Joan Jett Interview
By an odd set of circumstances I got to interview Joan Jett recently- someone I idolized since I was a teenager and who still inspires me to play guitar. I remember playing the Bad Reputation album constantly in high school and being shocked that guys didn't believe she was really playing guitar...She's still rocking and still totally inspiring. Here's what happened when I got to talk to her a few months back.
Jett: Hi Anne.
AT: Hi. How are you?
Jett: Okay. How're you doing? Where are you?
AT: I'm in Kansas, Lawrence. About 45 minutes from Kansas City.
Jett: Oh, the University- do you go to the University?
AT: I did, I graduated, I haven't left...
Jett: I played there before, that's why I know.
Jett: Yeah, several times.
AT: We had to go to KC to see you last time.
Jett: There's been times we played a lot of colleges on different tours.
AT: First off I have to tell you I've been a fan since I was like...well, my best friend and I pooled our allowance money to go buy The Runaways first album in junior high...it was written up in Crawdadddy magazine or something and I called her up and said we gotta go get this album. Finally last year I got to play in a band. It's now defunct, but it was fun for a while. I finally picked up a guitar and stuff. You were totally the inspiration for that.
Jett: Did you have fun?
AT: Oh yeah, I'm still playing a little.
Jett: It's funny you mentioned Crawdaddy, because I was just thinking recently about that article.
AT: That was a long time ago.
Jett: It was and it just makes me laugh when I think of how nutty that article was. We had a lot of fun. I guess it sounded pretty wild when you read about us.
AT: Yeah, my friend and I were like "Let's quit school and get some equipment and get a van and stuff."
Jett: When I see 15 nd 16 year old girls, they don't seem as old as we were when we were doing that stuff. We felt older I guess than we really were, like 19 or 20.
AT: We were amazed that you were was young as you were. It was totally inspiring. We felt like we could do anything too. I want to ask you about your new album...Fit to be Tied. A lot of the songs were from other albums, but were any of them redone for this, or remixed?
Jett: I don't think anything was remixed or...maybe we went in and recued to make sure it sounded as good as it could sound. I think "Hate Myself" and "Little Liar" are both live versions.
AT: And the Mary Tyler Moore cover? That was great.
Jett: We did that last year, '96. I was approached to help the Women's College Basketball people-they asked me if we'd do a song-they had this Sweet 16 championship...We did the Mary Tyler Moore theme song and it was a promotion on ESPN for the few weeks the championships were going on. Somehow it jumped from the tv to the radio. Some disk jockeys saw it and liked it, and it became a hit in some areas of the country.
AT: Was "I Wanna Be Your Dog" on the new Iggy Pop Tribute album?
Jett: No, it's called "Real Wild Child."
AT: I just assumed, since you've done it for so long...
Jett: Yeah, I had a real hard-on for "I Wanna Be Your Dog" but I don't know..."Real Wild Child" came out really great and it was something we'd been doing for a little while and it was alot of fun. You know - why not do something different?
AT: And you have another album coming out in early '98? What's that going to be like?
Jett: It's a studio record-new songs and it rocks real hard-which is what people expect from us, but I'm having problems explaining that...I think the difference-not that it's that different from other Blackhearts records-is that each of the songs has a real personality. They're very sort of textured. I can't really explain what I mean. I guess it's the way they're built instrumentally, instead of everything happening at once, which is what I like...guitars drums all happening at once...some of these songs are different.
AT: Were you working with the same Blackheart guys? or did you have other collaborations too?
Jett: I worked with The Blackhearts but I also wrote with a guy I worked with on the last album-a guy named Jim Valance. I wrote one or two songs with him and I wrote quite a few songs with Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill, maybe five, six, seven...I'm not sure how many will wind up on the final record. I still have more time to record- if I get another song happening in the next month or so. I'm excited about that. There's some real rocking songs we do live now-so we play a lot of the new songs that will be on this album and a lot of the older songs too.
AT: Are you planning to tour when it comes out?
