Last week, a story about Jackie Fuchs, centered around her account of being raped by the late music entrepreneur Kim Fowley in a motel room full of people on New Year's Eve in 1975, challenged the very idea that rock and roll is something worth loving. Fuchs's account hit the music world like a bomb that obliterated all taste of cherry from our mouths, demanding the acknowledgment of certain painful facts from anyone who loves 1970s pop culture, that groundbreaking all-female band in particular, or the romantic notion that music celebrating and enacting sexual openness is a force for freedom and empowerment. (Full disclosure: I'm one of those people.)
Like any secret laid bare after years of only furtive acknowledgment, this one has disrupted many lives and caused reactions ranging from rage to self-righteous moralizing to Fuchs's own remarkably generous forgiveness of those who knew something terrible had happened but didn't directly respond. (Here's a good, if incomplete, roundup of responses.) Fowley's reputation is now rightly destroyed. Other Runaways members and people involved with the band have come under fire and responded. (One of them, Runaways biographer Evelyn McDonnell, is my friend and longtime collaborator, and her comments have expanded the discussion in important ways.) As others shared crucial truths or pontificated, Fuchs herself, now a lawyer, employed her own great eloquence to call for the focus to remain on "holding rapists, abusers and bullies accountable." Several commenters have mentioned that the 1970s was a time when the exploitation of very young women was often in the media, citing the famous examples of the groupie milieu surrounding Led Zeppelin and the statutory rape case that exiled film director Roman Polanski from the U.S.
Here's the truth: The history of rock turns on moments in which women and young boys were exploited in myriad financial, emotional and sexual ways. This most sordid secret history lurks in the background, but it's not incidental: from the teen-scream 1950s onward, one of the music's fundamental functions has been to frame and express sexual feelings for and from the very young, and its culture has included real kids, the kind who feel free but remain very vulnerable, relating to older men whose glamor and influence encourages trust, not caution. The worst, weakest and most self-deluded of these men have stepped over moral lines, over and over again. It happened in the early 1960s, when, according to Patti Labelle, her fellow soul great Jackie Wilson attempted to assault her — then a teenage member of the Bluebelles — backstage at a show. It's happening now, with 23-year-old Warped Tour performer Jake Mcelfresh (who performs as Front Porch Step) facing accusations of sending explicit texts to girls as young as 13.
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