Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

April 18–25, 1996

earshot|Where Are They Now?

Joan Jett

By a.d. amorosi


Joan Jett may be the coolest person ever to win a spot on Philly's Walk of Fame. Oh, fuck, she's probably the coolest person ever. Riot girl, punk queen, stunning beauty, ESPN theme-stress and former local gal — yow!

The Jett woman — soon to be celebrated locally with a little tin star on Broad Street — first won my heart, not through her rendition of Gary Glitter classics or as Michael J. Fox's sister or the way she stood and tossed her hair on stage, but through signing a most unusual autograph for me years and years ago during an interview.

"I was eating a pizza while on the phone and you asked me to sign the box and send it to you, crusts and all," recalls Jett. "I remember because there's not many times that I signed a pizza box and sent it off in the mail. When was that anyhow?"

It was 1985 and I'm sure I still have the box, though I'm positive the crusts are sadly lost to a Rock God in the sky. Anchovies aside, Jett is having a present as illustrious as her past — a past that had an unlikely beginning as a newborn babe in Lansdowne, PA.

"Yeah, wherever Lankenau Hospital was is where I was born. I think that's Lansdowne," says Jett. "I only lived there for a year or so but stayed a Pennsylvania girl, moving with my family to Pittsburgh and Erie. I lived in PA pretty much the whole time I was a kid."

Jett, along with her parents and a younger brother and sister, migrated a bunch because her father was in the insurance business, moving to different areas at the whim of his company. Rootless in Pennsylvania? Perhaps, but one thing that did take hold was an ardent love of sports.

"Oh yeah, I was very much into sports as a kid, still am a big fan, just can't play it anymore. Gotta work," she laughs in a voice that is hard to put an accent on: deep, vaguely eastern. "I was your typical tomboy, playing football, basketball, street hockey, anything that was in the typical suburban street. I was an animal lover too: frogs, cats, turtles, horses, rats. I was real outdoorsy."

How then did this woodsy Jett become the leather-clad queen of L.A. bubblemetalpunk with the now legendary Runaways at a time when male dinosaurs ruled the world?

"Around the same time, age 12, 13, I began listening to the radio more and getting into drama classes in school, convinced I wanted to be an actress. We did Cabaret and typical repertory stuff. Always in the chorus, never a starring role. Guess I was pretty shy, but I still had that love of the stage, singing and performing. "

"When graduation came I got into rock 'n' roll, not older bands, but glitter: new stuff that was coming out of England in the mid-'70s, full of rhythm guitar and heavy drums. Stuff that appealed to my theatrical sensibilities. Not the music you heard normally in the States."

Reading mags like Hit Parader and Creem and a parental transfer to L.A. gave her the idea and courage to pursue the strange music and visuals she dreamed about in the cheap monthly glossies.

"I was 13 when I started playing guitar. If you weren't searching for it, I guess, looking for something a little bit different, you wouldn't come up with the ideas I did. I figured I was in Hollywood, playing guitar, there had to be other girls who wanted to do the same thing."

The thing was the Runaways, a gleaming pop punk act featuring Lita Ford and pouty lipped, blonde beauty Cherrie Currie, whose screeching of tunes like "Cherry Bomb" put the idea of rip-snorting punk on the map a good few years before, say the now reuniting Sex Pistols. In the wake of their reunion, is it not possible that the Runaways too, who probably sold about the same amount as the Pistols, could reunite?

Is there anything left to be said?

"I think we had a lot to say that wasn't fully said then, [a lot that we] never got the chance to do. I feel strongly about not doing it though a lot of people, including some of the band, have been encouraging it. The die of the band truly was our age and that era, being 16, all women. If we tried to get together now to try to show people what it was like then, it could never happen. I don't think the Pistols will be able to show it either, but..."

As she mentions the female band bond again, I realize that this is what binds her to other rock women, other female causes; from her work on the Home Alive rape information service as well as her support for the hunt for the killer of Gits lead singer Mia Zapata (last year's Evil Stig was a live record with Jett fronting the Gits), it's clear that her present tense has been the carrying on of a goal started with the Runaways.

"Definitely. It gives me a chance to discuss the issues in a way that pertains to women in particular because of my experience. I have a lot of fun working with other women as well. That camaraderie is something I missed when the Runaways broke up."

With that role modeling at hand, who does she feel has been her aesthetic icons? "Liza Minelli for one, I know you didn't expect that. Seeing her in Cabaret changed my life, turned me onto singing and acting. She's such a confident performer."

Another femme icon certainly on Jett's mind is Mary Tyler Moore, whose '70s TV theme song —"Love Is All Around" — is Jett's current Top-10 climber — an ESPN women's basketball anthem all revved up by ("my other family") the Blackhearts typically roaring ring power chords, Kenny Laguna's dense knob twiddling and, of course, Jett's most delicious howl.

"She's an obvious power source. She was a woman fulfilling her own dream, her own career, single. It wasn't set in New York or L.A. but in Minneapolis, which made it even more fascinating, that every woman could make it. This was something that wasn't lost on me and I'm sure it wasn't lost on millions of other women and young girls who watched the show."

You can't help but see Joan Jett as that woman tossing her hat in the air independently, smiling and flying rebelliously at the same time.

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