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Nobody thought Joan Jett would make it in a Broadway musical. But then, nobody thought Joan Jett would make it anywhere. When she told everyone as a kid that she was going to be a famous rock star one day, they all said, "Yeah, sure." When she took her demo tape with "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" and "Crimson and Clover" to 23 different record labels, they said, "No hits here."
And now she's the guitar-slinging Columbia in the stage revival of The Rocky Horror Show, tellingly replacing the film's tap-dance scene with a blistering solo during "Time Warp."
Surprised? You shouldn't be. After twentysomething years of world touring, the No. 28 single in all recorded human history, an all-guns-blazing foray into Hollywood and even the rescue of a drowning three-year-old boy, it's pretty clear that Joan Jett can do whatever the fuck she wants.
Not that's it has ever been easy. She might love rock & roll, but rock & roll can be a real jerk. Just 16 when she joined the all-female hard-rock Runaways, she and band mates Lita Ford, Jackie Fox, Cherie Currie and Sandy West were hammering out the missing link between Suzi Quattro and Courtney Love. Nobody knew it then. At the time, they were tarred as no-talent jailbait with bad attitudes (a tradition the Donnas proudly continue to this day).
They were huge in Japan but fell apart in 1979, leaving Jett hopeless and alone in Hollywood, with nowhere to go at age 19. She produced the canonical LP by the Germs. (Darby Crash and Pat Smear thought the Ramones were hippies but were nearly obsequious Runaways fans. Smear remembered, "We thought if they can do it, anyone can.") She even considered joining the military if nothing else opened up.
But then—and here's the crucial part—she hooked up with a producer/ manager named Kenny Laguna, who helped her put together that infamous rejected-by-23-record-labels demo tape. When no one wanted it, they started Blackheart Records and pressed it themselves, even slapping "IMPORT" stickers on the LPs to persuade record stores to carry it.
You probably know the story from there: "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" supernovaed in 1982, and that trademark shock of black hair and her beat-up leather jacket were seared into the national consciousness forever. (Note to the faithful: she's cropped and blond now; don't be scared.) She even rated a Weird Al parody—ask any adolescent dork, and they'll give you more details about that than you can cope with—which is an honor typically reserved for only the most historic artists. She belted out a few more hits (and saved that kid from drowning in 1985) and bounced on and off radio forever. She played the 1984 Olympics, recorded with Bikini Kill and the Gits, starred in Light of Day with Michael J. Fox, presented an ESPN awards show, and even cut 48 different versions of Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner" (each tailored to a different city). She put out about an album a year with the Blackhearts, including one of the first albums (1999's Fetish) available as an MP3 collection.
And now she's on Broadway, where, according to The New York Times, she brings a "street-tough edge" to her "rough rock goddess."
Besides "goddess," she has also been called the queen of rock (and/or punk), the girl Elvis, the godmother to a generation of rocker girls, and a whole bucketful of other such superlatives. At 40, she's a bona fide icon, and she's still doing whatever she wants. Whether you like it—well, that's your problem.Joan Jett and the Blackhearts perform with Larisa Stow, Men Out Loud, Michele Balan, Jimmy Roland, Sue Palmer, David Maclean, Ultra Nate and Lisa Lisa at the Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival, Main Stage, Shoreline Drive & Pine Avenue, Long Beach, (562) 987-9191; www.longbeachpride.com. Sun., 8:30 p.m. $15. All ages.
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