been grappling with a mess of emotions, mostly a mix of disgust and doubt. By doubt, I don’t mean that we disbelieve Jackie’s story. Yes, I have a few mutual friends who are standing behind Fowley, fervently disputing the accuracy of Fuchs' story and asking the big question: Why now, 40 years after the event in question? Fowley’s widow even messaged me on Facebook and warned me not to believe everything I read. (She declined further comment on the record.)
For most of us who knew Fowley, though, the doubt is not with Fuchs but with ourselves. Were many of us who knew him in later years, like The Runaways in the 1970s, blinded by his ominous, flamboyant presence — and even more so, by the attention the infamous Svengali gave us? Is this why we didn’t dig deeper when we heard the rumors about him?
To be clear, I didn’t know specifically about Fuchs’ rape, but there was a questionable incident involving a drugged-out “groupie,” recounted in Cherie Currie’s book, Neon Angel, and Evelyn McDonnell’s bio Queens of Noise. And everyone knew of Fowley’s reputation, especially in the quaalude-rampant early years of the band. But he was always an unapologetic freak who seemingly never censored himself. His brutal blather came off honest, to a fault. A lot of us believed him when he said he never had sexual contact with any of The Runaways. I believed him.
My first encounter with Fowley was for an interview about fill-in Runaways bass player Victory Tischler-Blue's documentary Edgeplay for the L.A. Times, which, along with the Rodney Bingenheimer doc Mayor of the Sunset Strip, was among the first sources to publicly claim Fowley’s impropriety with the young band. I recounted our three-hour conversation and the casual friendship that followed for Yahoo after he died. It was that conversation that made me give him the benefit of the doubt.
The incident described in Tischler-Blue's film — which was a bit different from Fuchs’ current story — happened in a hotel room with a bunch of very intoxicated people. Personalizing what I heard, as I think we all do, I attempted to recall fuzzy memories of similarly debauched parties I'd been at in the '80s, where illicit things were going on and I was too blitzed to know what was what. It seemed everyone’s memories of that night varied, even in the film itself, so when Kim said his piece, it made sense. His key quote:
"Both of those movies [Edgeplay and Mayor of the Sunset Strip] cover a fragment of 20th-century pop music culture from a Southern California perspective with the usual heated memories, and people insisting that their point of view is accurate. Just because somebody rolls a camera and somebody says, 'Oh, this is how it was.' That was their interpretation at the time. The people who go to movies ultimately need to be entertained, and every movie needs a hero and villain."
Kim was always OK with being the villain — and, in retrospect, maybe there was a reason for that. As a journalist, I’ve encountered countless characters over the years, many complex personalities, many straight-up weirdos. This is rock & roll. You hear things “on the scene.” What I’ve tried to do, in walking the fine line between developing relationships with people and reporting on their endeavors, is to judge each individual for myself, no matter what I’ve heard about them.
What I’ve been called out for both directly and indirectly this week is my naïveté in this regard. A few colleagues and some seething Facebook commenters think Fowley's controlling persona and penchant for younger gals never should have been glorified in the first place. Some have gone so far as to say that those of us who were friendly with Kim, or ever wrote about him, are just as much to blame because we contributed to the mystique.
I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching about this. I realize I'm often getting the edited-for-media-version when I meet someone, and though I’ve always known that, I thought I was savvy enough to see through phoniness, even coming from a master manipulator like Kim. We weren’t super close, but I will admit I liked him, and though he could bloviate on and on about his illustrious past and the grand future of rock & roll and his place in it, for me it didn’t ring as bullshit. He was astoundingly smart and charismatic when he wanted to be, and he had the track record to back it up.
Plus, despite some sexual innuendo here and there, he was always respectful toward me. I also witnessed him with various females over the years via his film and music project Black Room Doom, and he seemed to treat all of these women (young and not so young) respectfully, in front of me at least. Most of these ladies were at his funeral, and they talked to me about how thankful they were to have known him and had his encouragement. Sharing this doesn't make me a sycophant or a non-supporter of Jackie Fuchs or Kari Krome. It's just simple fact. Evil isn't always cut-and-dried.
Last week, I read self-righteous post after self-righteous post about how Fowley should burn in hell. And how “I always knew he was a monster.” Some of the people writing these posts were the same ones who wished him “R.I.P.” on their social media when he died and whom I even saw at his funeral.
The swift and ugly turn of the tide on Facebook, which filled pretty much every L.A. music lover’s feed with hatred, was almost as disturbing to me as the Huffington Post story itself. It was and still is a pitchfork-mob mentality that went beyond Kim and came to include Joan Jett and Cherie Currie for being there and not speaking up, McDonnell for being a Fowley “apologist” in her book (she wasn’t) and writers like myself who eulogized him.
Understandably, there’s a lot of anger toward Fowley from those who didn’t know him and, of course, those who never liked him. I feel anger as well. What he did to Fuchs was heinous and nobody can deny that. If this story had come out while he was still alive, I would have steered clear of him, regardless of whatever defense he might have spewed. Jackie's story is too vivid and powerful. I admire her for sharing it and I was nauseated when I read it. Unlike a lot of Fowley's defenders, I understood why she waited to tell it. Kim was an intense human being and he surely represented an unspeakable pain that she pushed to the recesses of her mind. I’m guessing she even repressed the incident and told herself it didn’t happen. This is substantiated by a blog post she wrote after Currie’s book came out, which contradicts what she’s saying now. More than likely, Fowley's death gave her and those who’ve corroborated her story the freedom to finally face what had happened.
But the blame game has transcended a dead man. In the aftermath of this abysmal saga, Jett and Currie have been forced to defend themselves. Their comments can be interpreted a lot of ways, and we surely haven’t heard the last of each Runaways member’s perspective on what really happened. We also all have a lot to learn about the bystander effect, which may help explain why the recollections vary. Their statements could be more supportive, but none of us really knows their trauma. McDonnell has also responded to her critics, making some very strong points about the journalistic challenges of covering a story with myriad conflicting memories.
The HuffPo story’s author, journalist Jason Cherkis, is enjoying an avalanche of accolades, as he should — it’s an extremely well written, compelling story. But his subtly negative tone toward some of the players here, as seen in the piece itself and in his Pitchfork interview about it, is troublesome and ironic, considering the story’s purpose is meant to support female victims. It’s helped encourage some of the negativity and arrogance by many of those who’ve commented on the whole sordid situation, including a lot of journalists.
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Up until now, I've been too weary to join in. But I ultimately felt compelled to offer my perspective, as I haven't read anything yet that speaks to those of us dealing with conflicted feelings of guilt about the whole situation. Those of us who knew and liked Kim Fowley now question our judgment of people and what they are capable of. Surely, all former friends of rapists and murderers have dealt with this feeling. Do we deserve blame? Do the bystanders there that night deserve it? Or should the vitriol simply be saved for the rapist? Jackie Fuchs herself has just said unequivocally the latter.
I agree with even the staunchest Fowley haters that this story needed to be told, to bring peace for Jackie and those coming to terms with what happened so long ago, to educate all of us about rape and the bystander effect, and to encourage those who've been witness to other rapes to report them. Personally, I’ve learned a lot about all of these things and so, so much more. Hard life lessons. If any good at all can come of this whole nightmare, hopefully we all have learned from it. Like The Runaways themselves, we all had to grow up fast this week.