Joan Jett's life in music
This is an ABC podcast. Hello. If you know this piece of music, you will know today's guest. Join jazz was born. Join Marie Lakhan in the suburbs of Philadelphia in nineteen fifty eight. A mother was a secretary her father and insurance salesman. The family moved to LA in the nineteen seventies. And at the age of thirteen join us for her first Qatar. It wasn't long before she was forming her own rock group. An all girl band called the runaways. It was not an easy ride. But today, she's recognized in the rock and Roll Hall of fame and regarded by some as the Queen of rock and roll and by others as the godmother of punk and just some of the language in this conversation might get a bit rock n roll. Jon jet. Welcome. Thank you very much. Was there? A lot of music in your home growing up. Yes. Yes. There was my parents, listen to a variety of music, mostly things like Johnny Mathis. Frank sinatra. My father was a lot of classical music. So that's kind of what our houses filled with your one of three kids were you the ring later. Yeah, I'm the oldest. So what did that involve bantering later? Well, we didn't get up too much trouble. And you know, so I don't know. I didn't really think of myself as ringleader. You got your first guitar at thirteen. Do you? Remember why? Yeah. I wanted to make the sounds. I was hearing on the radio songs like all right now, the free or Bengal. But he wreck stuff like that. And do you. Remember the conversation. You had with your parents asking for that. I don't think it was gonna say shit. I said I wanna get tore an electric guitar made. Sure to throw in the word electric for Christmas. And the God from me your parents sound like they were pretty cool with the whole idea. Do you remember their reaction? I think they thought it was probably just a phase. So they were gonna humor me and get me Monday. Tar, and you know, I'm sure it was not in their minds at all that I wanted to form a band. I wanted to go off and on the. Road. But once we to California, my parents separated, and I think maybe if my dad had been around in the house would have been tougher getting out, but my mother was very supportive, and she drove me hersal 's and was. Very very spoil of me playing in a band and doing what I was doing said, they would have had no idea where this might lead. Did you at that early stage have some concept of that? I had a concept sort of that I wanted to play music, and I don't think that at that age of, you know, everything was so impulsive in just, you know, the teenage energy that you have you don't really necessarily think things through. You know? I mean, I didn't not with a big plan or anything. It was just a dream. You know, I liked acting. I was in drama class in school. And so was wanted to be an actor as well. And I just happened. It was the timing. The luck of the draw just the way it happened that you know, gothic ITAR and the my family happening away. And then I figured now, you know, there's gotta be other girls in the city like while Sange loose that other girls that play instruments in would be interested in forming an band tell me about the first Qatar lesson. I went to take a guitar less in. I mean, you know, when I reflect I understand now a little bit of where the guy was coming from. But I went in and said teach out of play welcome old blow off in wall. And not, you know. Realizing but not really realizing that you have to learn the basics first. But I assumed that's the guy would teach me the basics. So then I'd be Iraq law, but he said to me girls, don't play rock and roll and proceeded to teach me on top of old smoky. My parents brought me up to be polite. So I didn't storm out or anything. I just sat said thank you and one home and bought one of those learn how to play guitar by yourself pokes that show you the thing positions to play bar, chords and stuff. So I I kind of listen to my records and taught myself how to play for cords, but I didn't really get into it until I moved to California. Then I realized this is actually something I could make happen. I practiced more than what was it like moving to LA at that time in your life. Well, I just remember it being very. Citing, you know, it was a place. People went to become stars. You know? So I was just excited to be. It's hard to explain because I didn't have any kind of formula to plan. It was just better weather than the east coast. We had a lot of family in California. So it was just to me a comfortable place to be and then I had a chance to sort of access my dreams. There was a club there in LA that everyone wanted to go to at the time. What was that? Well, I'm not so sure that everybody wanted to go, but it was a very niche club that was called Rodney being an English disco. And it was a club for teenagers. If you were like over twenty one you were too old. They didn't serve booze. It was just the disco. Roddy was a DJ need play all the British singles that American kids never heard like volume blurts by the sweet lettuce is. You Quan tro Slade obviously Bowie. Iggy. You know, just a lot records that T-rex just a lot of bands that American kids never heard and the club sort of gave voice to the kids that dressed differently. You know, it was the