Joan Jett: Musician + Feminist + Badass
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because she was an original riot grrrl, smashing the boundaries for women in music. And admit it: You’ve sung along to I Love Rock ’n’ Roll. Loudly.
By Barbara Fletcher
When you hear the name Joan Jett, this image immediately springs to mind: a leather-clad, sassy, undeniably authentic, tough rocker chick (and we use that term with reverence). A determined and driven badass musician who, from an early age, gestured a triumphantly raised middle finger toward a hostile, mostly male-dominated music industry.
She challenged the idea that punk was a men’s-only club.
Because even before her 1982 No. 1 rock anthem, I Love Rock ’n’ Roll, Jett was a woman hell-bent on forging her own way (proof positive: She produced the landmark record GI by the Germs) and on her own terms. Her path gave direction to the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s — the third wave of feminism that challenged, among other things, the idea that punk was a men’s-only club — and remains well-trodden by generations of female rockers.
Jett picked up her first guitar at 13 and didn’t stop. Four decades later, at age 55, she’s finding new fans and still seeing accolades for her work. Case in point: In March, Gibson named her No. 1 on their Top 10 Female Guitar Players of All Time, beating out serious strummers like former bandmate Lita Ford, Heart’s Nancy Wilson and Joni Mitchell. Gibson crowned the Queen of Noise for her “sincere and simple rock ’n’ roll” style.
Jett was the first female artist to own and control an independent record company.
That style emerged early. At age 15 in L.A., Jett co-founded the band The Runaways, at a time when “there was no support for girls in rock and roll.” Known for their hit Cherry Bomb, the all-female rock band saw success internationally, especially in Japan (Jett executive-produced a 2010 film about the band, with Kristen Stewart playing Joan as a teen). In 1980, Jett and her producer financed her first solo album, Joan Jett. After being rejected by almost two dozen record labels, she formed her own, Blackheart Records, becoming the first female artist to own and control an independent record company.
And then the ascent to the throne of rock royalty really began. In 1982, I Love Rock ’n’ Roll reigned as No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks. Other, now-iconic tracks followed, including Crimson and Clover and the teeth-gnashing classic I Hate Myself for Loving You. The video shows Jett in all her big-haired, studded-leather, glamtastic glory:
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts continue to make music, with their latest release, Unvarnished, dropping in late 2013. And they continue to tour — with the likes of Foo Fighters and others. Their dizzying summer schedule includes festival and tour dates across the U.S., one of which, the “Kiss the Sky! The Orca Freedom Concert,” Jett will co-headline with friends and rock sisters Heart. The cause is near to her heart; an animal-rights supporter, she canceled appearances at SeaWorld (along with Heart, Willie Nelson and others) in 2013 and demanded that they stop using I Love Rock ’n’ Roll for whale shows.
Jett wanted to cover Arrows’ song I Love Rock ’n’ Roll with The Runaways, but it didn’t happen. She recorded a version with the Sex Pistols’ Paul Cook and Steve Jones in 1979; released as a B-side to You Don’t Own Me. In 1981, Jett re-recorded the chart-topping version with The Blackhearts. The video arrived just in time for the birth of MTV.
Because, you don’t want to f*ck with Joan Jett. Not in the ’70s, and definitely not now.
Into her sixth decade, she is a legend: a trailblazing musician, feminist and style icon, film and stage actress (including a Rocky Horror stint on Broadway). She’s also involved in the sports world, producing and performing music for UFC, NCAA, baseball and others.
The singer is set to make history again — this time at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards. On April 23, she will become the first female to receive the Golden God title, joining previous honorees Motorhead, Gene Simmons and Alice Cooper — who said in Revolver’s press release: “No one deserves this award more than Joan Jett … I wish some of the younger bands had the balls that [she] does!”
Rock on, Joan Jett.