If you’ve ever dreamed of what it would be like to be a rock star, know that coinciding with those dreams may also be nightmares. Lita Ford has lived both the dream and the nightmare. In her memoir, “Living Like a Runaway,” she starts off on an upbeat tempo, describing a basically “normal” childhood, with a supportive mother and father who encouraged their daughter’s quest to become an accomplished guitar player in a world that was foreign to women wielding 6-strings. Introduced to the acoustic guitar at age 11, it was after attending a Black Sabbath concert in 1971 that Lita was seduced by the power of the electric guitar. She explained, “I want to make people feel like Black Sabbath just made me feel,” and after taking a few lessons, she elected to teach herself the craft. Never once, did the fact that she was a female ever enter her brain, but she would eventually find out that pursuing a career dominated by men would become a constant battle of courage, strength and wits.
The first third of the book focuses on her introduction to the music business via a phone call from the eccentric, producer-songwriter Kim Fowley, who insisted Lita come to Hollywood and audition for an all girl band called the Runaways. She capitalized on the invite and after a few weeks, became a member of what would much later become an iconic band who paved the way for future generations of female musicans. Surprisingly, there is little mentioned about her relationship with bandmate Joan Jett, other than Lita and Joan never really “bonded” during their time in the band, yet I sense there is an unspoken respect for one another that possibly only the two of them can appreciate. As Ford walks us through the rise and demise of the Runaways, recanting stories of life on the road, the experiences she and her teenage counterparts lived through were often far from glamorous. Her personal accounts of the usual rock and roll excesses, including bar fights, drug and alcohol abuse, and sexual promiscuity offer the reader some quality entertainment. Tales of the music business weasels and sidewinders that tried to plague her career, more often than not, just because she was a female are also exposed within the pages of the book. Ford even skewers a handful of fellow musicians from the 80’s era, whom she directly credits for demonstrating their chauvinistic attitudes, and claims their behavior only fueled her determination to work harder, play harder and prove her talents as a musician went beyond spandex and stilettos. Immersing herself in a male-dominated industry also helped to thicken her skin and prepare her for an extensive future in the music business.
Ford’s memoir provides some lighthearted tales involving the legendary and redefining pioneer Edward Van Halen, Glenn Tipton and Bon Jovi to name a few. There are also some darker accounts of her personal relationships with Tony Iommi, and her brief marriage to Chris Holmes. Although the one chapter in her life that she does not discuss in great detail is her 18-year marriage and bitter divorce from Jim Gillette, with whom she has two sons, James and Rocco. Losing all contact with them, due to parental alienation, remains the painful and unfortunate result of the decision to leave her unhealthy relationship with Gillette. Ford explains that out of respect for her children, she purposely decided to omit the details of their volatile relationship and not share them with the world, yet claims at some point the story should be, and needs to be told. Perhaps someday it will.
The most poignant pages of the book detail Lita’s relationship with her mother, who battled cancer at the height of Lita’s career, thus preventing her from spending the time with her that she would have liked too. Ford’s emotions spill onto the pages and touch the hearts of those who have ever watched a loved one suffer from a terminal illness. As a lasting tribute to her mother, she wrote and recorded “Lisa,” prior to her death, a song she will always hold dear to her heart.
Lita Ford has inarguably earned her place among her hard rock peers. At age 17, she unknowingly forged a path for generations of women musicians and guitar players. She constructed a successful solo career that included a top ten hit with Ozzy Osbourne, and even after a 15-year hiatus she was able to orchestrate a successful comeback at a time when her style of music was no longer mainstream. Through it all, she never compromised her musical integrity or gave into the pressures of the music industry. In her personal life, she endured a private hell of which someday she may speak, but for now she looks to her guitar to provide the solace she requires.
“Living Like a Runaway… a Memoir” provides a manual to the realities of a rock and roll lifestyle, told by a hard as nails chick that relied on passion and perseverance to achieve her dream.
Because, after all, girls can’t play guitar, right? If you ask the black widow, be sure to hold on to your ass for her reply.