Of all the sub­gen­res of the celebri­ty auto­bi­og­ra­phy, none is like­ly to be grim­mer or sleazier than the rock star mem­oir.  The pop music busi­ness often doesn’t do well by its par­tic­i­pants and the lifestyle it breeds can often cut down per­form­ers in their prime.  It’s also a busi­ness full of preda­tors look­ing to prey on impres­sion­able fame-seek­ers in finan­cial, psy­cho­log­i­cal and sex­u­al ways.  Neither of the last two state­ments should sur­prise any­one but being con­front­ed with the flesh-and-blood real­i­ty of their human cost is a dif­fer­ent thing alto­geth­er.

And Neon Angel: A Memoir Of A Runaway doesn’t spare the read­er one iota of that often bru­tal real­i­ty.  Indeed, author Cherie Currie puts the read­er in the front seat to watch close­ly as she relives the “chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out” expe­ri­ence that she went through dur­ing her stint as lead singer of the Runaways.  Even if you’re a vet­er­an of read­ing books like this, you might not be pre­pared for how hard this one hits.

The sto­ry starts with Currie as a teenager, strand­ed in the San Fernando Valley and liv­ing out her life as a rebel­lious, glam rock-lov­ing dream­er.  Her ear­ly days are marked by strife on the home­front and fights at school as she dreams of the star­dom rep­re­sent­ed by her musi­cal icon, David Bowie.  Things seems to take a clas­si­cal Hollywood turn when Currie is “dis­cov­ered” at her local hang­out by music-biz hus­tler Kim Fowley.  He intro­duces her to fel­low rock-lov­ing dream­er Joan Jett and sug­gests she join an all-girl they’re putting togeth­er.  Despite a tough audi­tion, Currie makes it in and begins liv­ing out her rock-star dreams.

Of course, she soon dis­cov­ers the road to star­dom is not unlike run­ning a gauntlet.  She is quick­ly worn down by an end­less stream of record­ing ses­sions, con­certs and bat­tles with band­mates over how she is the focus of the pub­lic­i­ty (a recur­ring attack plat­form for her fre­quent neme­sis, gui­tarist Lita Ford).  The fact that Fowley is bla­tant­ly manip­u­lat­ing her and tak­ing advan­tage every step of the way makes it all worse.  She jumps ship after a few albums and tries her hand at solo record­ing and act­ing but the lifestyle begins to out­pace her abil­i­ty to keep up with it… and there are some dark, dark times that she must suf­fer through post-star­dom before the light at the tunnel’s end will become vis­i­ble.

All of this might sound aching­ly famil­iar, par­tic­u­lar­ly if you are famil­iar with the rock star mem­oir for­mat, but rest assured that Neon Angel nev­er allows the read­er to get too com­fort­able.  Currie is the kind of per­son who feels her emo­tions very deeply and she has the abil­i­ty to con­vey them on the page with scalpel-sharp pre­ci­sion.  Her unique­ly evoca­tive style makes the book tough going: unfor­get­tably har­row­ing moments in the book include an occa­sion where Fowley essen­tial­ly pimps her out to a young male star for an evening to get the band some pub­lic­i­ty and a ter­ri­fy­ing­ly ren­dered sec­tion where she is kid­napped and sub­ject­ed to a vicious sex­u­al assault by an unhinged d-lev­el celebri­ty.  Don’t be sur­prised if you find your­self putting down the book more than once dur­ing the­se pas­sages to catch your breath.

If this is all begin­ning to sound like too much to bear, it should be not­ed that Neon Angel is ulti­mate­ly life-affirm­ing — and not in a corny, “Hollywood end­ing” sort of way.  Currie sur­vives her tra­vails, comes to a point of self-real­iza­tion that allows her to put away self-destruc­tive behav­iors and man­ages to pick her­self up with­out being bit­ter or self-pity­ing.  There’s no redeem­ing love affair or reli­gious con­ver­sion: it’s pure­ly self-direct­ed.  It also helps that Currie is amaz­ing­ly even-hand­ed in her per­cep­tion of how she played into what was going on around her.  She might not spare oth­ers (Fowley and Ford come off pret­ty poor­ly) but she’s just as tough on her­self, per­haps even tougher.

In the final sum­ma­tion, Neon Angel’s pull-no-punch­es style is rough on the read­er but it’s well worth the read for any­one inter­est­ed in the his­to­ry of the Runaways… but if you’re just look­ing for cheap thrills, con­sid­er your­self warned.  You will get much more than you bar­gained for between the pages of this book.