first time I experienced sort of an Android GIS. Lifestyle were the boys were platforms and make up to. And I found that very liberating to degree that that people could feel free like that. And and it was only in the certain place doubt that that was happening when I was at school. I was the only kid like that. And. I guess you call bullying, but not the sort where they beat you up. Just get people howling at me saying oh diamond dogs and stuff like that trying to make me feel bad about the greater things something, I don't know. But it didn't intimate Mary at all. And I just said you watch I'm gonna forma band where did you get that sense of self confidence from in those early? How do you have that? Oh boy. Yeah. I guess I do ever degree of confidence. But I'm very shy. So I don't know how the two go hand in hand. I just knew what I wanted to do. And I wanted to try this, and I did not want to be told girls can't play rock and mall because it did make incense. It wasn't logical. I knew girls could master the instruments. I was in school with girls playing violin and show. Playing Beethoven and Bach. So what people were saying when they're saying girls can't play rock moles. You're not allowed to in American society. You're not allowed because rock-n-roll bites nature's sexual. It's mysterious is it's base and girls weren't allowed to be sexual in bays and specially teenagers. So people were very uncomfortable with that notion, and it wasn't even really obvious to me a was to agree. But it was just a subliminal thing until we started getting asked questions about sex. And then I knew if I answer this question all our musical ever be is about sex low. Never ask us one musical question. All be about that. And they try it anyway to sort of steer it in that direction and. We were very serious about what we wanted to do. But I also felt that what was as I was saying that girls were sort of taught, you know, not really talk about that stuff. Maybe they're friends, but not really beyond that. And so, you know, teenage girls are expected it shut a per- a certain part of themselves down. And you know, that's just not healthy first of all. And it's not my fault. If you guys were uncomfortable with of talking about sex, and I mean, sorry, it's it's happening. Whether you know it or not whether you wanna know it or not, so you know, now it's easy for me to look back. And actually put words to it at the time. It was just more. I wasn't really thinking about it was just doing it. As an adolescent, we've hormones pulsing three body. You find yourself in this club with is very different looking people. And as you say the music did something to you. And it was the sexuality to it. You remember the feeling? Well. Of which Phelan I mean. Records you talking about playing tour. I think the combination of being surrounded by these other people that you identified with being in a space that seemed safe and hearing this music and feeling liberated by remember what it did to you. Not exactly in. It just made me feel good. I mean, I enjoyed hanging out with my friends and dancing. I know you saw cabaret around this. What were your impressions? Well, I love everything about it. The music was amazing. The Campinas of it. And also, I guess sort of. Cabaret I experienced that before I moved to Los Angeles. So this was pre playing music or anything, and that was probably my first little mind opening to sort of. Coincided with with what the Rodney's experienced would would be cabaret was can't be. It was edgy. It's sort of, you know, Joe gray, the MC makeup on it was just sort of pushing the envelope. And when I got to California, I found that same energy Rodney's, and it so it was sort of extension of cabaret and sort of cabaret coming to life. I guess. How do you? I come up with the idea for the runaways. I just wanted to play with all girls just thought it would be really exciting and then done teenage girls playing rock and roll. And thought would be, you know, people would love it people would you know, freak out and love it. And I was really. So he did have a concept though of how different these actually. Yes. Yes. I did. And who did you find to being the band with you? The first person I met was girl named sandy west. And she was the drama of the runaways I met her. Through Confalonieri who was became the runways manager and producer. We both ran into him separately couple days apart. I met him. I on the phone, and he had heard that I I was a guitar player and wanted to form an all band. And so he was asking me. Showbiz questions. Like do. You have a demo tape -joyed songs. And I was a mean so naive so green. I didn't know what a demo tape was. I I didn't know where you talking about. And I hung up after like twenty minutes figuring. Well, I blew that. Forget it. You know, it's over a couple nights later, sandy west was in Hollywood hanging out and actually recognized him fell in went up to him and said, I play drums, I wanna form an all girl, band and. So on and so forth and Kim said that he had just met a girl played guitar, and she should give me a call and gave Santa my number. She called me. I took a bunch of buses to her house. We set up together started playing together, and we just hit it