LRI Interview with Kim Fowley (producer, songwriter, manager of The Runaways)

LRI Interview with Kim Fowley (producer, songwriter, manager of The Runaways)
August 20, 2012 | By More

     Kim Fowley is a behind-the-scenes music industry legend.  If you are a passionate hard rock fan you know him from his songwriting credits on classic tracks ranging from “Do You Love Me” (KISS) to “Escape” (Alice Cooper) or even “Stick To Your Guns” (Motley Crue).   That’s strictly the tip of the iceberg though as he’s been writing and producing hit records dating back to a 1960 number one hit “Alley Oop”.   You’ve absolutely seen Kim in countless documentaries or films talking about the music scene from his unique and lofty perspective as the ultimate insider.  He’s a natural and truly unique creative force both in front of and behind the camera and as a man in his seventies not only hosts a show on Sirius XM radio but continues to produce both music and film at a rate that would make most 25- year-old men exhausted.  Kim talked to us about all of that as well as the band he managed and conceptualized way back in the mid-70s, The Runaways.  He knew full well of my Runaways obsession and is realistic in general that the subject will come up, especially since the release of the theatrical film in 2010 which featured his brilliant on-screen portrayal by actor  Michael Shannon.  He still seems a bit perplexed as to my fanboy  fascination with his “jinxed” project but kindly put up with me anyway…..Read on

Legendary Rock Interviews:  Thanks for talking to us Kim.

Kim Fowley:  Why me?  Why do you want to talk to me?

LRI:  You are the epitome of legendary sir.  Your songs, your career.  You’re on the same level as the Alice Cooper or KISS guys in my mind.

Kim:  Oh, ok.

LRI:  I heard one of your more recent songs, “Is Your Computer Slowly Killing You” and loved it.  I will admit ignorance as far as not knowing how much you’ve been up to in recent years.  I have a lot of catching up to do, this song is great.

Kim:  That song’s not hard rock or metal or whatever you’re doing….

LRI:  No, not at all but it’s insane and makes perfect sense at the same time.  I enjoy left of center stuff as much as I do my beloved Cheap Trick, Runaways and KISS.

Kim:  That’s a video I made in about 3 hours and a song I wrote in about 5 or ten minutes.  The song stems from the fact that I don’t use a cell phone or text or use computers and it’s not part of my world.  My brain works differently and the people I see tied to those things have weird ailments.  They have weird splints on their arms or eye or neck problems.  Some of them are wildly hunched over and out of shape or injured and they’re not even 18.  There are people who text, use the phone and the computer all at the same time and they’ll do it while they’re trying to eat or drive a car or whatever.  It’s kind of sad that they’ve replaced intimacy with technology and become one-dimensional, robotic, Stepford people and they’re not good company.

LRI:  You and your partner Snow Mercy have been performing a lot of live shows.  Are songs like that a part of what you’re doing?

Kim:  No, no.  What we’ve been doing has been a really elaborate affair.  Horns, percussion, bass drums, a full, nine piece band.  Snow sings, I sing.  The music stays the same but there is a lot of improv in the arrangements and lyric content.  For instance, we did a series of shows in Detroit this past year and a lot of the lyrics had to do with the importance of staying in the rust belt and the midwest and that sort of thing.  The shows were very well attended, Dan of the Black Keys came by, the Arctic Monkeys came by and liked it and it was a lot of fun but I’ll never do those songs again unless we play that region again.  When we go to Europe, I will be singing about their life.  I sing about the audience I’m in front of and I don’t bring songs with me.  I don’t perform any of the songs I’ve recorded for my albums and I don’t perform songs people know me for because if people want to hear that they can just buy the recorded versions.

LRI:  Do people who buy tickets know that going into the show??

Kim:  I don’t know what people want when it comes to seeing me perform.  I don’t approach an audience the way other performers deal with their audiences.  I attack an audience.

LRI:  How are you feeling?  I know you’ve made lots of headlines for your health issues as of the last couple years.

Kim:  When you deal with bladder cancer recall surgery there is the possibility of death on the operating table.  That’s why it’s called a hospital and that’s why it’s called an operation.  When there are cameras and pipes and wires going throughout your body it’s possible that you could die.  It’s cancer and that’s always got that potential.  It’s recall surgery which means they just keep re-staging the same surgery over and over again.  I have gone through this same exact procedure and I’ll get to go through it again.  If you have surgery you could die from the side effects but on the other hand, you could die in your bathtub tonight.

