(Originally appeared in Mutant Renegade Zine #14, Spring 2000)
Joan first gained notoriety as a member of the female rock ‘n’ roll band, the Runaways. After the Runaways broke up Joan went to England and while there she cut three songs with ex-Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones, two of which came out as a single in Holland only. (The third song was I Love Rock’n'Roll.)
During Joan’s career, she’s worked with the Sex Pistols, the Beach Boys, Paul Westerberg, L7 and Bikini Kill to name a few. She also produced the debut album by, the Germs and acted in a few movies, including one based on the Runaways (with actresses playing the rest of the band) called We’re All Crazy Now! (Which was never released)
A few months ago, I got the opportunity to be in on a roundtable interview with Joan Jett via telephone. Actually Gail was supposed to do the interview, but circumstances wouldn’t have it. My fellow interviewers were Wendy, John L. Alan, Joe, and John C. I can’t really say who asked what questions, so I’m putting them all under the Mutant Renegade umbrella, with a * by the questions I asked. Enjoy.
MRZ – Do you miss the ’80s?
Joan – In what respect?
MRZ – The music, the fashion, the kids. I mean nowadays, everything seems to be a little bit calmer. Rock ‘n’ roll is not what it used to be of course.
Joan – I don’t know if I miss it per say, but I do miss the fact that there just doesn’t seem to be any rock ‘n’ roll out there anyplace. Everything does seem kind of tame. It’s even hard in Manhattan to go out and find a good band to go see.
MRZ – Everybody says rock is dying, do you believe so? And do you find it hard to stay faithful to rock ‘n’ roll nowadays?
Joan – It’s easy for me to stay faithful. It’s even easier when there are less people doing it. I feel like it’s my job to carry the torch. I don’t understand personally what happened. Why there aren’t people out there willing to have fun playing rock ‘n’ roll. I just don’t get it. I don’t know if it’s because fashions change, styles change and now everyone’s into this rock, rap, metal kinda vibe. I really don’t know. I think there’s nothing better than seeing a three-chord straight up rock ‘n’ roll band in your face with sweaty music and three minute good songs. There’s nothing better than that?
MRZ – How about aging? Do you feel like sometimes you’re softening?
Joan – Who me? (In a “you’ve got to be joking” tone)
MRZ – Yeah.
Joan – What, are you kidding? (In a “you’ve really got to be FUNKIN’ joking” tone)
MRZ – Many people just let it go after awhile because they’re tired…
Joan – … I understand that. Some people do let it go because they get tired. I think what I’m going to do is get more balance in my life to still be able to go out and play the hard rock ‘n’ roll and do what I like to do in music. I’m going to take a month off and go hang out with my friends, to have a little more balance in my life so I don’t get tired. So I won’t say, “You know, fuck all this!” and just leave it. I think it’s about getting into other aspects of your life and opening that up a bit. Not just always about being in a band.
MRZ – I know you’ve done acting, but have you ever considered stepping outside of rock ‘n’ roll and doing other musical styles, or anything like that?
Joan – As far as musical styles, no I’ve never really considered that. It’s not something that resonates with me. Rock ‘n’ roll music is what gets me off. I would love to do more acting. I’ve just never had the opportunity to get at scripts, to have the opportunity to show people that I can act. So I’m just waiting for those little openings.
I wouldn’t say no to other kinds of musical opportunities. I guess that it just depends on what it was or what it required me to do, and if I felt that it compromised my own soul.
MRZ – Have you worked with Lita Ford since the Runaways?
Joan – No, I haven’t.
MRZ – Do you want to?
Joan – Yeah, in a Runaways context yeah. We discussed possibly doing something.
MRZ – Like reforming the group.
Joan – I don’t know. I’m the one who’s really not into that. I don’t see the reason. We took so much shit when we were doing it when the Runaways were happening. So now 20 years later people want us to get together so they can take shots at all these old babes trying to get back some youth.
