Joan Jett: These days, ‘everything rocks except rock’

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

The Blackhearts perform with Joan Jett, right, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony.

(Mike Coppola, Getty Images)

Joan Jett’s cover of the Arrows’ “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” was a hit from the moment it arrived on the airwaves in 1982. More than 30 years later, the genre is finally proclaiming its love for her as well.

On Saturday, HBO will air last month’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, recorded in Cleveland, that features the induction of Jett along with her band the Blackhearts. It was a moment Jett describes as “unexpectedly” great.

“It was pretty overwhelming because it was a lot of industry people and, I guess from my perspective, a lot of people who didn’t think I was worth much for most of my career,” she says, referencing the standing ovation she received that night. “To me it felt not like vindication — because that’s not humble and you have to have humility in this — but just a recognition of what I’ve done or what we’ve all done.”

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Jett began carving out a name for herself in the Los Angeles rock scene in the mid-1970s, when she started the Runaways with drummer Sandy West. Over the course of four decades, Jett has built a career as a successful solo artist and producer for artists such as Bikini Kill and the Germs, recently wrote the title track for the upcoming Catherine Hardwicke film “Miss You Already,” and will appear in a film she’s also producing, “Undateable John.”

But Jett admits it is difficult for her to see her legacy, asserting that making music is simply what she does. “The way I hear about it is when girls come up to me and tell me what I meant to them and just the variety of [their] experiences,” she says, with an air of legitimate surprise to her raspy voice. “And it’s not just girls, it’s guys too, it doesn’t just extend to one part of the population. That’s where I really feel it, on a more personal level.”

While Jett still grapples with her standing as a key part of rock history, perhaps it’s because she was consistently told she would never be accepted. “When she started the Runaways, because she’s a girl, the amount of hostility she encountered was just unreasonable,” says Kenny Laguna, Jett’s longtime writing partner and producer, who cites bands, record labels and radio jockeys who sneered in the Runaways’ direction.

“You would have thought, as teenage girls, that we had machine guns and stuff, we were so threatening,” Jett says excitedly. “We weren’t even doing anything!”


Though Jett sadly proclaims that not much has changed for women in rock, she cites the Internet as the greatest means with which women can get around the typical industry structures. “You can get your band, put your music up on a website, [and] reach people without getting on a radio station, which is different than what we’ve been able to do throughout the years,” she says, pointing out that approaching people at gigs and on the street wasn’t far off from trying to grab attention on the Internet today.

However, this changing industry landscape is something Jett cites as a reason that her last record, 2013’s “Unvarnished,” slipped under the radar. “I’m not sure how the radio play breaks down, or the Internet play,” she says. “But we’re in a different climate and we recognize that. You just have to do your best.”

Regarding the state of rock ‘n’ roll overall, Jett says the genre was far more powerful years ago. “The media took the word ‘rock,’” she says. “Everything rocks: Food rocks, clothes rock, everything rocks except rock.”

But Jett also says that rock’s fall from grace is because young people have moved on to new forms of counterculture. “With the advent of so many other genres, [music] has really opened up, giving kids choices that feel rebellious to them and not just rock ‘n’ roll,” she says. “You have to get down into the nitty-gritty and go into the streets and find out the cutting edge.”

While certainly not the grittiest of performers today, Jett has recently found a kinship with singer Miley Cyrus. A longtime fan and acquaintance, Cyrus delivered an impassioned speech inducting Jett into the Rock Hall and recently performed a cover of the Replacements’ “Androgynous” with Jett and Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace for the the Happy Hippie Foundation, which benefits homeless and transgender youth.

Jett says “Androgynous, which she covered on her 2006 record “Sinner,” represents a spectrum of gender identity that resonated with all three women.

“It’s not saying you’re not who you are, it’s that you can feel a far range of emotions; there’s many in-betweens, it can be fluid,” she says. “I felt like this when I first covered it: I’m a girl, I love being a girl, but I definitely feel like I have all aspects in me.”



‘2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony’

Where: HBO

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)