Joan Jett and The Blackhearts Bad Reputation Nation

Jett Set Rocketing

Fans flocking to heavy rock, sweet pop of the first 'riot grrl'

Maybe Joan Jett could cover L.L. Cool J.

After all, aside from her rock anthems like I Love Rock 'N' Roll and Bad Reputation, Jett is known for taking other people's songs like Tommy James and the Shondells' Crimson and Clover or Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner and making them hers.

Heck, she even turned Love Is All Around, the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, into a roaring must-hear.

She could do the same with "Mama Said Knock You Out", which describes Jett's current resurgence quite well.

The evidence?

Don't call it a comeback. She's been here for years, rocking her peers, putting suckers in fear, making the tears rain down like a monsoon.

You get the picture.

After years out of the spotlight, Jett -- the original riot grrl, the first "girl with guitar" -- is back in style. Artists she influenced with the all-girl Runaways and leading her band The Blackhearts, as well as critics, are now falling over themselves to give Jett her due, after being indifferent for way too long.

But again, don't call it a comeback.

"I didn't go anyplace" said Jett, calling from the New York City offices of her record company, Blackheart Records. "I've been touring every year. I've been putting out records. It's just a matter of what the media decides to focus on, what they make a big deal about. I can't really control that."

While armies of riot grrls, wielding guitars and sneers they picked up from Jett, stormed the mainstream in the early 1990s, Jett put out album after album of her brand of powerful rock 'n' roll, an infectious hybrid of raging punk guitars and sweet pop melodies. They all basically went unnoticed.

"It's easy to get annoyed," said Jett. "But I try to stay away from thinking about it in terms of 'Why weren't people interested then and why are they now?' or 'We haven't changed anything, where are they?' "

She worked hard not to get down about it.

"You just try not to notice," said Jett. "You look at the big picture, not the minute details. I try to have a quiet personal life. But when it comes to music, I get real fiery. And when you get angry, you don't say smart things. I try not to do that."

In control

Throughout her career, Jett has always been smart and in control, ever-ready with an eloquent quote when confronted with not-so-smart questions about women in rock, or about her hair (yes, everyone, it's blond now.)

And for the past few years, she has been enjoying watching the mainstream embrace female rockers in a way she could only have dreamed of when she was chanting, "I love rock 'n' roll," and pumping her fists as she stomped around in black leather.

"What makes a difference to me is that bands like Bikini Kill, who are at the heart of the movement, like me," said Jett. "Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill's lead singer) thought The Runaways were valid. That's all I care about, not what some fanzine says, or what self-appointed 'cool people' say. I've been doing this since I was 15. It's real. And I'm not going away."

That's a certainty now.

Since her greatest-hits album Fit to Be Tied came out in November, interest in Jett has been growing again. And so has her reputation -- whether she "gives a damn" about it or not.

You see her on VH-1 now. You see her chatting away on MTV Live. There are loads of interviews. And, most importantly to Jett, the fans are back in droves.

"We played a couple gigs this weekend and had a great time," she said. "There were 10,000 or 20,000 people there, and they just went crazy."

And with the recent re-release of her classic albums, Bad Reputation and I Love Rock 'N' Roll, earlier this year, along with the B-sides and rarities album Flashback, Jett is gaining new fans, as fans of Hole and L7 discover her music.

New album due

There's also a buzz about her new album, which is due this fall.

Jett and The Blackhearts will be previewing some of the songs when they stop in Akron at the Tangier restaurant on Sunday.

"I'm having trouble describing them," she said. "They are definitely more textured, and each song has its own personality. Baby Blue slowly builds up. Fetish is a straight-up rock song. Friend to Friend is very drum-driven and bass-driven. Androgynous is a laid-back kind of song."

Jett said she is looking forward to having folks hear the new songs.

She is also looking forward to returning to Northeast Ohio.

"It's not just for the reason you think," said Jett, referring to the months she spent in the area filming her lead role in the '80s cinematic nugget Light of Day, with Michael J. Fox, where she held her own as a troubled rocker.

"Northeast Ohio has always been a seriously rocking place," she said. "All the way back to The Runaways, I always had really good gigs there. The fans seemed to have a good time there. And that kind of reaction is always what you dreamed of being in a rock band. I love coming back there. It's very special to me."

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