off right away. I mean, just personally and musically just really Hughes of very heavy drama really into the same things. I was about the girls could play Robin mall. She had been in bands in high school. She was your young the mayor about six months, maybe and she'd only been in three or four bands with with guys. So she was much more experience than me and. So she knew she could do it. And we set up played some basic rock and roll stuff together, and then call up valley and put the phone down said listen to this played some stuff. And he said sounds great. Let's go try to find some other girls. And we looked around, you know, various places, I believe sandy. Not sure about this may have run into leader. And that's how we came. Came to meet LEED afford. The can't was runways league to our player Kim fell. And I were hanging out at the club that Rodney's had now closed down. And there was another disco. That was playing. The glitter stuff. Rodney had a guest DJ a slot at this club. And so I think one night a week would be glitter night and the kids who show up, you know. And so Kim, and I would go on those nights in sort of hang out. And one night. We saw Sherie Corey hanging out there and with your twin sister. And you know, she was very striking walking. We asked her if she could sing. And she said, yes. So we said, okay. You want want to audition sing, wait for an autumn aband-? And she said, yeah, why wouldn't you the lead singer? We'd already gone through before we met. Sure. Gone to an incarnation as a three piece. With the bass player named NICKY. Steele was then went on to become a member of the bangles and the Abang call the Bengals which is an all female band in America that had several hits. I don't know if people know them here, but so. We did have an incarnation as three piece, and I just was just way too shy at the time to even consider singing lead. That was just, you know, not I wasn't ready at all. Where was the runaways? I. I believe it was a house party some place in somebody's house. I could be wrong about that. Cherry Bohm was one of the first songs you what was it about? Us teenage girls. The lyrics are pretty assertive. I guess when I read them. Now, do you remember what you felt what you were trying to say when you write it look out what we're saying, you know, sort of? Have threateningly but have lookout in a good way. You know, look out. We're gonna rip it up and. You're not gonna know what hit you. But we are also accessing that port of teenage girls who aren't was not allowed to be. Scene. You know, sexuality, the I'm owning this. Attitude. I mean, the cores know Hello darriel, mama Muturi bomb. Hello world. Meanwhile, you cherry bomb. So I mean, really to each person music is subjective and different people. Take different things. Some people take. Maybe a wild wilder version of what that means what we really intended. But it was you know, really just. Trying to tell people who we are. We weren't being anything above and beyond. We were just real. Let's hear this Cherry Bowl from nineteen seventy six. Join you what was different about girls playing rock and roll compared with the guys at that point in time. Nothing except the girls. I mean, I didn't want to be known as girl the plays guitar. I wanna be a guitar player that just happened to be girl. And I think we all felt like that you can still find runaways shows online on YouTube, and we're always criticized for being shitty on why don't know if you can say that here life. We were you know, considered not to be a good band. And I take great issue with that. I say you go listen to any gig. I mean, of course, ban all bands of off nights. But non nine percent of time. We're rock solid. And you know, so we just wanted to be looked at as regular band. But also knowing that this was very different than just being a regular band because. We were girls, and we're saying the same things that guys were saying, but from a different perspective in the sense that we were owning it, and that was a lot different than all the other music was hey on this and this wrong going to do to you baby. And we were saying, hey, I'm thinking shawl. This is what we're going to do to you. And that was really different. What was the reaction to you as a group? Some people liked it. And some people didn't you know, we in America, we tended to get a lot of criticism. And I shut people down really fast when they started to go on about sexuality. I just didn't have time for it. Listen to the music listener words, watch the band. New get all the answers, you need to know from that. You know, it was just like I really got annoyed with being people being titillated. Were you ever scared by what was coming? Not really, no, no. But you know, later in life things a little bit more threatening. You know, I got hit with bottles with Mel batteries. You know, I've got my ribs broken. I got my head split open from getting hit with stuff. I got spit on. And I don't mean just. Spit on a little bit. I'm talking about guys. Standing on the stage working up luby's and showering me from head to toe in really disgusting. Hanging spit. Trying to get me to go leave the stage, and I wouldn't leave and. I think it was confounding to them. But I just