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Love the ‘SINNER’
Rocker JOAN JETT back in spotlight with Warped Tour and her first CD in 10 years
Let’s just get it out of the way. JOAN JETT refuses to talk about her personal life in interviews, which means she won’t answer "the question": "Are you gay?"
It’s none of anyone’s business and why does it matter, she says. All she cares about is her music. And her two cats.
"It’s not classy," to talk about one’s personal life, she says, a rote response to questions she’s been asked over and over again.
Jett has never spoken publicly about her sexual orientation, disappointing dykes everywhere. But the original riot grrl with a bad reputation who first came onto the punk scene as a 15-year-old in the 1970s with the RUNAWAYS is, well, actually very nice.
During a recent phone interview with Southern Voice, she explains that the name of her new CD, "SINNER," covers several topics: One, the word is striking and "grabs attention," but also, the title and the music on the CD take on the social and religious fundamentalism in our country that pits some against others.
"The climate of our country — it’s very subjective on what’s moral and what’s not, people deciding what’s moral and what’s not moral," Jett says in her signature raspy voice.
"To live life is to sin, to desire is to sin," she says. "If you embrace living and life, you’re a sinner."
Jett is quick to note she’s been the target of many morality judgments for simply being who she is — a tattooed, sexy, leather-clad female rocker in a very patriarchal industry.
"People will and have judged me, very harshly, for the way I look, act, talk, without even knowing me," she says. "I consider myself a caring, good person. Yeah, I think I am a sinner, but I’m also a good person."
Jett plays Atlanta on June 28 at HiFi Buys Amphitheatre, headlining the Vans Warped Tour.
ON ‘SINNER,’ JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS’ first original studio album in more than a decade, Jett offers a record on her own Blackheart label to musically tackle politics head-on for the first time.
The opening track, "Riddles," pokes fun at politicians who can’t speak the truth, including a stab at the current Commander in Chief:
"Clear skies baby/Healthy forests/No Child Left Behind/Wake up people/Big Brother is watchin’ you/They’re takin’ all your rights away/Don’t claim that you represent me cause/I don’t believe a word that ya say."
Jett stresses she’s not trying to calling anyone a "moron" with the song, but rather she’s bashing the political institution itself.
But she does add the famous Donald Rumsfeld quote "there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns" to exemplify the "Riddles" title, and she reinforces the point with the most infamous Bushism at the end of the song: "There’s an old saying in Tennessee … that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again."
Never considered a lyrical genius, Jett’s hard-hitting, three-chord guitar thumping style does make listeners want to stand up and make a difference with "Change the World."
"It ain’t his/It ain’t hers/It’s for all/Is that somethin’ we can learn/It’s time we stop all the hatin’/Let’s start today/Go find a way/To change the world."
"Being political is something I’ve wanted to do for awhile," she says. "But I had an aspect of writer’s block. I’ve wanted to write beyond things like relationships and write about politics and spirituality, but how do you do that without sounding corny and preachy? I think I found my voice and I’m very happy with ‘Riddles’ and ‘Change the World.’"
WHILE SHE DECLINES to answer "the question," Jett’s public image keeps fans guessing. Her white Gibson Melody Maker guitar, covered in various stickers, at times has had "Gender Fucker," "Girls Kick Ass," as well as the black and blue Leather Pride flag plastered on it.
According to the blogosphere, "Dykes Rule" and Tinky Winky stickers have also graced her guitar in the past.
In recent concert photos and in Jett’s new video for her song about a bisexual girl, "A.C.D.C.," a pink sticker bearing the iconic yet generic image of two women holding hands is located brazenly in the center of her guitar.
"A.C.D.C.," a cover of ‘70s glam rocker band Sweet, is Jett at her best, thumping her guitar while singing of a girl who can’t decide which team to play for.
"A.C.D.C./She got some other lover as well as me/A.C.D.C./She got some other fella as well as me/She got some other lover as well as me."
In the video, a seductive Carmen Electra takes to the streets of New York City wearing a classic JOAN JETT T-shirt, sharing a brief kiss with a dyke-olicious babe wearing camouflage on the steps of a nearby brownstone.
Later in the video, dressed in a strapless, flowing white dress, Electra’s character joins two well-heeled men in suits and takes a ride in their limo. After a few kisses and cuddles with the gentlemen, Electra climbs out, changes into skin-tight jeans and a bikini top, and hits a nightclub where Jett is playing to a rowdy crowd. There, the two share an intimate whisper.
So, is Electra — who has confessed to a real-life crush on Jett in the past — the singer’s love interest in the video?
"I’ve heard that [about the crush], but I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s a love interest [in the video]," Jett asserts. "The song is about a girl who can’t decide which way to go."
In her years on stage, Jett has played many Pride fests, where she says she always receives great enthusiasm from the crowd. What does she think about her gay fan base?
"Well, gays love rock and roll, too," she answers bluntly. "It’s never something I’ve really thought about, the separation."
JETT’S COLLABORATION WITH numer-ous queercore and dyke bands, including Bikini Kill, L7, Le Tigre and Atlanta’s own Amy Ray of Indigo Girls, comes from her desire to connect with other women rockers, she says. On "SINNER," Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, who is married to Beastie Boy’s Adam Horovitz, combine writing on "Watersign," "Tube Talkin’" and "Baby Blue."
"Kathleen is awesome,"Jett says. "It’s wonderful to write with her. She took me out of my comfort zone, which is good."
Jett also continues a longstanding friendship with Ray as well as Emily Saliers, she says.
"They’re both great," she says of Indigo Girls. "They always make me feel at home."
Flattered to be christened the original Riot Grrl with such anthems as "I Love Rock & Roll" and "Bad Reputation," Jett, now 47, says there still are not enough women rockers at the top of the charts.
"I’m still wondering now, where are all the girls? I know they’re out there and they’re playing, but it seems like they can’t get past a certain level," she says.
AS A HEADLINER for the male-dominated Warped Tour, marking its 14th year as the nation’s longest-running touring rock festival, Jett — also recently dubbed the "godmother of punk" by the New York Times — says she is excited about hearing new music and not intimidated to share the stage with rockers half her age.
"A big punk rock circus type of atmosphere," is what she tells fans to expect at the show.
"I want to throw myself into it and enjoy it," she says. "I want to check out bands and hear some I don’t know, like a lot of people coming to the show … it’s all about the music."
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