Who is Joan Jett?
"The Queen of Rock and Roll"
- as referred to several times during her career
A legendary American punk rock musician, Joan Jett is best known for her song,
"I Love Rock and Roll",a cover of an Arrows' song of the same name. It's one of the most iconic songs in the world, and it was a U.S. Billboard Hot 100 track for seven weeks in 1981.
Joan Jett's accomplishments today might be taken for granted, but the historical, cultural and societal context of her success cannot be overlooked. Jett was one of the members of the all-female punk band, The Runways (1975-1979), in a time when all-girl punk bands were literally, unheard of. Today, it's easy to think of successful all-women groups, or punk bands
with female leads, but it was only through artists like Jett who transformed the idea from unthinkable, to something possible. Later, she formed her own group called Jett Joan and the Blackhearts, which released hits like "I Love Rock and Roll" and "Crimson and Clover".
A few weeks ago, I would have guessed that Joan Jett was just following in the footsteps of other all-female punk bands, but after working on my 12 page paper on the Riot Grrrl movement for my Spanish class (on pop culture), I realized that Joan Jett wasn't following in any woman's footsteps: she made the path for women in the hardcore punk scene. When she first started out, she was told that "girls don't play electric guitar", and she was laughed at when she tried to buy a black leather jacket and pants. Punk has traditionally been a male-dominated scene, and that was especially true in the late 70s and early 80s when Jett gained popularity. (Women were grouped at punk shows, and pushed to the back of concerts, demeaningly labeled as "coat racks".) Jett's band itself, The Runaways, was not treated very well, and Jett expressed her frustrations as follows [italics added]:
"I didn't understand people's reactions and why they thought it was so strange for women to play music. There were people who looked at us like we had seven heads....I wonder how many women actually looked at what we were doing in the Runaways and said, 'Hey, that's great.' Or, 'You make me feel stronger.' Because it seemed like the Runaways had a mostly male audience, waiting to see us take our clothes off or something-that's what they expected us to do."
In addition to being a woman pioneer in the male-dominated punk genre, Joan Jett is also a success story of the "I think I can" attitude. When she wanted to produce music on her own, she didn't take "no" for an answer. She was rejected by 23 major record labels, until she eventually decided to start her own record-label, called "Blackheart Records". This was another previous "impossibility", as Jett was the first woman to ever start her own recording label. Her "Do-It-Yourself" (DIY) feminist attitude was characteristic of the genre that followed Jett, the Riot Grrrl movement, and so it's no surprise that Jett is also known as "The Godmother of Punk" and the "Original Riot Grrrl". (Riot Grrrl was a feminist music genre in the early 90s that focused on all-female bands, promoting feminine individuality and strength through uninhibited music.) Jett collaborated with one of the most famous pioneer Riot Grrl bands, Bikini Kill, and helped get their band (and thus, the Riot Grrrl movement) off the ground.
I wanted to write about Joan Jett on the blog, because I wasn't very familiar with her as a person, and I certainly had no idea she was queer. Wikipedia won't tell you how she identifies (maybe just an oversight?), but after doing some research, I found that both AfterEllen and 365Gay.com report that she is "open" and "out". (Fun fact: GLBTQ Encyclopedia reports that she has a "Dykes Rule" sticker on her guitar.) Also, when you listen to her hit song "Crimson and Clover", check out the lyrics-they're pretty queer.
I can't think of a better role model. She was one of two women listed in Rolling Stone's Top 100 Guitarists of all time, and she continues to play her powerful music. She still tours (at the age of 52) with The Blackhearts, and most recently, she just played for Greenday's Europe 2010 tour. This woman's strength, and her visible rejection of traditionally rigid female roles (demur, submissive, subservient) in place for an angry, enthusiastic and passionate love affair with music (and life) demonstrate, literally, how cool rule-breaking feminism can be.