Orchids Bloom in My Heart

the orchids band
The Orchids: Sunbie Sinn, Ché Zuro, Sindy Collins, Laurie McAllister, Laurie Bell.

A song from a 1979 E.P. by The Orchids barged into my head the other day. They were a post-Runaways Los Angeles band put together by dank predator and all-around creepy bastard Kim Fowley. The song that I remembered was Teenage Babylon, a corny, delicious, perfect piece of pop-punk candy.

It’s funny how a song on a record that maybe only a few hundred people have heard (pre-internet, anyway) can take up residence in your brain and your being. I have a lot of resident songs like that. Most of them are regional songs from Twin Cities bands. But some are from California, Michigan, and England, and they’re all in there, right next to Billie Jean and Stairway to Heaven.

There were some talented musicians in The Orchids, and they wrote many of their own songs. But Teenage Babylon was written by a couple of dudes in Fowley’s orbit, Bart Bishop and Garth Evans. I don’t know who they were, but there were a lot of musicians around Los Angeles in those days. I suppose there still are; they just don’t congregate on the streets of Hollywood anymore.

There’s a word that describes men in their 30s and 40s who spend all their time around teenagers: pedophile. Okay, or schoolteacher. But fetid Hollywood garbage like Fowley and Rodney Bingenheimer (and hundreds of others) weren’t schoolteachers. So, I have a fraught relationship with the fruits of Fowley’s legacy.

On the one hand, there’s the heavy creep thing, but on the other hand, you know, Joan Jett. Would Joan and Sandy and Lita and Jackie and Cherie have found each other without Fowley? No. Not a chance. We would have heard from Joan and Lita in other bands, but we wouldn’t have had The Runaways. Or the Orchids (or Venus and the Razorblades, etc.).

What was so great about The Orchids and the Runaways? Their voices. The thing I absolutely loved about both of them was the unapologetically teenage voices on the early records. Teenage girl’s voices. You didn’t hear that anywhere else in rock and roll at the time. We had Stevie Nicks, Ann Wilson, Chrissie Hynde—a lot of great women singers, but no girls.

As a teenage trans girl who loved rock and roll, I didn’t see where I fit in—as my genuine self—anywhere in the music scene. Until I heard the Runaways. Hearing that Orchids record a few years later (when I was still a teenager) was like a rejuvenating shot of teenage girls’ attitude and sound into rock and roll, so naturally, I loved it.

We all need role models. Few of us have the courage or foresight of pioneers, so we build ourselves on those who came before us. While the world may have seen me as a teenage boy, I wasn’t, so none of those male rock stars felt like role models to me. It wasn’t until I heard The Runaways when I was 16 years old that I felt like I had representation in the rock world.

It’s kind of painful to have a predator to thank for that bright spot in my young life, but that’s the reality of the situation. We attempt to make everything perfect in our memories, but that rarely works, does it? Despite his presence, I see the wild purity in all of Fowley’s bands.

orchids 45

WRITTEN BY A HUMAN

3 comments

  1. I have spent the last 30 minutes trying to leave a response.

    I back spaced all of it.

    I’m not sure why talent/genius rises above the creeps. I’m sure it depends on the individual.

    I guess my job is to recognize it and elevate.

    And point out the creeps.

  2. first time i heard the name kim fowley was cat stevens talking about co writing a song with him. didn’t learn till later his creepy history.

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