There’s a revealing moment early on in Lita Ford’s memoir, Living Like a Runaway, that tells you everything you need to know about the legendary guitarist and bandleader. While her bandmates in The Runaways were laboring over stage names to fit their specific personas, Ford balked. Joan Larkin would soon be known across the globe as Joan Jett, but the world was going to know the name Lita Ford.
“I finally said, ‘To hell with it,'” she recalls in her self-penned memoir, which hits bookshelves on February 23rd. “If they don’t like me for my name, fuck ’em anyway.”
It’s a tough stand for anyone to take, especially an 18-year-old being handed a ticket to rock ‘n’ roll stardom as a member of an all-female rock outfit. But Ford, now 57, hasn’t gotten to where she is by playing by other people’s rules. Living Like a Runaway is as much a celebration of Ford’s iconoclastic, take-no-shit spirit as it is a by-the-numbers tale of life in the rock ‘n’ roll fast lane. Sure, stories of drugs, booze, and riverboat hookups with the Sex Pistols are the kind of rebellious fodder that make a good rock bio sing, but what makes Ford’s book memorable is the fight she waged for success in what for most of her career has largely been a man’s world.
“It was a constant push and pull,” she says. “Some people believed in me and didn’t even think about the fact that I was a female, but other people almost took offense to it. It was weird. Like John Kalodner, who helped sign Aerosmith. Steven Tyler’s a freakin’ woman! Just take his penis off. It’s the same thing. C’mon, what’s the difference?”
For someone more than four decades into her career, Ford’s recall is impressive. Few stones are left unturned in her tale of how she ascended through the rock ranks to become the Queen of Heavy Metal. She looks back lovingly on her relationship with her late parents, who proudly stood by and supported their only daughter’s rock ‘n’ roll aspirations. She reflects warmly on her friendships with former bandmates, producers, and collaborators, and the thrill of finding success in a male-dominated music milieu. Her successes are anything but small, and they resonate loudly in a 2016 world where the bell of feminism is ringing louder by the day.
But Living Like a Runaway is also colored with plenty of personal and professional dark stretches that threatened to derail Ford’s trailblazing success. When she recalls the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her idol, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, or the shittiness of touring with bands threatened by sharing the stage with women, it’s a wound she’s reopening for the world to see. That’s without getting into her 15-year hiatus from music that started in the mid-1990s or her divorce from her second husband that has since impacted her relationship with her two sons.
“I remember I needed a really quiet house with no distractions,” she says of piecing her story together. “You have to mentally go back there and relive it all in your head. Some of it was painful, some of it was funny, some of it was exhausting. God, you just really felt all the emotions.”
After attempts at collaborating with a co-author fell through, Ford wrote the memoir in her own words, allowing for a certain unpolished rawness that gives her story an added dose of authenticity. In addition to conducting her own research (“Thank God for the Internet,” she says), she admits it took the help of a small village of friends, former bandmates, and others she’s crossed paths with over the years to bring the memoir into focus.
“I spoke to a lot of people who were involved with The Runaways,” she recounts. “Like Eileen Bradley, who was the A&R woman with Mercury Records when The Runaways went to Japan. We had fun. I went over her house, we drank, looked back on old times. I love her to death. My old drummer, Dusty, who played with me on [1983’s] Out for Blood album, he was great. He gave me some stuff.”
In her hunt for lost photographs and mementos, Ford even got in touch with a former roadie she had lost touch with long ago. “I hadn’t talked to him in years, and it was just nothing but love,” she recalls fondly. “I had nothing, so I really had to reach out to my cousins, relatives, and old friends to try and get pictures. Of course, they won’t replace mine, but they’re good. There’s some really cool stuff. A picture of my first guitar, stuff like that.”
Looking back on her roller-coaster ride of a career, Ford proudly waves her own feminist flag. She’s aware of her influence on the women now dominating popular music, specifically rock ‘n’ roll. As the world fawns over Queen Bey, Taylor Swift, Adele, and others, she continues to take pride in the fruits of her legacy. It would be a mistake to forget those like Ford, who suffered the sexist slings and arrows of a cruel industry on their quest to forge the path for others. However she’s remembered, the singer is happy with the more accommodating pop-music climate that exists for women today.
“We’ve carved the path, and now there’s women walking it,” she says. “If you go back to 1977, the whole front row was dudes. The whole building was dudes, not just the front row. Now, it’s not like that. It’s the women who are up there pumping with their men behind them going, ‘Fuck yeah!’ It’s just awesome. That’s the way it should be.”
Living Like a Runaway has a sense of finality to it. By the book’s conclusion, Ford has come around to a healthier, happier place in her life, but she’s far from done. In fact, she and her band are now gearing up to tour in support of her ninth solo record, Time Capsule, which is due out in April. The rock ‘n’ roll world hasn’t always been kind to Ford, but after more than a decade away, she is back where she’s always belonged, writing songs and entertaining fans around the world.
“I just can’t think of a better way to get through life,” she says.