Jett: Always, yeah.
AT: Is it due out in February?
Jett: That's what we're hoping, yeah.
AT: Holly Ramos, of Fur, a New York band said that she thinks women are the only real hope for music now because she thinks women are more real about their feelings and that men are more superficial in their writing and that women get beyond themes of cars and girls in music. Do you think things are more equal now?
Jett: It's slowly getting there, but it's not going to be equal until...
AT: She was actually saying that women are the saviours of rock & roll from here on out...
Jett: That could be, but if that's gonna be the case...we sure have to hear woman playing rock and roll on the radio - which is not the case now. It's all lip service and it's all pop records. I'm not saying that's not valid - it is valid, it's very valid. But women, playing sweaty, screaming, aggressive rock & roll is valid too. It's all lip service that "women are equal now" and "we've arrived" and all that shit until you hear L7, Bikini Kill or bands like them, or me consistantly on the radio the way Jane's Addiction, Nirvana...we're beaten over the head with it. You don't even hear the variety of music that women play out there and I don't know what it's going to take. It's going to take both a liberated guy and a liberated woman to play it because women get stuck in the same ruts that guys do. They get stuck with the same fears of asserting their beliefs because they're afraid to be criticized, which I understand, but, you know...
AT: Do you think people in charge of radio have a problem, a fear of women in positions of power- because it's powerful to be outspoken...
Jett: That could be part of it, but I think the overall problem is deeper than that. It's just what people are used to...you know, they stick with what they know. It's going to take poeple that are fearless, regardless of whether the programmer is a guy or a woman. Women can be tough too, which can be disheartening. Sometimes I think "things will work when women get in charge", but I've had my ass kicked by women too - because people compete or they think "I'll show them that I'm not going to play favorites". It works both ways. Just because a woman is in charge doesn't mean that she's going to be fair or do the right thing. I think it's a matter of just having more experience too- women being used to having power and weilding it fairly. It's just going to take some time. It's going to happen though. I do think that women can be the saviour of rock and roll because we've got so much to say and so much to share and haven't really done it and STILL haven't really had the opportunity because they think women who play aggressive music are threatening to a lot of people. I don't know why. I'm still trying to figure it out. People are like that with me. They get threatened or they mistake the aggression for ALWAYS being angry. I'm not saying I'm not angry with things - I am, but I'm not always angry. My aggression - I hope - is more happy most of the time, it's just I can't sit still.
AT: When Bad Reputation came out, the bio said you were rejected 23 times by record companies - how did you keep your faith that you had something in the face of so much rejection?
Jett: I'll tell you, it was really hard. It was really hard, because there was no one being positive except your little insulated group-literally the band, Kenny Laguna who was my producer at the time and really that's all I had at that point. I credit Kenny with a lot of ...giving me hope again. Because I wasn't used to seeing- especially a guy...I came from the experience of The Runaways where we got our asses kicked for being girls playing rock and roll. We weren't supposed to do that. We got called every name in the book and people were rude and judged every little thing we did. So then when I met this guy that thought I was talented, thought I could write songs, thought I was really good and saw the various injustices and said "Fuck man that's really not fair and I really want to help." That was great and it was very genuine. It was powerful and that's what kept me going initially through that early period when the early Blackhearts and the rejection and the fans...the gigs we would do around New York and the various other states right around where we would play. Between the fans and just other people, Kenny and other people in the business, that helped us, that believed and helped do various things-like get us on radio...helping the underdog you know. There was a small support network, but it was really, really important. It was small but it was mighty. The fans and friends...that's what helped me get through it.
AT: The Runaways too...I think people don't really realize what you guys did go through. You were actually spit at...
Jett: Yeah, a lot of times. That happened in The Runaways and after it. With The Runaways I think people just didn't get it. I still think they don't really get it. They look at a girl that plays hard guitar as sort of a novelty and sort of like "it's so different". Maybe it is so different, but it's not unattainable at all. And to give women the impression that what I do is SO hard or so impossible for them to acheive too - it's not. It really isn't. You just have to make up your mind that you're going to do it and you're going to stick with it for a little bit and you sure can do it. That's no question.