LRI:  But then you’re right back to work and up onstage a few weeks after surgery.  Are you Superman?

Kim:  I was back onstage a week after surgery.  No, I don’t feel like Superman because I’ve had cancer four times in 19 years.  I had prostate cancer and did radiation.  Then I traveled for 14 years and within that time I had melanoma and then basal cell cancer, then this bladder cancer.  The bladder cancer events started in 2010.  I’ve also had polio twice, pneumonia nine times, and so on.  However, in and out of all of this I was an Army and Air Force hand to hand combat expert and have been trained and prepared for combat.  I now have a cane but I can use that cane as a baton in hand to hand combat.  I’ve had a balance issue in my inner ear for years and for years I hid it but now I couldn’t care less.  The truth is I’ve been crippled all of my life, I just hid it well.

LRI:  You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you’ve gotten death threats and hatemail over the years wishing you dead.  Was any of that incentive to keep pushing forward despite all the health issues?

Kim:  No, I’ve been dead since the day I was born.  I don’t feel alive at all and never have.  You can’t kill a dead person, they’re already dead.  Most people would like to kill or try their hand at killing.  They make movies about it like slasher movies, books, literature, fantasy, music like the Scandinavian  church burning death metal bands and all that but the thing is that most of those people who fantasize about killing it becomes clear that they generally aren’t trained to kill.  They might want to but they don’t know how to.

Kim Fowley and Snow Mercy in the hospital

Kim Fowley and Snow Mercy in the hospital

LRI:  You say you’re dead but you seem more alive than most people.

Kim:  Well, I didn’t say I was a person either.

LRI:  How did you meet Snow Mercy?

Kim:  She was a part of a performance art group called Art of Bleeding that comedian Margaret Cho’s husband handled and I was asked to perform with them and lead into her blood wrestling match at an outdoor parking lot event scenario that had a medical type theme. She was 6 foot tall and I’m 6 foot 5 so in her boots we stood eye to eye.  I performed my show and I did a good job of doing some of my medical related music leading into her act.  I ended up recording Snow on an album I did called  “Goddess of Love” which makes G.G. Allin look like Donny Osmond in terms of lyrical content and in terms of sex being used as a weapon in a fetish sense.  Very offensive lyrical content.  That was the first album.  She did her second album with me which is much smoother, very mysterious, almost like Cowboy Junkies meets Nico of Velvet Underground on a junkyard level.   She also has a song coming out with me called “Spurt” which is disgusting.  She’s also a very talented filmmaker and is helping me complete my jinxed movie which is called “Black Room Doom” and co-directing it.  When the Runaways movie came out in theatres I thought about how there was a possible content that the movie didn’t address which is the future of girls doing rock and roll.  The plotline involves a teen pop sensation being President of the United States and these five girls walk into a studio one day and record an album that same day before breaking up that same day.  We actually got five girls who didn’t know each other to come to the studio play songs and break up.  Then after the music is heard, all the problems begin because everyone else looks at them and says  “We’re better than you” and all of this and they show up to challenge the girls.  The drag queens say “We’re more of a bitch than you are” and so on.  We got through a large portion of the film before one of the girls quit the group and hijacked a great deal of the movie and deleted it from YouTube.  Another girl got breast cancer and lost her breast, I got bladder cancer, one of the guys working on the film died, another beat up two cops and went to jail.  At that point I told Snow Mercy, “Ok, enough is enough and the first 60 minutes of this film are great, let’s have you find some new rowdy bitches and finish it”  which she’s doing.  The first two-thirds of the movie were reviewed by Evelyn McDonnell who is writing a Runaways book and she thought it was a cult classic.   I think “Black Room Doom” will be the movie the public is looking for.  The public wanted to see a certain movie about the Runaways but they didn’t see it.  (editor’s note, BLACK ROOM DOOM DEBUTS AT THE MELBOURNE UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL ON AUGUST 31ST IN A DOUBLE FEATURE WITH ANOTHER KIM FOWLEY FLICK, “GOLDEN ROAD TO NOWHERE”.  SNOW MERCY APPEARS IN BOTH MOVIES. BRIANNA GARCIA DIDN’T MAKE THE FINAL CUT OF B.R.D., BUT CO-STARS IN “GOLDEN ROAD TO NOWHERE” )

Kim and Cherie with their movie counterparts on the right

Kim and Cherie with their movie counterparts on the right

Brianna Garcia, Snow Mercy  and Severa Miles are BLACK ROOM DOOM actresses

Brianna Garcia, Snow Mercy and Severa Miles of BLACK ROOM DOOM

LRI:  The whole band getting together, making an album and breaking up thing is an amazing plotline.  Who wrote that?

