I met Kim Fowley, the man who
discovered created the Runaways, when I was 16, and at the time I thought he was the scariest man on earth. Tall, skinny with huge deep-set eyes and giant teeth, he had a rapid fire series of phrases he’d rattle off as he leered. A typical sentence might sound like this
The bitch is gonna do the dog on a pussy-eating guitar godhead level or I will make her crawl like garbage while she goes waaaaagn. W-A-A-A-A-G-N waaaagn!
Yes, he spelled waaaagn letter my letter. Fowley was already legendary when I first met him; along with Runaways, he’d produced a Helen Reddy record and done the Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder discussing New Wave, and a couple of us from Westlake School for Girls had the idea of starting a punk fanzine, so I bravely called the recording studio where he worked to ask for an interview–and he said yes! I credit Kim with my career as a writer, because he has this attitude of if you say it, you can be it, and since we had said we had a punk ‘zine and wanted to interview him, we had to carry through on it.
Somehow Kim ended up marrying one of my high school friends who shall remain nameless, though she is pictured on the cover his 1978 solo album in a dress she borrowed from me; I also did her makeup. The marriage was annulled and the bride never spoke to me again, but Kim and I stayed in touch sort of once I was back from college at UC Berkeley, where I had gotten really sick. He called my mom and asked if he could take me to church (!), and showed up on a Sunday in cab wearing a suit with a banana and a stack of restraining orders in his jacket pocket. He was a perfect gentleman always to me, despite rumors of all sorts of bad behavior whispered to me by others.
Kim is a weird, super bright genius and he would occasionally, before we lost touch, tell me stories about his past in his hyperbolic, adjective-filled, convoluted way. So when I saw that the first volume of his memoir, Lord of Garbage, had been published–how could I resist? Covering from his birth to age thirty, Lord of Garbage is a Dickensian tale of a California childhood besmirched by divorce and remarriages, bad medicine, polio, teen gangs, and the redemption of rock n roll.
Fowley was mentored by Alan Freed, the man who coined the phrase ‘rock and roll’ (three words that changed the world, says Fowley). He went on to write or co-write hundreds of songs, produced what are now cult records, as well as hits like “Alley Oop” and the novelty hit “They’re Coming to Take Me Away,” and written and directed over a dozen low-budget movies. Fowley also wrote a lot of poetry, some of which is included in Lord of Garbage.
Fowley says he dictated Lord of Garbage into his publisher’s voicemail while recovering from bladder cancer, whacked out on drugs and potential death. It’s glorious prose; visual vulgar, brilliant and bold, rolling off the page, rocking in the brain. I can’t wait until volumes two and three are released. Fowley does two radio shows a week on Steve Van Zandt’s Sirius XM station, and is currently recovering from additional cancer surgeries. He’ll be reading from Lord of Garbage on October 5th at La Luz de Jesus, the mega-gallery/cool stuff shop in my neighborhood. I’m going, I’d like to thank him for the influence he played in my life.
Check out his take on cancer, home health care, life, and death here: