Joan Jett: Speaking To The Underdog

I think you've got two extremes that girls are told they can be. You can either be a dress wearing, lipstick wearing kind of girl or the athletic, short hair, tough chick. There's nothing in between. Most women live somewhere in between. They're not at the extremes, but there's nothing out there for them. It's even difficult to find clothes to wear if you reject these two roles. I have trouble just finding something comfortable.

-Joan Jett

We Must Bleed

Joan Jett
Besides her own music, Jett has had a hand in producing some terrific rock 'n' roll over the years including one of the most revered, important punk albums of all-time, (GI), the 1979 debut of The Germs, which served as the blueprint for the '80s California punk movement that included Black Flag and The Dead Kennedys.

"The scene at that time was so crazy. People were partying and whatnot, so it was in the context of that late '70s madness. When I met Darby [Crash] and Pat [Smear], I believe it was during The Runaways. We were making our second album called Queens of Noise out in Santa Monica, and I think Darby and Pat were fans of The Runaways and said they had a band. Eventually I started hearing about The Germs and I'd go see them around town. I thought they had great songs but everybody was always so whacked you could never tell onstage. It just sounded like a bunch of noise. But, when you could actually hear the songs they were excellent," recalls Jett. "So, at one point they asked me if I'd be interested in producing a record for them. The only reason I can think they asked me was The Runaways had done a couple albums and maybe they thought I knew what I was doing. Now, I'm just guessing. You'd have to ask them why they picked me [laughs]."

"We had four days in the studio, and the first three days we were very serious about it. We got the basic tracks done and I used little tricks I'd learned like doubling the guitars and vocals to make things fatter and thicker. I think we had a great engineer, which was extremely helpful. I was really into it. I wanted to make a great record. That was the first three days, and the last day was, uh, a little looser [laughs]. I think I wound up passing out on the couch, which was immortalized in the song 'Shut Down' on the record. That was the one track they did live in the studio. The other tracks they recorded just the music and maybe Darby did a dummy lead vocal, but we'd go back in and put in the guitar solo and have Darby do his vocals, and do them again and do them again, to make sure he got a great performance. I was glad I was part of it, to see that band form and grow and build a following. Nobody knew them and now they're this famous punk lore. Darby was really a great guy, a very intelligent guy, a sweet guy, when he wasn't crazy."

Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth

Stone age love and strange sounds, too
Come on baby, let me get to you
Bad nights causin' teenage blues
Get down ladies you've got nothing to lose

Joan Jett
Jett's catalog is littered with pleasure buttons like "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" and The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" (quoted above) that produce visible, instantaneous crowd combustion. A forthcoming greatest hits collection arriving late summer will be like a miniature rock history lesson delivered with fire and smartly controlled abandon – short, sharp bursts of the primal stuff flowing in rock's veins.

"'Crimson and Clover,' 'I Hate Myself For Loving You,' 'Bad Reputation,' 'Do You Wanna Touch Me?' - I guess these songs happened at a period of time for people that reminds them of pleasurable things and people just explode when we play them," observes Jett, who excels at crafting songs that get the job done in just a few minutes. "It's not always easy to do. It's hit or miss. You just happen upon it. You just happen to be tapped in at that moment. Other times you sit down and nothing happens. 'Bad Reputation' was one of the first songs Kenny [Laguna of Tommy James and The Shondells, a longtime Jett creative foil] and I wrote together after we met. We discussed The Runaways and what happened during that time, the lack of positive response and what we thought it was, my age within The Runaways and how I had a bad reputation for no reason besides having a black leather jacket, black hair and make-up. People sort of equated me with this dangerous person. At one point bantering about I said, 'I don't give a damn about my bad reputation.'"

Despite being pretty well rounded, Jett frequently taps into archetypal rebel motifs, a classic storytelling device but with the added pleasure of a terrific beat you can dance to and guitars that rattle your bones.

"It's not just for outsiders or way out there rebels but for the average person. When I see the way people react to 'Bad Reputation' I think most people have someone in their life that tells them they're never gonna do good or holds them back in some way. I think a lot more than pure rebels can relate to it," Jett says. "They find something within it that speaks to the underdog in them. All of us, from time to time, feel like an underdog, like we don't get our due or wonder how we can change anything about the architecture of our life or its trajectory."

Joan Jett will be touring all summer. Find her dates here.

JamBase | Across The Tracks
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[Published on: 5/27/08]

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YEM Tue 5/27/2008 05:01PM
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I love punk rock chicks!!!

STEG187 starstarstarstar Tue 5/27/2008 05:58PM
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Snappy you MF!! Darby Crash and Pat Smear mentions on Jambase. Wow how far we have come. Obviously, I quite enjoyed your Joan feature; I was always into her stuff since i first saw the "I Hate Myself for Loving You" video on Headbangers Ball. Back when MTV used to introduce you to bands. And she covered Bon era ADCD with "Dirty Deeds", also a vid/single back then. My mullet was in full effect and was rubbing them out to Lita Ford "Kiss Me Deadly". Oh the days

STEG187 Tue 5/27/2008 05:59PM
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ACDC that is.

Marcsmall Tue 5/27/2008 06:59PM
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wagsinnorthernva Wed 5/28/2008 07:08AM
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Joan Jett is way cooler than Pat Benatar at least she can play guitar. I can't believe were talking about Joan Jett here though, nice job guys. Nice reporting.

salmon401 Wed 5/28/2008 07:55AM
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Another key difference between Jett and Benatar - Benatar never co-starred in a movie with Michael J Fox and Michael McKean. I am sure everyone is waiting for the 25th anniversary special DVD release of Light of Day in 2012. Nice article and quality pic next to the quote on top of page 2.

Hagermeister Wed 5/28/2008 12:28PM
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Quality quote as well. This woman was a constant presence on my high school mix tapes (and I came of age in the post-mullet era :)), when I was struggling with that very dilemma myself. Big props for this bad ass article Dennis.

kirkbrew Wed 5/28/2008 09:22PM
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rhythmic_randomness Thu 5/29/2008 05:54AM
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I'd love to rock and roll her!