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JOAN JETT - Still a SINNER
New Album, New Tour, Same Reputation
It has been 22 years since the forming of the RUNAWAYS, and JOAN JETT is showing no signs of slowing down.
If ever the term unconventional can be applied to an artist's rise to stardom, it would be for Jett, considering she started her career by running away from home and leaving high school in the 11th grade to tour internationally.
When the aptly named RUNAWAYS disbanded, Jett was unable to get any labels interested in her brand of rock and roll. So in true DIY style, she and friend/producer/songwriter KENNY LAGUNA began selling the album directly out of Laguna's truck. Eventually a deal was struck with the newly formed Boardwalk Records. But even this was short-lived, as Jett and Laguna would simply create their own label, BLACKHEART RECORDS.
In interviewing someone with as tumultuous a history as JOAN JETT, it seemed almost fitting that so many factors, such as technical difficulties, scheduling differences and horrific weather, would interfere with us getting together. But finally I was able to speak with both Jett and Laguna about her early career, the RUNAWAYS, BLACKHEART RECORDS and her current tour.
I wanted to know what inspired someone to get into music so young, and when she knew music was it for her. "I would say it dawned on me around age 14," she said, "as soon as I knew my family was moving to California. I don't know, maybe I would have decided to pursue it anyway had I stayed back east, but my family moved to California around 1973 or 1974. So when I realized I was going to be out there I thought, Wow, I'm going to be close to Hollywood, maybe I can make this work. It was that move that really made me decide that I was going to try and do this."
Despite the popularity abroad of the RUNAWAYS, they weren't as well known in the U.S., which didn't help Jett when she began to pursue her solo career. Before Boardwalk and eventually BLACKHEART RECORDS, she credits Laguna with helping her get through those initial rounds of rejections. "Having Kenny was really obviously big, number one because he knows a lot and he had a lot of connections, but that wasn't ithe was my friend. We connected on a reasonable level, and when he saw the way people were treating me, he got mad because it wasn't fair. So if anything, we were coming up with different ways to get around it, to progress. And the fact that I had someone to fight with, on my team, to fight the world with, it felt very empowering.
"We [also had] a great fan base that we were building on Long Island and in the New York area. On Long Island especially we did a lot of gigs, played a lot of clubs and got great support from the radio; both WLIR and WBAB were very supportive. All those things combined to help create that team."
I mentioned to Jett how I had seen her when she was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. For someone who has had such an impact on music, she seemed so humble accepting the award. "It's interesting that you said I was humble when accepting the [Long Island Music] award," she remarked, "but I can't imagine people going up there saying, 'Yeah, man, I know I'm great.' I just don't get it. I know it probably comes from a place of low self-esteem if you have to be that egotistical, the people that say, 'You know who I am?'"
As a woman in the music industry, I wanted to discuss her perception of her impact on women's roles in the business. In an era when there were criminally few women musicians and even fewer in the business arena of music, JOAN JETT created a roadmap for women to follow. I asked her what she felt about women that acknowledged her as a role model. "It feels amazing," she said. "Instead of making you feel egotistical, I think it goes the other way, a level of humility to know that you've reached people in this deep way. I guess, obviously, being a woman, part of the reason of putting together the RUNAWAYS was to make a statement, and it would be great to have a hit, but it was amazing just to show other girls that 'You can do this!'
"From the very beginning that was a big thing for me, to inspire girls, to show they could do whatever they wanted. They didn't have to pick up a guitar or an instrument; if they wanted to be a nuclear physicist then go for it. Don't let other people dictate what they should be. Try to follow your dreams, because if you don't and you're given that shot, you'll always wonder if you could have done that, as opposed to giving it a shot and if you don't get what you thought you would get, at least you tried. And that is better than regretting your whole life that maybe you should have, maybe you could have."
I also spoke with KENNY LAGUNA about the recently announced RUNAWAYS movie. "It started with Cherie Currie, who was the original lead singer of the RUNAWAYS, and she wrote a book," he explained. "Just a little portion of it was about the RUNAWAYS. It was really about Cherie, and Cherie left the RUNAWAYS early. She became a big star and she was a very talented and beautiful actress. Her first movie, she was with Jodie Foster. It was called Foxes. Then she married an actor named Bob Hayes, who was quite famous, and she became a single mom because all actors and singers get divorced. Then she wrote this book about her remembrances.
"I was just trying to get it published for her as a favor and no one wanted to do it, so we thought maybe it could be done as a television movie. But I just kept fumbling my way forward in Hollywood, not being a Hollywood guy at all, and I ended up with producers John and Art Linson. Art Linson had done Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Fight Club, Untouchables, Swingers and like 20 movies, so I am very excited about this project. I am hoping it will get the girls into the Hall of Fame where they belong, but you're going to have to fight the glass ceiling there too. Come on, the RUNAWAYS belong in the Hall of Fame. I mean, the New York Dolls are in the Hall of Fame "
JOAN JETT is currently in the middle of a massive tour running until November. She will be appearing at the Metro New York Balloon and Music Festival on Friday, August 10. Tickets are still available at www.metronyballoonfest.com.
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