AT: I read somewhere that there had been some film footage, that there was talk about making a movie, just before the band broke up. Was anything ever filmed?
Jett: Yeah it was, and I can't really remember because I was so out of it at the time. But it wasn't even all The Runaways. We were going to do it, but then the band broke up and I think I was the only one from the band doing it. They had these actresses playing The Runaways. I don't remember what the plot was.
AT: Is it still floating around?
Jett: Oh yeah. Not only is it floating around but they intercut some porno footage with it. So it's now a porno flick. I think it's called Du-BEAT-e-o or something. I've never seen it. I've never wanted to see it. I suppose people who are fans might want to see it out of morbid curiosity, but personally I don't think there's anything worth seeing except you'll see me very out of it.
AT: Have you kept in touch with any of the other Runaways?
Jett: Oh yeah, definitly. We're in touch. I didn't tell you about the spitting. The Runaways weren't spit at too much - maybe a bit in England during all the punk stuff because it was just what people did. The time I got spit at that was really bad was when we were opening in the early '80s - The Blackhearts, not The Runaways - we opened for The Scorpions in Italy and Spain. They're very macho countries and they don't like to see women. They totally couldn't understand what I was doing-didn't like it. The crowd was just hateful. They were screaming "you cunt, you fucking cunt" and they were working up these loogies and spitting on me. I was covered in spit from head to toe. It was hanging off me. Everybody was looking at me, waiting for me to walk off, but it was like...I was not going to leave that stage unless I got knocked out. I've had that happen too-getting hit with batteries and shit like that. Getting ribs broken and stuff. It's like you should just turn and run off the stage because it's not worth it. I don't know why I'm standing out there-like who's gonna say "Yea, Joan! Yeah, way to go ...take a battery in the head for us." It's just...to have these guys call me a cunt and try to scare me off the stage because I play guitar...it became personal between me and them. It was like, "Fuck you guys! I am not going anywhere. You'll have to fucking kill me to get me off the stage" - which they tried to do. Which is really weird when you see people trying to hurt you so bad for playing guitar. Then I get pissed. I get indignant, like, "you're gonna get pissed? You're gonna freak out like that because I'm playing guitar?" Then I get pissed and I get like a chip on my shoulder about it.
AT: Have you played there since?
Jett: No. I don't think so. Plus, the crowd we were playing for was a metal crowd, it was a Scorpions crowd and they didn't want to see me. Being a girl on top of it just really pissed them off. It was not an experience I would want to repeat.
AT: On a better note...have you heard of Guitar Wolf?
Jett: Guitar Wolf? No.
AT: It's a three piece garage rock band from Japan. It's three guys and they play kind of loud rock and roll- they have a great rock and roll spirit. The guitar player, Seiji wrote a song called "Jett Love" that's sort of an ode to you.
AT: Yeah. He really likes you. They're on tour right now with The Cramps. They put on a raucous show and he's not technically the best guitar player in the world but he's totally into the whole American rock & roll thing. It's like crazy garage rock. You can't really understand the lyrics because they are singing partly in Japanese and partly in English.
Jett: Wow - that's cool. That's stuff I love to hear. I love to hear when you inspire people.
AT: Are you still playing a white Melody Maker?
Jett: Yeah I am. I play a white double cut-away Melody Maker, covered in stickers.
AT: OK. How do you stay so healthy? We saw you play and were just amazed...
Jett: About a year ago I used to be able to use the excuse that I practiced yoga because I did - religiously. I just hit a bad spell and mentally lost my thing, and I haven't been doing anything. Not a damn thing. Nothing. I swear. Now it's not even summer time so I can't ride my bike, which isn't much anyway, because it's just lower body, but I'm working to get my head back into getting into yoga - it's all encompassing and so good for your body. It works.
AT: People say rock & roll keeps you young.
Jett: Yeah, it does.
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