I mean come on; I’ve been there. I know what the press would do. They say “Oh come on, reform”. We reform and people take shots. I would come out with nooses and hang everybody who made fun of us. Only because The Runaways were my baby and there’s no reason to get it back together except to totally have fun. If that’s not the goal, then I don’t want to do it.
So as soon any other thing enters into it, any discussion of sound, any kind fights, any kind of press leaks, you know what, I don’t need it. I’ve already done it. I did it. I don’t have to prove anything with the Runaways. It’s everybody else who has missed it or wants to see it again that wants us to consider a reunion or something like that.
It’s not totally out of the realm of possibility that we would get together to do a song, but I don’t see a tour or anything like that happening.
MRZ – What was it that about the Runaways that you were made fun about?
Joan – Everything, just the fact that we were girls, with girls being the main thing. You know, I guess it’s really hard for people to get it, unless you’re in it. People don’t want to see women doing things they don’t think women should do. Women are supposed to take a submissive roll in society. The fact that the Runaways picked up guitars, and me being one of the louder ones with leather jacket, heavy makeup, just pushing the envelope.
We were called sluts, whores and dykes all the time, all the time. We were constantly laughed at by the bands we played with, by the crews, the press, everybody.
It got really frustrating. I didn’t get it. I thought people would love to see teenage girls playing real rock n roll. I thought you know that’s great. And when I see girls who are the age that we were now, and I think of what we were doing at their age. It’s hard for me to think that a lot of those teenage girls to handle what we were going though.
We were really grown up for our age and it was an incredible special band. And anybody who saw that knows that. We had some amazing tours. We did three months with the Ramones in the United States. It was one of the most incredible tours. The Ramones and The Runaways, it was unbelievable. It was 1977. It was like heaven.
MRZ – Have you seen the Donnas? It seems like they’ve pretty much exactly taken the ball the way the Runaways did, the complete formula. What do you think of them and have you seen them?
Joan – I saw them in New York last year. I think they are excellent. I think they are very competent. I really got a kick out of the whole Runaways vibe. They have t-shirts on with the name underneath. That’s what the Runaways did. We all had our own colored t-shirts. I think it’s cute. Imitation is a form of flattery. I’m honored. Finally seeing girls pick up some guitar and play guitar.
I get so tired of seeing women in pop music being called rock ‘ n’ roll. Could you all please stop calling all the pop babes rock ‘n’ roll. It’s really getting tiring. I don’t even want to say. Britney Spears, rock ‘n’ roll, rock ‘n’ roll. I mean come on, give me a break.
MRZ – I think from the underground these days there seems to be a groundswell of respect for you from some of the bands coming up from the punk underground, The Donna’s, The Muff’s… The Muffs have a similar sound of what you’ve always done. Do you like them?
Joan – Yes, I like them and know them as well.
MRZ – What about any other bands that you like?
Joan – You know, I have a really tough time finding new bands. The newest band is Fugazi, which is not new; they’ve been around for years. Another band on their label, a band called Lungfish, I think they’re great. Their (Fugazi) whole attitude, playing the music for the music’s sake, is something that is so lost. They’re so into their audience. They don’t sell albums above five bucks; all their gigs are five dollars. They’re always all ages. That’s important
MRZ – Would you consider doing a club tour anytime in the near future?
Joan – We always play clubs. It’s not something that I feel above. Those are my favorite shows because they’re intimate, they’re tight, their sweaty, they’re hot. You’re close to the people. Those are my favorites. So yeah, I’d do one for sure.
MRZ – You’ve opening for Def Leppard. What do you think about that? It’s a strange double bill.
Joan – I don’t think so; I think the music works well together. Both bands write three-minute rock songs with big chorus. Yeah, they might have a slight different take on the songs. Def Leppard is obviously a different band that we are, but the music work well tighter. And the audiences seem work well together too.
