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Joan Jett: Rebel with a cause

How a teenage Runaway turned into a grown-up luminary for music with attitude, humanist politics and gender equality

“There’s nothing more threatening than a girl with a guitar,” Joan Jett famously said back in 1999.

Nearly 20 years later she hasn’t changed her stance. She has never been afraid to speak her mind or show the world exactly how she earned that bad reputation she sings about. “The only reason I have a bad reputation is because I’m a girl and dare to do these things that boys do,” Jett huffs.

In fact, if she had a motto it would probably be ‘Make me’. From the off, Joan Jett has been full of bold impudence and rock action, provocatively straddling her guitar between her legs while channelling her beloved rock gods of yore, Marc Bolan or Keith Richards, and has spent the past four decades showing the world that she can rock as hard as the guys, if not harder.

But Jett’s aim wasn’t to even the score in the war between the sexes. She had bigger goals. “Well, I do,” she says, stretching out the last word. “But if anyone ever said anything against girls playing rock’n’roll, I was ready to go to war.”

And she did.

“One time, The Runaways opened for Rush, I think in Detroit,” she recalls. “I remember those guys standing at the side of the stage laughing at us. And, you know, if I was Rush I wouldn’t be laughing at me. Then there was Molly Hatchet. The guys said: ‘I can’t believe we’re opening for a bitch.’ And then Scorpions were mad because they were a German band and we were bigger in Germany than they were. People just don’t want to see girls doing things they don’t think girls should do.”

But that has never stopped her.

Over the years she’s written songs full of piss and bravado, such as the Bad Reputation and the tongue-in-cheek Black Leather, a song that doesn’t extol the virtues of her favorite stagewear so much as emphasise that she’s going to do what she wants to: ‘Black leather, I wear it on stage/Black leather, I’m gonna wear it to my grave/Black leather, I will wear it anywhere/Because my name is Joan Jett and I don’t care.’

But the thing is, she does care.

“I think what’s always kept me going is the belief that rock’n’roll could change your life. Not making it more than it is, but a song can just hit you at a certain time. Something that gives you the courage and energy to continue following your dream.”


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