couldn't couldn't couldn't leave the stage. I now say it, but I go leave sage after the show and cry. I didn't understand it. I didn't understanding people being so hateful because grow on split walk mall. Didn't make sense. Why do you think I felt sorry offended or threatened by you being made during the all the spitting thing? Now, I understand, but the bottle throwing and the the Barry throwing that was you know, specifically to hurt me. But many years later, I discovered the reason I was spit on. And this was in Europe and Spain and we were doing a tour with a band called the scorpions. No, they are. Yeah. There. Another band has Manitou. So we're on the road with them, and we were going to Spain. And we had two shows in one city, and there was a band that was on the Spanish Bill called Rosen Negra opening the show with the female lead singer. Now, we did the first show. It was great. And the next day. There was a car show in town the scorpions wanted to go to and, but they couldn't go for some reason unless they cancelled the first band saying the reason why they blew them off was because Joan Jett did not want another lead female lead singer on stage. But the real reason is because they want to go to a car show. So the audience thought, I dissed a Spanish band with a female lead singer. And that was so not. Me. I was fine. Diplo's another girl had nothing to do with it for been holding a grudge and then took it out on new by spitting. Yes. And but but many now, they know different. You said you Mumbai tickly being really supportive of you getting into music. I'm curious to know what she thought about the abuse came your way, she didn't know that. You know, there was no internet, then there was nothing unless you told them, I was not going to tell my mother that I was being insulted, or, you know, getting things thrown at me, you know, just. Wasn't important for her to her to know that when you with the runaways you went onto to Japan. What was that? Like completely different reaction. It was it was beat Alaska's all I can say these girls looked at us as heroes, and it was mostly girl fans screaming teenage girls, and it was such a unique experience from what we had before because it was mostly guys in the audiences. At least what we could say we might be a lot of money. I wasn't really concerned about the money. I should have been. But I just wasn't thinking about it. Gaza broadcast and online you'll listening to conversations with high mish with. On ABC radio. Join in one thousand nine hundred one you've now formed with the Blackhawks there's a concert at the palladium in New York. It's described by some as a career defining performance for you. Do you remember much from that particular? I know it's been filmed believe I remember playing it because it was important gig. But I can't tell you that. I remember it viscerally. Just no, yes. It was important for us. It was a big frost. It was one of our first big shows in New York. Why was it? So important. It was probably the biggest venue would played to that time. We are lot of. Maybe a few radio stations in the audience. I don't know. It was just. City man, you're playing a big show and. Of to that point. You know, this is probably a big show. Had you changed or had the world changed in his view of you at this point because he'd had all those negative reactions. Suddenly you being celebrated. Still limited. It was still limited pretty limited celebrated year to a degree. But only by by our fans, you know, it wasn't. It wasn't widespread. Informing this particular bad. What was the advertisement that you put in the newspaper when I lived in LA before we moved to New York. I put in an ad in the LA weekly. I already met my producing partner in songwriting partner by then Kenny Laguna, so we decided to put an ad in the weekly, which was a local music magazine. And put in Joan Jett looking for three good men. And so on put why three men had to be different than the runaways. You know, because it would comparisons would never end. And I love the runways too much to. To sort of try to again, you know, did that there was no coming close to that. So, you know, it's just like leave it be was there. A sense of feeling emotionally spent without chapter not at all not at all just. Having respect for what I already done. Tell me about this. I love rock and roll. When was the first time you heard it? I saw it on TV in England in London. Probably top of the pops for one of those shows. Van they were playing their be side of of their single. So I love rock and roll wasn't even the hit. It was the b side and present I thought it sound like a head to me. So I went out to the local record store and bought the single with the b side Oliver often role and thought the runaways would would want to do it or we should do it. And. But we didn't we didn't wind up doing it. We had recorded a song by Lou Reed called rock and roll on our first album, and I think. Maybe similar roles didn't wanna do another song with rock and roll title. Maybe it was that. I don't know. Maybe it was something else. But we didn't wind up doing it. And I just held on the songs I thought it was special. What is it that you think you brought this particular soul? Exuberance, you