Kim:  Me.  I’m an amazing person, I do amazing things.  This movie is unique in that we jinxed it ahead of time.  If you remember, The Runaways were not organically formed, they were selected from five different schools and five different neighborhoods and it became a case of “Hi, you’re now a band!”.   The Runaways never got along with each other at the time or even now and it created a certain tension that’s also inherent in Black Room Doom.  It’s female energy with an edge.  There’s certain guy bands that always struggled with that too but it created great energy in bands like the Who or The Doors where certain members had issues with other members.   Even Emerson, Lake and Palmer rode in three separate buses and couldn’t stand each other.

Young Kim Fowley

Young Kim Fowley

LRI:  The premise of girls not getting along or having creative tension is interesting.  Where do you think that comes from and why do we find that interesting?

Kim:  Well, I don’t know why you find it interesting but I can speak for myself because  I had a lesbian mother and a drug addict father so my entry into show business was pretty dark and damaged to begin with.  The feelings I have towards women and girls are different than most men because most men don’t have lesbian mothers and they don’t have mothers who were in the movies.  She was hot but she was vicious and mean and had to deal with Hollywood that is vastly different from the Hollywood of today.  I was born the day that Hitler invaded Poland. I grew up in James Dean’s world and thought Elvis Presley was pop from the moment I saw him.  The people I hung out with knew better than to confuse him as dangerous.  You wouldn’t hit someone over the head with a brick while listening to Elvis.   He was a hillbilly crossover rock and roll thing but he wasn’t black and we were much more impressed with Jerry Lee Lewis.

LRI:  When all of these celebrity deaths occur does it cross your mind what people are going to write or say about you when you go?

Kim:  The world doesn’t care about Kim Fowley because Kim Fowley isn’t known to the world.  I may have written or worked on material that is widely owned by people around the world but the people who die and affect a huge part of the population are people whose personalities were such that they are known across the board like a John Lennon or an Elvis Presley or Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe type who have all these advantages and tragic flaws and made huge splashes across the entire landscape.  My death will be as follows:  “Well, thank god that asshole is dead”.  Then about three years after my death day it will be, “You know, some of this music is pretty good”  and then around five years after my death it will be “Wow, this shit’s amazing!!  How come we didn’t realize it at the time?”.  Snow Mercy inherits my money.  I gave her my will a couple of days before the last operation and I said “Happy Valentines Day,  you get all this money when I’m dead from all of these songs that I’ve produced or written or published”.  I told her this would be her pension some day and not to let people rip her off, to make sure she gets her share, which used to be my share because the minute I die I know what will happen.  All the people who pay me for production or publishing will say “Well, he’s gone now, we don’t have to shell out for his part.”  They will be fucking with the wrong woman because Snow Mercy is a mean, tough, strange, angry woman who will be worse than I am as far as protecting my….

LRI:  Your legacy?

Kim:  It’s not a legacy.  I don’t have a legacy.  I have an income.  If you look at the songs I’ve written like “Escape” by Alice Cooper or “Do You Love Me” or “King Of The Night Time World” by KISS and “Stick To Your Guns” by Motley Crue and add it all up it’s about 102 Million units and adding up all the gold and platinum and tons of commercials and video game usage and to the tune of hundreds of dollars of income an hour.  It’s roughly 200 dollars an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year since about 1988.  That was when we broke through and things really took off.  It’s a significant amount of money we are talking about.

LRI:  I think it’s interesting how dismissive you are about fame in general. 

Kim:  I’m not famous so it’s not an issue I have to deal with.  A lot of people know the name but they don’t know what I look like so I’m able to walk through an audience or walk down a street and nobody notices me.  I’m not Charlie Sheen in people magazine or one of these people and nobody knows any of the people who work behind the scenes really so it’s not important.

LRI:  You’ve worked with so many very well-known people and helped so many unknowns become known you would think there’s some amount of residual fame but yet most people in the general public and a lot of the media seem to want to tear you down or backtalk you.

