Joan Jett still loves rock ‘n’ roll

Joan Jett
Joan Jett

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Joan Jett is a woman of contrasts.

One of the most feisty, hardy and uncompromising women in rock, she is also one of the most kind and least offensive.

Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett

Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett

She’s a paradox. Like Andrex, she’s both soft and strong.

She’s a devoted supporter of the US military and also a spokesperson for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

One of the original rock chicks, she’s made no secret of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle she enjoyed aged just 15. And, at 52, she’s barely stopped touring since.

But when we speak, she’s at home in New York. Having just woken up, she’s reading the newspaper and playing with her cats.

Joan loves animals, but says as far as pets go, she had to stop at her three ex-shelter cats.

‘I’d love to have tons, but I’m away so much that it’s hard to give them all enough time,’ she tells me.

If there’s one thing you learn immediately about Joan, it’s that – whatever else she may be – she is always considerate and principled.

This is why she recently turned down the chance to appear on both American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.

Joan explains: ‘I was extremely honoured to be asked. It’s a really big platform for people who feel that’s right for them.

‘But for me a lot of things on music television seem very schticky.

‘For me, it doesn’t feel genuine to go on those shows and play my music.

‘It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the offer, it just didn’t feel right for me.’

So she opted out of the cash-cow that would be appearing on two of America’s top grossing shows shortly after releasing her Greatest Hits.

She was more tempted by an invitation from a Washington school for students with behavioural problems and learning disabilities, which she visited last week. Jett talked to the youngsters about how she overcame adversity to become one of the first female rock ‘n’ roll artists and about how, after hits with her seminal 1970s all-girl punk group The Runaways, she decided to go back to school.

Then, as the leader of the hard-rocking Blackhearts, Jett (real name Joan Marie Larkin) has had eight platinum and gold albums and nine US Top 40 singles, including Bad Reputation, I Hate Myself For Loving You, and Crimson and Clover.

She now sits at the head of Blackheart Records, as the first female artist to own and operate an independent record company.

She has acted in movies and in a Tony-nominated Broadway musical and produced albums by Bikini Kill, Circus Lupus and Germs.

She’s also one of the most interesting additions to the line-up of next weekend’s Isle of Wight Festival and the star is really excited to be visiting the festival for the first time.

She says: ‘I’ve never been, but obviously I’ve heard of it and it’s something I’ve always been interested to do.’

An inspiration to many current female chart stars, she is headlining Ladies’ Night in the Big Top at the Newport festival next Friday.

‘I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun,’ she says. ‘A lot of times I don’t think female musicians get an opportunity to play for large crowds, not rock ‘n’ roll stuff anyway.

‘You certainly get your fill of pop. That gets a big hearing. But in every city and town there’s a great all-girl band or a band with girls in and it’s important to have an outlet for girls looking to be in rock ‘n’ roll. So this is a night I’m excited to be a part of.’

Joan will jet into the UK from Sweden on Thursday night and plans to make the most of her festival experience.

She says: ‘I’m going to stay for as much of the weekend as I can, to enjoy some music and kick back and meet some bands, just take it all in, you know?’

Jett’s place as a headlining act in this impressive festival line-up is bolstered by the fact that she’s fresh in people’s minds from a 2010 Greatest Hits collection and much talked about film re-enacting the start of her career.

The Runaways is out on DVD now and tells of how Jett co-founded her pioneering all-girl punk quintet as a young teen.

The film’s tagline is: ‘The most influential rock band you’ve never heard of.’ But, with Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning from the blockbusting Twilight franchise playing the lead roles of Jett and her bandmate Cherie Currie, the band is back in the limelight now.

Jett, who served as an executive producer for the film, explains: ‘I tried to be involved as much as was feasibly possible, but there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen on a movie.

‘I wanted to make sure I could keep an eye on the story. I was on set every day with monitor and headphones so I was out the way to give the director free reign on the set.

‘I had to stay around to make sure it wasn’t turned into something not accurate, that didn’t give a sense of what we went through.

‘But you have to remember it is a movie. A lot of the things did happen, but some things were embellished. Some timelines were shifted and things combined. The movie would be 10 hours long otherwise!

‘A lot of it was true, but a lot of it was not exact,’ she clarifies.

Joan says the experience of seeing her own life played out before her was ‘surreal’.

‘Just seeing Dakota and Kristen and Michael Shannon dressed as myself and Cherie and Kim, was surreal as they looked so much like us.’

The film shows Joan growing-up on tour with her band and the star says that, though the unusual lifestyle undoubtedly affected her, she didn’t realise it at the time.

‘Teenagers are not settled,’ she comments. ‘Growing-up you’re figuring out who you are. It’s a turbulent time, even if it’s all good.

‘It was very intense growing-up on the road, but I think at the time it didn’t seem to affect me in a negative way.

‘I didn’t have the traditional relationships, the social things like dating and going to school, but I didn’t realise.’

In the film, Joan says that rock ‘n’ roll saved her life. She maintains now that ‘at the time it was an accurate statement’.

‘It saved my life because it gave me a direction and a focus.

‘My parents told me when I was five years old that I could be whatever I wanted to be.

‘I wanted to be an astronaut and an archaeologist. Then I took drama and music classes.

‘Then growing into a teen, my music tastes shifted from pop to rock ‘n’ roll. I was into Free, The Rolling Stones, T. Rex.

‘I would listen to Led Zeppelin and my father would say “what the hell are you listening to?”

‘I wanted to make those guitar sounds,’ remembers Joan who went on to be one of only two women named in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest guitar players of all time (the other was Joni Mitchell).

After The Runaways disbanded, Joan’s next album was rejected by 23 major labels, so she released it on her own.

The debut single, I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll, was a number one hit, selling over 10 million.

Now, exactly 30 years on from that, she’s still going strong.

Like Andrex – soft, strong and very, very long.

See Joan Jett and the Blackhearts at the Isle of Wight Festival, Seaclose Park, Newport, next Friday. She headlines Ladies’ Night in the Big Top on the first full day of the festival.

Joan on...

...producing a film about herself

I had to separate things. Being the artist it’s about, you want to say “you’re missing this” and “you can’t do that”. But you have to step back and see it as story you’re trying to tell. You have to trust the actors to tell the story.

...Kristen Stewart’s representation of her

Kristen had my posture, you know, the way I stand in space. It was really freaky. My friends and family saw it and thought she nailed it.

...what festival goers can expect from her Isle of Wight performance

Straight up rock ‘n’ roll. We’re going to do songs that cover my whole career including a bit from The Runaways, all our hits, a lot of well-known album tracks and singles released around he world. It’ll be a good cross-section of my career.

...her plans for the rest of 2011

We’re working on new songs, getting in the studio to get new music out and we’re on the road all summer and into the fall.

...is she still into British bands like she was as a youngster?

I’m not as aware of current bands because I don’t listen to the radio the way I used to. But when I do hear a song I like then I find out it’s British, I’m not surprised.