We are opening, but we’re having a good time. The band is treating us great. They’re great guys, real friendly. It’s good to be put in a different position every so often. And just look at things from a different perspective. I’m having fun opening up. Sort of struggling to get the audience into it. It’s good. It makes you fight. Not fight like antagonistic. But fight for what you believe.
*MRZ – I saw you in Dayton last summer Joan and I have to say you are not softening. You put one hell of a show on and I loved your Lungfish cover. Gail was actually supposed to do the interview but she couldn’t make it. Growing up, you and Iggy Pop were Gail’s heroes. Who were your heroes growing up, who are your heroes now and why?
Joan – Oh boy. That’s a tough question you know that? Heroes? You mean musical heroes?
*MRZ – Anyone, someone who just inspired you and how you look at life.
Joan – Wow, so long ago. I wouldn’t even use that word. I didn’t have heroes. More of being a fan or inspired, but not a hero. That’s way too strong of a word.
The British Glitter scene, British glitter music, Gary Glitter, Suzi Quartro… Suzi Quartro was a big one because that was the first time seeing another woman playing rock ‘n’ roll. She was a big one for sure, because I figured if she could do it, I could do it. If I could do it, other girls can do it. That’s probably a big inspiration.
Oh, here’s one. Liza Minelli in Cabaret. Big one. Big. That turned me onto show business, deviation and just wanting to sing. I really wanted to emulate Liza. It was something that I related to with her. I’ve been lucky enough now to have met her and be friends with her. So that’s really a wonderful end to that story. I got to meet… yeah she is one of my Heroes.
MRZ – Does it ever feel like a heavy burden to you to be such an icon of women in rock, riot grrrl all of that?
Joan – No, I guess that although people tell me that it doesn’t really sink in. I feel like a schmuch just like everyone else on the street.
MRZ – But you’re not, you’re Joan Jett!
Joan – But I’m still just a human being. It’s fun to be able to tell everybody that. Hey, I’m really no different that you, I just had a little fire in my belly and followed my dreams and was lucky enough to achieve it. So it’s feel good to me to be able to relate that to other people so they don’t feel like they can’t do it. We all can do it; it’s just knowing that.
MRZ – It just seems like it would be such a responsibility having so many young girls look up to you, you know.
Joan – Yeah, I guess it’s a responsibility that you just want to be able to direct them if they’ve got questions. But I don’t feel like a burden. It’s liberating. It’s exciting to me. Bring them on and let me talk to them. What do they have to ask me? I get off on talking and sharing, and sometimes not knowing the answer. Just saying I don’t know the answer.
MRZ – I have a question along those same lines. Because you did go through such a hard time to getting where you’re at, you know being the heavy metal rock girl. Do you feel let down by some of the girls today? Do you feel that they aren’t taking the advantage of you plowing ahead for them and picking up your torch?
Joan – I don’t know if I feel let down. I just don’t get it to tell you the truth. I just don’t get it. There seems like there’s me, Cortney Love in the main stream…
MRZ – Do you like L7, I love L7?
Joan – Yeah, I love L7, but they haven’t had a hit. So I guess there is this glass, I don’t know if you want to say ceiling, but this partition that makes it very difficult for women to actually do it, to actually play hard rock. It’s one thing to say, “Oh I’m a woman and I play guitar” well if it’s pop music or if it’s acoustic rock, which I have a problem with.
MRZ – What about lillith? What do you think of Lilith? Why weren’t you on the Lillith tour, that’s what I want to know? I’m p.o.ed that you weren’t on the Lillith tour.
Joan – Well you know there’s a couple ways to go with that you could say. Ad some hard rock to it and make it all compassing which is an interesting idea, or I don’t know. I think the whole setup was a little too light at the time and I think that I just wanted to just not be involved and let it be what it was.
L7 and I have been rehashing, talking over maybe doing some kind of thing like that, a hard rock version. But do a small version, not even to think of filling up stadiums or even a big place. Maybe just using clubs. For example, L7 and us going out and at each city getting a couple of girl bands or bands with girls in them or just some such thing and going across the county like that. It’s just and Idea.
