Many people, casual listeners, will immediately recognize her signature song, asking for one more dime in the jukebox. Why? Because she loves rock and roll.
Joan Jett has for almost four decades both captured and propelled the American pop-music, almost-underground zeitgeist. Jett and her band, the Blackhearts, perfectly channels a straight-forward crunch of three glam chords into rock that grabs you by the gnarlies and won’t let go. And sure, Jett, born Joan Marie Larkin in 1958, will always be known by her first big hit, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which was a cover by the Brit glam band Arrows (a band that today looks prescient in its straddling of the glam-to-punk line). But while that song stomped her presence on the American youth consciousness, in the somewhat insular world of Southern California teens, and in Japan, Jett and her band mates in The Runaways already had a following that loved the insouciant, who-gives-a-fuck swagger of the four pretty, and pretty snotty, women barely out of their teens.
The Runaways had one foot in glam, one foot in arena rock, but in such songs as “Cherry Bomb” were moving in the direction of something really new, something that sounded a little bit like what was coming out of New York City with bands like The Ramones.
The Runaways broke up in 1979, and Jett relocated to England, where she cooked up rock with a couple of ex-members of a little band called The Sex Pistols. (In fact, there is, if you can find it, a version of her signature tune with the Pistols’ Paul Cook and Steve Jones.)
Shortly thereafter, Jett formed the Blackhearts. The band churned out a series of hits through the 1980s. Another cover, this time Tommy James and the Shondell’s classic lollipop of psychedelia “Crimson and Clover,” which reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982.
A few milestones along the way: Jett produced the first and only album by the seminal LA punk band The Germs. Among those artists who played with Jett during the Blackhearts formative period was John Doe of X. She’s worked with Paul Westerfield of The Replacements and various members of L7, Bikini Kill and Babes in Toyland - all bands with female members. That’s probably helped cement Jett’s earned reputation as a role model and mentor to young women rockers; Jett is often referred to the “Original Riot Grrrl.”
Although often labled as bisexual or a lesbian, Jett has never publicly confirmed that. Over the years, though, she’s been romantically linked to a number of amazing men and women, among them, Dee Dee Ramone, John (Johnny Rotten) Lydon, Billy Idol, and Jenna Jameson.
I have admired her songs (and her incredibly cut physique, apparently aided by her vegan lifestyle) from afar for years, but I finally got a chance to see Jett and the Blackhearts live last weekend at the Eastside Cannery.
The show will definitely be among my favorites of the year, perhaps of the decade. Jett rocked through her hits, a tribute to the many gray-hairs and beer-bellies of the older folks, but she also featured, of course, some of the songs from her new album.
Here’s the thing about old fogies doing songs from their new albums: Usually they suck. Or at least they seem pale in comparison to songs from their glory years. Rock is a business for young people.
But Jett’s newest songs sound as fresh as her catalogue from more than three decades ago. “Any Weather,” co-written with Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and some band from Seattle, released in September, is as good as anything she’s done.
Also there was no general admission for the sold-out show at the Eastside Cannery, Jett welcomed the crowd to the front of the stage, where the assembled multitudes proceeded to rock out. Good choice by Jett, and a good decision by the Cannery folks to let that happen. It helped reinforce the feeling that you were seeing just a really great punk rock band. And that’s what they were.
Hell, she might be good for another 30 years.