It’s safe to say of Joan Jett that she’s done it all. Beginning her career in one of the seminal female rock acts, The Runaways, Jett has gone on to a solo career that is defined by solid three chord blues riffs and includes a couple of the most memorable rock anthems of all time.
More so than any of her Runaways band mates, Jett has cemented herself as rock royalty. She was included on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists (No. 87) by Rolling Stone, and when was the last time Lita Ford was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
But for as much as Jett acknowledges her role as a pioneer for women in rock, it’s not primarily how she’d like to be remembered.
“I’m just a rock and roller,” she said in an interview from her home in New York City. “That’s how I look at it. I can’t really say ‘the first’ because it’s a subjective thing. Other people might think some other girl did it first. But, as one of the first women to really play hard rock and roll and mean it, and sweat and get dirty, it’s hard for me to break it down like that. It just feels weird, you know, to say anything beyond ‘I’m a rock and roller.’ ”
From her own early punk and glam influences, through the hard rock of the Runaways and The Blackhearts, Jett has always done her best to stay true to herself and her music, both artistically and professionally. After the Runaways broke up, Jett became one of the first women to really take her career in her own hands, forming Blackheart Records in 1980 — a move that’s as much a negative reaction to her Runaways experience as it was a positive one. After growing tired of the infighting that plagued The Runaways, and despite her solo debut famously being rejected by 25 labels, Jett found a way to make the music she wanted and has always been ready to thumb her nose at those who’ve told her it couldn’t be done.
Is that the most important thing she learned from her time as a member of the Runaways?
“Wow. That’s a good question, but that’s hard,” she said, taking a moment to reflect. “The most important thing I learned in the Runaways. Wow. I want to say something positive, because there were so many; I mean, you just learn about, to a degree, how things are done. But you know, I want to say that I learned not to trust people. Which is a horrible thing, because it goes totally opposite to what my instincts are. I want to trust, but you have to be careful on every level.”
Now, Jett’s career arc has eased into a new phase. She hasn’t released a studio album since 2006, and her live shows rarely feature anything that strays too far from her mid-80’s heyday, as she continues to segue from “full time rock star” to “producer who plays music.” It’s a change that she understands and tries to embrace.
“I feel like I’m trying to take control,” she said. “I don’t want to get to a point where I resent any of that, you know? Or resent any success. I think you can balance it, and that’s why I try to spend a lot of time at home with my animals. But I have to watch that to make sure I don’t do that too much. I don’t want to get agoraphobic.”
article originally ran in Cityview July 26, 2012