I don’t know why girls aren’t doing it. It’s just frustrating. I think that if people take any kind of shit that I took while I was in the Runaways, I would say that’s the reason, because they would start getting judgments about their character. Getting judgments about their sexuality. It’s completely unfounded. It’s just based on the fact that they’re playing electric guitar. Most people don’t what to deal with that, so they take the easy way out, they decide to do something else.
MRZ – What are your plans in the future, movies or music?
Joan – Hopefully a little bit of both. I plan to stay in music. I plan to keep making records.
MRZ – Are you writing songs?
Joan – Yes I am. I’m actually going to take a couple months after this tour to try to rejuvenate myself, but by the spring I’ll be ready to go again.
MRZ – You’ve talked about how much the Runaways had to fight for respect and never got any. I’ve read recent articles about you and I’m totally struck on how patronizing it often is that they always say, “Would you believe that Joan Jett is a smart business woman. And would you believe she’s influenced fashion and all of that sort of thing. So do you feel that you are getting the respect now?
Joan – You know, you can’t judge the respect from what the press says. You guys take this with a grain of salt. You know the press if fickle. One week they say Joan Jett’s smart or whatever. And as soon as they have something bad to say, they say it. It’s more about what they people think. I’ve always felt good about what the people think of my. They let me know that they’re behind me.
You know I don’t care if the world thinks I’m smart or not. I happen to invest and the press picked up on it. It’s smart if I make money, it’s dumb if I don’t, right.
I don’t know if I’m getting the respect. It depends on who you’re asking, The press write about it and the press write about certain things, but I don’t know if that equates respect. You have to ask the press people who are writing it if they really respect me or if they’re writing it because it’s their assignment.
MRZ It seems like there’s such a bias against rock period these days unless it’s some a homogenized, hybridized thing. You were talking about the glass ceiling for L7 or some of the girl bands. It seems to me that it’s much just because they’re much raw rock as it is their gender at this point. What do you think about that?
Joan – Well you know the thing that I did noticed, I’ll use the word rock as appose to rock ‘n’ roll, because rock ‘n’ roll implies movement A lot of that rock stuff I was hearing a couple of years ago was very mid tempo, very boring. You know like plodding, plodding, too much plodding.
I think you need three minute, up-tempo good songs, good chorus. That’s what you need. When you got that, you can’t fight that. And you have a record company behind it, this is a key too, you need people to fight for your records, at least a little bit. So if you have a great song, it’s catchy, and you’ve got a little bit of help, I think that’s all you need. But there hasn’t been that in music.
I don’t know the name of the song, I could almost hum it but I don’t know if I could, but it was… uhmm a few songs that I’ve heard in the last four months, very catchy. I don’t know if I would call them rock ‘n’ roll, but they’re rock, very catchy things on the radio, so I think that there is opportunity for that. It’s all just a matter of having the material out there.
*MRZ – Joan Jett is so synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll, that when people talk about you they talk about rock ‘n’ roll. I’d like to know other things about you, what other things are you into.
Joan – That’s what I want to figure out. That’s why I want to take time off to deal with it. I’ve been doing this stuff for so long it’s the one aspect of my life that I’ve paid attention to and really sort of not paid attention to the rest of it. So now I need to take a little time and start to find out, who am I. Besides the person who is on stage, besides this person who plays guitar.
I love sports. I love animals. I love kids. I want to save the world. So how do I combine all those things? I don’t know. I like to hang out with my friends. I love music. I like to go to the movies. I like to eat. I like to cook.
So I’m going to figure out all these other things, the things you just asked me. What else do I like to do? I need to start working on that instead of being so regimented, only accessing one aspect of myself. Slow down a little bit.
MRZ – So I should ask you again in another six months?
Joan – Yeah do that.