Look Away, the much-touted Sky documentary about the exploitation of girls/women in the music industry, offered chilling testimony to condemn Kim Fowley, Steven Tyler and Axl Rose but failed in its greater mission to expose a more widespread culture of sexual abuse in the rock world. By concentrating on three specific instances of abuse by these men, it rather lost the overall plot, and many others who may have been equally guilty of similar behaviour no doubt sighed with relief when the credits rolled after one hour and 39 minutes.
I have a dim recollection of attending a party in South Kensington in the early seventies at which Fowley, already notorious for his sybaritic tendencies, engaged in intercourse with a willing girl on a couch in front of guests. I was with a Melody Maker colleague whose girlfriend, appalled, dragged us both away from a scene that Prince Andrew would no doubt have considered ‘unseemly’. So, when Jackie Fuchs of The Runaways spoke during the documentary of the occasion when Fowley drugged and raped her in a crowded room, I believed her 100%.
Equally castigating, and slightly more sinister in a rather creepy way, was the evidence of Julia Holcombe who at the age of 16 became Tyler’s lover, ward – unbelievably, he got her mum to sign over custody so he could take her over state lines without being detained – fiancée and mother of a child he demanded she abort. Her evidence suggested that those who benefited from Aerosmith’s record and ticket sales were complicit in keeping all this under wraps.
Sheila Kennedy, ill-treated by Rose, was once a Penthouse pin-up, which implies she was hardly an innocent virgin, but her testimony merely added to a welter of evidence that Rose considers himself above the law as far as treatment of women is concerned. Needless to say, both he and Tyler declined to comment when asked to do so by the producers of the film. Fowley died in 2015.
These three women occupied most of the screen time. Among a handful of others interviewed was a ‘manager’ of Guns’N’Roses, a tour manager of Aerosmith, and Kari Krome, who instigated (but did not become a member of) The Runaways, all of whom backed up what the women had to say. Missing was Rodney Bingenheimer, whose English Disco was a magnet for girls in their early teens hoping to bump into rock stars in the seventies. The notorious picture of Led Zeppelin ‘relaxing’ in their midst flashed up briefly on the screen, as did many other suggestive stills taken inside or outside the club, most of which can be easily found on the internet by keying in Bingenheimer’s name. Lori Mattix, the teen model who stepped out with Bowie, Jimmy Page and others, was rather coy about it all and declined to mention names, while Bingenheimer issued a statement to the effect that he wasn’t aware of any impropriety inside his club. Of course not.
What Look Away gave us, then, was three specific examples of appalling behaviour towards young women, all of which occurred many years ago, not that this excuses it in any way. If it was the first episode in a series, I could sympathise with it more but, in reality, this was the tip of the iceberg. Most interviewees suggested it was still happening today but of evidence there was none. If the music industry is to be held to account in its own #MeToo movement, then we need a much bolder approach and, of course, a way around the 21st Century protection offered by expensive libel lawyers whose warnings no doubt prompted the producers of Look Away to blank out many faces in the photographs we saw.