“There are so many stories,” says Sophie Cunningham wearily. “There are so many that I just couldn’t tell, and it’s all about the money and the power – success and fame go a hell of a way to keep people quiet.”
Cunningham is the director and producer of a new documentary confronting the dark side of the music industry, rock music in particular; harassment and abuse against women and “relationships” involving megastars and teenage girls, an issue that has been hidden from view for years.
Look Away features interviews with women who bring allegations against Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Guns ‘N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose, as well as the late music producer and songwriter Kim Fowley, who led the rock band All-female teenager The Runaways, co-founded by Joan Jett in the 1970s. But Cunningham says there could have been a lot more.
After #MeToo, Hollywood and the film industry have started to be held to account after disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein was jailed for rape and sexual assault in 2020, although it unfortunately seems inevitable that there is more to come. .
For the music industry, says Cunningham, who worked on Look Away for two years, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. To clarify, claims made by other women that she was unable to appear in the documentary – she talks about “a lot, a lot of [stars] which are very, very popular “.
Look Away highlights how the music industry has fostered a culture where relationships with underage girls – statutory rape – have been normalized, and how many behind the scenes have turned a blind eye to aggressive sexual behavior.
“This seems like an area that hasn’t had its #MeToo moment yet and I think it desperately needs it,” Cunningham said.
Julia Holcomb’s story is well documented, despite never wanting to share it – it was Tyler himself who first brought the story to light, writing about their relationship in his autobiography of 2011.
Holcomb met the Aerosmith frontman as a fan at a concert in Portland, Oregon when she was just 16 and in his mid-twenties in 1973.
Because the age of consent in the state was 18, she claims Tyler persuaded her mother to cede guardianship to her, making her his ward, so she could travel with the star on tour. She also claims that she got pregnant with her baby and was forced to have an abortion.
Looking through the 2021 goal, laid out in black and white, it all looks quite shocking. But what is perhaps more shocking is that for years this kind of behavior was not at all shocking.
“I think most of the time the artists themselves wrote about their getaways with their girlfriends or what they did around that time and you’ve never really heard of women,” Cunningham said. .
“Musicians were those divine creatures, especially back then. There were power structures that allowed them; as long as they were selling records and as long as they were making money for the majors, I think. that there was an understanding [they] could pretty much get away with it and it could all also be written as too much time.
“It’s very, very easy to think, ‘It was different back then, it was hedonistic, the world was a different place.’ But I think it’s clear from the women who spoke out. that their experiences as [teenage] girls touched them the same way they would if it happened to them [teenagers] now. It’s not a different time, it’s just that we look at it differently. “
Sheila Kennedy is another woman featured in the documentary, speaking about an experience with Axl Rose in the late 1980s when she was 18. Kennedy was a Penthouse “Pet of the Year” and says she was invited to a hotel suite party with the star. She accuses him of physical abuse – grabbing her hair and dragging her – before they have sex.
Runaways bassist Jackie Fuchs – who was known as Jackie Fox at the time – also shares her story, accusing Fowley, the band’s manager, of rape, and explaining how people ignored him at the era.
Speaking like this doesn’t necessarily mean seeking justice in a legal sense, Cunningham says, but having a voice – and trying to push for change.
“Although we focus on a certain era in this movie, the music industry still works in a very, very similar way,” she says. “I’ve spoken to so many music industry insiders who have made it clear that nothing has changed. [The documentary] look at a time that I think we all feel very fondly, but we have to look at it in a different way. You don’t want to take away from [the music] but you have to recognize that other things were at stake.
“All of the women in the movie are amazing women in the sense that they are forgiving and they don’t want to ‘get’ these rock stars. It’s about setting the record straight. For many of them, it is about setting the record straight. ‘is a personal calculation. I don’t think it’s about wanting revenge or demolishing anyone … It’s actually not about rock stars at all, it’s about these women and it’s about being heard – so people don’t just make the assumptions that I think a lot of people make about some of these women. “
Post #MeToo, Cunningham says the world is hopefully finally ready to listen: “Culturally, we all think in a different way. way that challenges our ideas about what the rock scene was like.
“So many people, when you tell them you make a movie like this, they say ‘Oh, no, please don’t do it’ – and then they name their favorite rock star because they don’t want this musician or the music to be ruined for them. This music is so deeply ingrained in our lives, I think sometimes people don’t want to [acknowledge] there may be a darker side. “
Cunningham says there were a lot of men working behind the scenes who didn’t want to be in the documentary. “I think that’s an important thing to say,” she said. “This silence, I think, says a lot. So while we are in a time when we were ready for these women to speak and for them to feel that they have the power to speak, there is a lot of men who do not want to speak out on behalf of these women for fear of repercussions in the industry. “
Representatives for Tyler and Rose did not respond to requests for comment or to appear in the filmmakers’ documentary, Cunningham said. They also did not respond to Sky News requests for comment.
Cunningham says she likes to think that there might come a time when musicians, or any face of the audience, who behaved a certain way when it was normalized years ago, will want to acknowledge their mistakes. and contribute to change.
“Wouldn’t you like to speak out and support these women?” she says. “Yes, charges are brought against you, but maybe speaking out may not actually redeem you because obviously all of these things have happened, but wouldn’t it be amazing for a rock star to come forward and say “I did some really bad things and I know I hurt people and want to campaign for change for these women? ‘ I think it would be amazing.
“But I think the silence is just one example of what a lot of people have been doing for years. Like I said, there were so many people that I approached to be in this movie who are prominent men in the music industry, giving them the opportunity to speak out for women, at a time they were a part, and so many people didn’t want to do that. And I think the silence says it all. long, isn’t it? “
Look away Premieres on Sky Documentaries and NOW on Monday, September 13 at 9 p.m.