Kim:   I knew Derek Taylor who was The Beatles publicist, who ghost wrote Brian Epstein’s work and ran Apple Records in the 1980s.  We talked about the very thing you’re asking about one day.  He said, “You’re a large person and you’re a giant.  There is no sympathy for a giant, you’re tall and extremely luminous and everybody has to look up and nobody wants to look up at a know-it-all”  He also said, “If you make a mistake or a misstep or a fall then it’s a ‘giant’ mistake.  It’s not like a regular sized person or a short person making a mistake, it’s a GIANT making a mistake and it’s that much more of a tragedy”.   That’s part of the reason Snow Mercy and I work so well together is that we’re both giants.  She’s gorgeous and I’m hideous but we balance each other out so that we’re both invisible, it’s pretty funny.

Kim and his partner and heir Snow Mercy along with the cover of his upcoming book LORD OF GARBAGE

Kim and his partner and heir Snow Mercy along with the cover of his upcoming book LORD OF GARBAGE

LRI:  You’ve referred to yourself in quite different tones over the years.  On one hand you’ve spoken of yourself as a brilliant genius and on the other you’ve been much harder on yourself, saying you’re a piece of shit?  Do they coexist or do you just beat yourself up sometimes?

Kim:  I don’t beat myself up, I enjoy inflicting pain upon others so much more.  I don’t have stress or ulcers or heart problems.  I don’t have damaged intestines or high blood pressure.  My step-grandpa co-founded ASCAP and 58 years ago took me aside and showed me how the songwriting and publishing business worked.  Years before I became involved in any of the hard rock, so-called heavy metal stuff that you’re interested in me for.  I had already made a lifelong commitment to the music business and an education on the inner workings that my critics and would be competitors just didn’t have.  They didn’t have the fundamental talent or the structure or knowledge to really last all the years and stand the test of time.  As the haircuts, styles and diseases changed they would step aside and wash away while I continued to survive.  You can’t stop me and if you are foolish enough to try to you will have a John Wilkes Booth or Jeffrey Dahmer type of end.  When you come back from the dead on the happiest day of your enemy’s life, when he’s forgotten your name and what you look like, you can do some heavy karma to that person.   Generally, my enemies destroy themselves by those self-destructive means.  I always tell people “If you wanna dislike me, that’s okay.  If you want to discredit or destroy me that’s okay but don’t work at it”.   The reason being is that if you work at it, I won’t catch you right away.  I’ll set you up and make you think you’re winning and getting away with it.  Then on your happiest day, when everything’s going fantastic for you and you think you’ve gotten away with everything against me, I’ll show you why you should dislike me even more and I will do it exquisitely.  I will do it like the surgeons who work on me, scientific, quick and deadly.

LRI:  You’ve worked with some legends in terms of publicity and promotion.  Does promotion annoy you?

Kim:  No, it’s a job.  What’s annoying about being paid to do a job?  Nothing.  I like jobs, I like income.  I enjoy making a living and I will do whatever it takes to get the money coming in.  I will do whatever it takes to get the media and the audiences and entertainers all participating in the process of making that living.

LRI:  You were a child actor.  Did you enjoy that or was it something you wish you hadn’t done?

Kim: It was a job, you got paid.  What’s not to like?  I started 66 years ago, in 1946 with my first B movie taking the place of another six-year-old.  My dad was an actor and had suddenly appeared in my life with his new wife and I happened to be down at a movie shoot with him.  It was nice getting money from the director.  I was paid cash which because I told the director I didn’t have a checking account and wasn’t about to stand and argue with a bank teller.  I basically left him no option but to pay me in cash or shut down the production.  The original 6-year-old kid had gotten the Measles or something and I said “I think you’re going to have to hire me whether I can act or not” and he said, “You’re gonna be great in this business when you get older, you’re a prick”.   I said, “You’re about to pay a prick but I’ll work harder than these fucking adults who are getting paid.”  My dad couldn’t believe it and I just looked at him and said, “See, I don’t have to ask you.  If I need money for new clothes or anything I required I would just get it myself”.  I didn’t have to pay him a percentage or have it go to any sort of trust.  I just got my hundred bucks and back then a hundred dollars meant a lot more than it does now so my father was astonished.  He’d only met me two weeks before that and I spent all my time before that learning how to be a miniature adult when I was in foster care.  All I knew was working beat being in a foster home.  Prior to that, I sat in a foster home with 27 children from 1941 to 1946.  It was a one room, institutionalized Auschwitz for kids foster home with one bathroom.  This was during the war and the fathers were off to sea and the mothers were busy in the factories building airplanes and scraping by so they would warehouse all these little kids.  Let me tell you, you learned how to fight for your food and how to fight for your place on the ground to sleep.