know, the belief in the mall. The fact that I did love it. What I was singing was real. Watching the film clip so sexually powerful you're in red leda. You're clearly aggressive. You're saying this seventeen year old is going to be yours at the time. That was quite something wasn't it. Yeah. It was a new guys got to see the red jumpsuit more. It's supposed to see. Because. The actual video with put out was the bl was in black and white that was the video I suppose, it is more question about the impact of what you are doing. And how you peed at the time. I mean, we're talking about the I think the sexually charged Nitra of it was pretty powerful we kind of a wear of that at the moment. Yes. I was in. We were all about in the runaways owning it, and it continued, you know, I wanted to sing songs from my perspective. And this song I thought was powerful. Let's here. This is a lavar enroll. About seven. Belong. Wouldn't be long. Do you feel differently about it? When you watch those film clips back today, if you ever do leaning like if you say the clip that we were just talking about do you think differently about it now too? Because at the time you weren't thinking about the sexually charged night jet necessarily of the image. No, I don't think that that way. Really? I mean, you know, I guess the only time I would think of it that way is because of all the stuff that's going on past year or so at least in the states with the me too Zang. So I don't know if people were expecting me to modify the lyrics. But I haven't and I'm not quite sure if that surprising or not, and that's the only time that I think anything about it. How do you observe this whole may to moment in the United States? The impact that is having on the way women perceived women are treated. Oh, you know, it's very complicated. Because I mean, it's I totally hear what all women are saying. I mean, it's true. I mean, there is a lot of lot of has been, you know, a lot of abuse throughout show business for years and stuff. The fact that people feel brave enough to speak about it. Now, I think is important. But also, you know, it's almost sort of. Extremes were it's gonna take wile for people. Come back to sort of the balanced perspective on it if that ever happens because a lot of people seem to fear in the state's men anyway that they can't say anything. Two women now without being considered too aggressive. And you know, I guess it depends on who you're talking to how they're gonna feel about it. You know? These feelings very complicated, and you know, have to deal with people's mental stability and health and sexual health. And it's it's really important and it's hard to discuss. In small bits. You know, it's something that needs to be ongoing. And you know, I think you know, we're in the middle of it. Now, we'll see where it takes us. But. For me. I just proceed as always I try to treat everybody with respect. But. That's not gonna change where where I'm coming from war diminish. Any of the? Sexuality in music, and I don't just mean in the lyrics. I mean, just the nature of the sound to me is sexual. There's nothing you can do about that. You can't write that out. Can't change lyrics to that. Now, you are the first major English-language Artis to perform in Panama. It was under the regime of Manuel Noriega, what was that? Like. You know, it's hard hard to remember. I remember the crowding pretty crazy and. Very into it. I got a chance to actually open the Panama Canal. They let me put my hands on the levers and actually open the docs or the dams that I'm not quite sure of the technical language, but I opened the Panama Canal. And I one point. Noriega actually sent for me. And he wanted to meet me in person and sending a plane, which was pretty scary in a way. What did you think might happen? I didn't think anything I hadn't gone that for you. You know in my head. I think it was just a shock in general too. Think about that. And you know, now if I thought about it now, I'd know to be scared. But I didn't know then, you know, an I have Sumed that anything bad would happen. How did you get out of it? Something came up Noriega got into some some issue and that had to be dealt with. I guess as president of whatever he was he had to deal with it. And so I guess knitting rockstar fil off the list of important things to do for him. So I just got out of it. By the luck of the gods. Yes, I interviewed you recently for television program in front of a live TV audience. You did tell me I've never seen before you stayed back off the woods, and you individually hugged every member of the audience. Yes. But never seen anything like that. Why did you do? Because. The you know music means much to people really does. And you see. Not on certainly not just speaking about my music, but. All music, whatever it is. You're into it is medicine for the soul. It gets people through. The most difficult times of their lives things that I can't imagine it also with them in the best times of their lives is it is magic. It is transformational. And you know, I feel blessed to be sort of a conduit. That that goes through. So you know of always try to remember. You are not that. You know, you are the conduit. You are not. I can't explain what