She Loves Rock 'N Roll
Why Joan Jett Will Make You Want To Put Another Dime In The Jukebox Baby
Joan Jett is stuck in Manhattan traffic on a rainy afternoon. If her familiar face isn't locked in a frown, though, it shouldn't be surprising.That's because the sun is shining on a career that continues to beat the odds of longevity.
Yes, Joan Jett still loves rock'n'roll ... and the feeling is mutual.
She oversees Blackheart, a multi-media entertainment company that she began two decades ago when the record industry was not willing to invite her to the party (their loss!).
She and partner Kenny Laguna own most of Jett's records. They retained the rights to I Love Rock'n'Roll for $2,500 after one major let it go. Its estimated worth today is a cool $20 million.
Laguna and Jett formed Blackheart Records in '79 and built it into a successful independent label, negotiating partnerships with several other independent labels.
The duo run a management, publishing and film company, a distribution group, a booking agency, merchandise company and music publishing company.
"Don't listen to so-called experts," says Jett, now in out of the rain and settling into a chair in her office, when she is asked what might be learned from her career. "I sent a tape in 1980 to all the record companies, all the majors and minors at the time, 23 of them: "Crimson and Clover", "I Love Rock'n'Roll". They all wrote me back rejection letters. That either tells me they don't listen to the tapes they get or they can't hear hits. It's scary they passed on all of those hits. So, if you think you've got what it takes and really believe in yourself and you're ready to take a lot of crap and still want to do it, go for it. Do as many live shows as you can."
Belief in herself has earned Jett such monikers as the "godmother to female musicians with loud guitars and idealistic dreams" to "the queen of punk," "the girl Elvis" and "the original riot grrl."
She will admit to being a pioneer of sorts.
"I feel funny like I put myself up on the pedestal thing, but there's no question The Runaways and myself were to a certain degree. Girls weren't playing rock'n'roll when we started. Now they are, and they still are having a hard time breaking through the mainstream."
She believes it probably is easier now for a woman in music than when she began, and she senses that a woman who isn't afraid to get up there on stage and rock can symbolize unlimited possibilities for little girls who see them.
"I hope it shows them they can do anything they want," Jett says. "It doesn't mean they have to be a rock singer. They might see me and go, 'Wow! I can do that!' It's really very exciting thing for me - boys or girls, just to give them some confidence."
She looks back on her days with The Runaways "with a lot of gratitude."
"I really realize now I'm so blessed and lucky to have lived the life I live, regardless of some very difficult times, and there were many," she says. "I have a lot of friends who are dead and I'm not. A lot of times I think I should have been. I lived very crazy for a while. I think back on the path I've taken and I feel very lucky for all my blessings. Even some negative things can be blessings sometimes, depending on what you take from it."
She does think that the term "rock" too often is used incorrectly today. "I get real annoyed. Any girl singing they call a 'rock singer.' There are not really any women in rock now. You'd think there was a woman in rock revolution going on if you read the press. To me, rock means distorted guitars."
Persistence has been her strength in her own rock'n'roll journey, she says. "It's just sort of a fun love of the music. I don't want to say I'm not serious. As I grow older, I contemplate the bigger questions in life, the universal questions."
She hopes that people see someone who knows who they are and is not afraid to try to live out her dreams.
"I hope people think I'm down to earth and pretty easy to talk to," Jett says. "The last thing I want them to think is that I'm unapproachable. Sometimes, with that black leather, tough rock'n'roll vibe people are a little afraid to approach me. It's no problem. I won't bite."
She wants people to know that she really loves what she does. "It means everything to me to touch a place in everybody that we can all relate to. I want everybody to know I'm the same as them," she says.
"I love traveling, playing the music and I love talking to people, seeing them get excited. To sit after a show and talk to people, I hear amazing stories from them on how the music got them through tough times, or it shared good times with people and it brings back really special times for them."
Her audience covers a wide spectrum. "It's so diverse, from little children to 70 and 80 year olds to punk rockers to country rockers and everything in between, men and women."
Connecting with those people is how Jett defines success. "I don't really measure success in how much money I make. I don't think that's a valid measurement and probably shouldn't be. It's not real healthy to value your success money-wise," she says.
Her philosophy of trying to make a connection with people extends to such volunteer efforts as entertaining American servicemen and women overseas. In one situation, she flew in in a Blackhawk helicopter with machine guns mounted. "It was intense, but I wasn't nervous," she says. "I was really too tired to think about it. We worked very, very hard on it, which I don't mind at all.
After the Runaways broke up, Jett briefly considered joining one of the branches of the Armed Forces. "I wanted to get the hell out of LA I was so bummed out," she says. "I know people join the Armed Forces for a lot of different reasons."
Late last fall she embarked another trip to entertain U.S. soldiers at other hot spots, including the Middle East.
Now she plans to work on some new material. "I don't know what form it will take," she explains. She also would love to do another movie.
"I love recording. It's definitely enjoyable. But I've always been a live performer. That's what really lights my fire," she says.
Jett also seems ignited by the spiritual quest on which she has embarked.
"Mine is an ongoing spiritual journey," she says. "I think I've sort of been searching all along. I feel like I'm slowly getting a grip on things, slowly understanding the games of the universe."
Religion as a child did not impact her. "We were Protestant. We went to church, but I wouldn't call our home a religious home," she says. "For me, most of it went in one ear and out the other. A lot of it didn't make sense to me and wasn't logical: God is loving, but you're supposed to fear God?"
She believes in God. "But I don't think he is a man with white hair and a beard sitting in a cloud throwing thunder. There are people who are very strong in their beliefs and I don't begrudge anyone their spiritual beliefs. I expect mine to be respected also."
Conversations With God has been an influential book for her and she takes an extra copy on the road with her to share with people.
"It's made everything clear to me," she says.
One more example, perhaps, that rock'n'roll really isn't all the devil's music?
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