When The Runaways film gets its wide theatrical release this weekend, audiences will be seeing a whole lot of Joan Jett (played by Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (played by Dakota Fanning) and comparatively little of the other members of the groundbreaking and aggressive 1970s all teenage-girl rock band.
Why? Well for starters, Joan serves as one of the film's executive producers. Then there's the script, written by the film's director, Floria Sigismondi, which is based on Cherie's Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway. The book was first published in 1989, geared toward young adults, then revised in 2001 to include grittier, more mature-rated material in 2001.
Lita Ford was initially iffy about it all but eventually came aboard sparingly. Of the half-dozen guitarists who served as bassist throughout the band's nearly four-year run, Jackie Fox -- now Harvard-educated entertainment lawyer Jackie Fuchs -- continues to have legal issues with the project. So the audience ends up watching a litigation-sidestepping fictional character strumming those strings.
The Runaways, circa 1976ish ~ photo courtesy of Team-Twilight.com
And then there is Sandy West, the most egregiously overlooked in the recent media blitz to promote the film.
That's show biz.
And yet, Sandy's story is arguably the most poignant and cautionary.
Her grueling battle with cancer and subsequent death came just when it looked like she was on the verge of a major personal comeback, declaring that she was cleaned up and ready to settle down. A comeback hard won after years of trying to keep her music career going, debilitating drug abuse, failed rehab attempts, prison stints and harrowing tales of working for gun-runners and other assorted criminal types.
It was reported that she wrote her memoirs before passing, but they have yet to be published.
Sandy West ~ photo courtesy of LA Weekly
Thank goodness Evelyn McDonnell saw fit to give Sandy's story a voice with her excellent article, The Runaways: Wild Thing - How Sandy West Was Lost, in the current edition of LA Weekly. Truly a must-read that includes candid interviews with members of Sandy's family and circle of friends who knew her from just about every angle.
Joan, appearing to promote the film recently on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, admittedly noted that "it is a movie" based on "factual things" that the band went through and that there are also "a few embellishments."
One of those embellishments appears to have been glossing over the importance Sandy had as a founding member and the only one to stick it out beside Joan from the beginning to the end of the band's run. Although Joan's feelings of affection for her friend, and grief over her loss, has been openly expressed, Sandy just doesn't share the deserved spotlight in this particular movie.
Fortunately, Vicki Blue -- another former Runaways bassist, now a successful filmmaker known as a hyphenated version of her real and stage name, Victory Tischler-Blue -- included Sandy in her compelling 2004 documentary Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways. Ironically, Joan was the lone non-participant in that project.
The film not only chronicles the band, it also "explores the effects of verbal, emotional and psychological abuse on girls too young to drink, but old enough for sex, drugs and rock n' roll," according to the production company promotional material.
In the film, Sandy expresses the major driving force that lead her down a post-Runaways troubled path -- tormented anger at why the band broke up with to begin with and the exploitation they endured once they lost control of their original desire to just make rock-n-roll music. Thank you GirlscanRockkk for providing:
Here's a more light-hearted, casual interview with Sandy © 1994 Jerry Venemann.
Despite the rocky 29-year span between the demise of The Runaways and Sandy's death, her ties to her bandmates, bonds formed during their formative teenage years, were never completely severed and many, including her friendship with Cherie, remained strong.
After her death, the surviving group members held a tribute concert that same year, on December 9, at The Knitting Factory in Hollywood. Musician Lexa Vonn did a nice write up about the event for Crypt Magazine. Dawgy Productions has additional photo coverage on their website.
This past June, Cherie, who is also a talented and accomplished woodcarver, was commissioned by Kenny Williams of Kenny's Music Store in Dana Point, Calif. to create a carving in tribute to Sandy. She came up with a mermaid holding an electric guitar carved with a chain saw from Sequoia redwood and an additional shell-encrusted monument embedded with two of Sandy's drumsticks.
See photos of the dedication ceremony at Cherie's MySpace. And here's a clip from local television news coverage of the event.
So while audiences gather to watch the movie version of The Runaways tale -- you may be one of them -- consider giving pause to remember Sandy West, often referred to as the heartbeat of the group.
I haven't ventured down to Forest Lawn Cypress in the years since Sandy's passing so have yet to visit her grave in person. Luckily, my friend Michael Barry has it covered in his wonderfully informative new book, Final Resting Places: Orange County's Dead and Famous. (See more info at Amazon and B&N.)
As with all notables interred in the 24 O.C. cemeteries he documented, Michael provides Sandy's story, a photo of her memorial marker as well as directions to her grave site.
Sandy is located in the Garden of Protection near the center of the park (see map below, courtesy of Forest Lawn) between the landmark statues of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven and Michelangelo's David. Once you arrive at that section you'll be looking for Block 20, Lot 4324, Space 3.
According to Michael's directions, start at the staircase located at the east end of the garden and walk west a short distance to the lawn. Four rows from the right, locate the grave marker of a gentleman named Norman Spencer. From there, walk eleven markers north and you're at Sandy's final resting place.
Forest Lawn can provide you with a detailed sectional map if you
prefer, but please keep in mind that they will not provide you with
directions to any celebrity graves. You might do better asking for a
map to the specific location and give Sandy's dad's name, Enzo Pesavento if asked. His burial location is public information according to their site tool.
However, Micheal's directions should get you there without having to ask for help, which I recommend. While there, please adhere to their visitor's guide rules.
Can't make it to Cypress in person? You can leave a token of appreciation at her memorial page on Findagrave.com.
Rest in peace, Sandy. It's a shame you're not here physically to enjoy some of the much deserved spotlight that the movie is providing for your music, but I have faith you're here with everyone in spirit.
The Runaways performing "Wild Thing" in Japan, 1977, featuring Sandy on drums. Clip courtesy of CherieO:
Additional Links of Interest:
Sandy West Tribute 1959-2006