I mean. It's just. You know, like I said each person has their own relationship to it. And my fans. Been really great. And I just feel just a. A real connection to them. Just because. Were relating to many of the same impulses, the emotions the things we've been through. It can be similar even though it's different. A so young women in tease in front of you sighing that if it weren't for you. I wouldn't still be here. You had meant so much to them. When I coming out, for example. How does it feel to you? When you he people say that too. It's very humbling. It's certainly not anything that gives you sort of ego boost. So we're not for me. It's not like oh feel like a responsibility. The only responsibility is to be there. To be there and into. Be genuine. I think and that's what I try to be. And I think it it. What that what what you saw what we experienced together with the audience was genuine. I mean that doesn't happen every time, but I like to. Hug people. In general. I think it's important through on of hugs in the world. People need to be more caring teach other especially in these days. You know? It's tough world out there. And you're good. Thank you. You turned sixty last year thing what does the sixty year old rocker, do this type, sit home or the cats? That's what I do. And I'm serious. You know, what I'm off the last thing. I want to do is go out. You know, it's I've gotten that out of me that fear of missing out. What am I missing? You know, there's always a club to go to there's always people. That's gone on. And there's a lot of mental anguish in that. So you know, I enjoy sort of. The feeling of. Caring about what you care about. But not really caring about the other stuff. The unimportant stuff that you did care about before. When you look back on your career. Do you have any regrets? Yes. I. That I wasn't present enough. While things were happening for some things. I was but you know, all of it. It's. Such blessed. Life even though it's been tough. But it's been blessed. You know, really be fully present in everything that happened early club days from all the different people that have met the different experiences to just be more fully in it at the moment. That's what I would have liked done because you know, now when you reach back sometimes that's hard to do because you want focusing. So it's hard to focus on something that children focus on. It's hard to recall something that you weren't fully present in the moment. And maybe looking onto the next whatever how important was it for you think on this long trajectory to have something to fought against have valuable was that in retrospect. It's very valuable. And I think it's still there. I mean, there's always something to fight against in the sense. I don't really believe we've come that for in forty years since the runways. I mean girls, you know, women are still not in the position. Of equality. I guess they we were looking for. And I believe until winning are. Actually making the decisions about where the money goes. In those boardrooms things won't be equal until then because for whatever reason that is important, you know, the money until women are making those decisions, I think everything else will follow that doesn't mean that money in itself is important and makes things more comfortable, of course. But the goal is not the money. What I'm saying? Is that food money is power and for women to achieve more power. They have to be dictating where that money goes. And we're getting there slowly. But you know, I think of two now it's sort of been hustle. You know? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You guys are equal. But not really, you know, there's still all those under. Currence of. Various inequalities. I can't even put my finger on it. When I see it in two thousand fifteen you were inducted into the rock and Roll Hall of fame big moment fee as you stood on the stage. Who did you look out and see giving you a standing ovation? I people I saw was Paul McCartney and Ringo stone stand up and Yoko Ono's with them. But they started. They started the standing ovation. So. The whole place up. And there were a lot of people there. I can't recall, exactly. But seeing it's started by those people and thinking back to being in my bedroom with a copy of. Let it be album. Just just so surreal to think. You know that? Things could happen. You know, one day in my bedroom listened to Paul McCartney and the next minute. He's starting standing ovation getting me into the hall of fame. It's surreal, and you just can't really explain how that feels. But I definitely did cry. I didn't didn't want to. But you know, I we. Got a motion time flies when you're having fun. Yeah. It does georgette. It's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me. This conversation will be available as a podcast on our website shortly b c dot net dot I used slash conversations. Or you can also find it on the listen up over ever you. Get your podcasts from Donald thanks for listening. You've been listening to a podcast of conversations. For more conversations interviews, please go to the website, ABC dot net dot AU slash conversations. Discover more great ABC podcasts. Live radio and exclusives. On the ABC. Listen up.