LRI:  You also worked as a male escort?

Kim:  No, no. I worked as a male prostitute, there’s a difference.  An escort takes a little old lady or woman out to dinner and meets her friends or whatever and a prostitute is paid to give women orgasms.

Kim and Lita Ford during the Runaways era

Kim and Lita Ford during the Runaways era

LRI:  You said that The Runaways were the only rock and roll band that existed when they existed and that they blew away Van Halen and Rush onstage.  Do you feel that the entire concept you had for the band was ahead of its’ time for America in 1975?

Kim:  In 1975 The Ramones hadn’t played yet and The Sex Pistols hadn’t formed yet.  There were the British groups like The Sweet and solo artists like Suzi Quatro but other than that the landscape pre-MTV and post Vietnam America consisted of bands like Kansas and Journey and that type of thing.   There was that type of arena rock but there was no guitar, bass and drum kid focused musical coming from kids.  There were bands like Bachman Turner Overdrive who appeared to be in their forties or something but there was no young, energy flowing, white suburban rebel music.  There was no American band dealing with staple American teenage issues such as troubles with authority or family or school or looking for a way out or escape from their teenage alienation.  The Runaways showed up with all of that and there was nobody else doing it at that particular time.  For that small amount of time The Runaways were on to something and filling a void and we were able to be signed to Mercury Records in a relatively short window of time.

LRI:  Did you literally know that they blew RUSH and Van Halen away live?

Kim:  Yes, RUSH at Cobo Hall in Detroit had pseudo-intellectual lyrics and very heady stuff that was all H.P. Lovecraft and that doesn’t always go over so well in Detroit.   Add to that, the complicated musical interludes and screaming vocals it’s not hard to understand the appeal of The Runaways.  They also weren’t very nice to the girls.  If you watch The Runaways movie there is an incident in which the girls rebel against an older bunch of guys they are on the bill with.  That was RUSH and that actually happened, terribly to them.  I never went on the road with them but was told about the incident.  Then Van Halen was when they were the opening act for The Runaways, coincidentally so were your favorites Cheap Trick.  They blew Van Halen away at the Whisky where I was a consultant and booker at that time.   Their show was staged by Kenny Ortega who went on to do the choreography for Dirty Dancing and for Michael Jackson and became a very sought after choreographer.   His concept was to take an athlete approach, you know in football how the backfield is all spread out in motion from the center on down?  It’s almost like dancing but it isn’t.  That was not depicted in the movie but that sports team layout of the band onstage was real and it was Kenny who staged it.  He’s a genius and that’s why The Runaways stage show was so good, it was coordinated.   Of course they blew Van Halen away.

Kim Fowley in studio by Brad Elterman

Kim Fowley in studio by Brad Elterman

LRI:  My all time favorite band is KISS and not everyone is aware that they were choreographed by Sean Delaney and that really helped hem according to Bill Aucoin.  Do you think that kind of stage movement is still important to an act’s success?

Kim:  Well, Bruce Lee was choreographed and so was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.   Jackie Chan is choreographed, movie fights are all choreographed, all of those James Bond type action scenes are choreographed and all of these Vin Diesel car crash movies are all meticulously planned out, blacked out and nothing is left to chance.  Nowadays the entire concept of going to see a band is kind of archaic to a lot of people.  There will always be your pockets of ardent music fans who will go out and I suppose it serves some purpose in terms of tribal bonding with your fellow man but the general public could give a shit less.  That’s why Rap music and internet and video games have all gained so much ground.  The average person is not interested in paying 200 dollars to go drive and stand in line and wait through bands they don’t want to see only to see an act through binoculars or even the giant overhead video screens.  They would just as soon stay home and fuck their significant other or watch TV or whatever.  There will always be the exceptions to this, people who are very passionate about their music but to the average person, “Let’s listen to music” is no higher on the priority list than “Let’s go get a chocolate bar” or “Let’s watch network T.V.”.

Stay tuned for part two of a four part series with Kim Fowley…..

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Category: Interviews

Comments (6)

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  1. Doriguin says:

    Such a shame Rush is being treated like the bad guys. What a bunch of miserable people The Runaways turned out to be. No wonder nobody took them seriously and still don’t. The leading majority of people plaugh whenever they bring that accusation up.