Book claims Joan Jett always did things her way

Todd Oldham
“Joan Jett”
Ammo Books, 978-1934429600
Hardcover, 256 pages, $34.95

By Tierney Smith

With the exception of a foreword by Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna and an afterword by designer Todd Oldham, this sumptuously illustrated book tells Joan Jett’s story in her own words. She is a pioneer twice over. At 15 she founded the first female rock group The Runaways (whose story recently was in a theater near you) and was the first woman to start her own record label.

In fact, Jett has always resolutely done things her way. Even The Runaways, she insists, were nobody’s puppets. Manager Kim Fowley, Jett claims, never told them what to do or how to present themselves.

The title of Jett’s biggest hit, 1981‘s “I Love Rock Roll” is fitting. She is not unlike a female Bruce Springsteen in her unflagging passion for her craft, which carried her through the derision and hostile resistance that greeted The Runaways from the moment they invaded what was until then solidly male terrain.

“Even to this day,” Jett observes here, “a girl with a guitar, a girl owning it, is very threatening.”

Jett was every bit as tenacious in embarking on a solo career, forming her own Blackheart label after being rejected by numerous record companies, and, along with producer/collaborator Kenny Laguna, sold copies of her solid debut from the trunk of the car.

Jett is refreshingly open here, and through her words you feel like you really get to know her. Always true to herself (“I only feel comfortable playing straightforward rock ’n’ roll,” she says) Jett acknowledges that her customary “uniform” — black shag, kohl-rimmed eyes, leather getup —may make her seem intimidating to some but, far from being mean, she is in fact very approachable. She’s also a sports nut, a self-confessed “dork” when it comes to her love of animals (preferring them to a lot of people), and the product of a happy childhood (she loves her parents and got on well with her teachers).

Many of the book’s photos feature the highly photogenic Jett during various photo shoots; she’s also captured on street corners, on stage, cuddling with her cat, or just hanging out with Johnny Rotten. Also included are sweet and pensive images of a pre-fame Jett from her childhood and adolescence.

Back in 1988 Jett stated, “There are very few people like me who look upon rock ’n’ roll as a kind of religion.” Indeed, her undimmed passion for rock ’n’ roll remains positively inspirational. Reading her description of the high she still gets from performing and receiving the energies of her audience, it’s no wonder Jett became such a trailblazer. After all, she’s always been one of rock’s true believers.


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