When Joan Jett spat the words, "I don't give a damn 'bout my bad reputation" back in 1981, she meant it. Her creaky leather jacket, predatory sneer, stinging guitar riffs and raspy voice out-muscled even the toughest metal gods.
While bands like AC/DC were croaking about women with back seat rhythm, Joan laid down lines about sexy 17-year-old boys. She stood nearly alone as a commanding female voice in rock 'n' roll boyland, where the choices for women were either get squashed in or get tough. Joan did the latter. That's why she's always been cool.
So it's kind of sweet that the hard-edged rocker is humble when talking about the female--and male--bands she has inspired.
"It's something you wished for for so long--that it would be normal for other women to play music," she says in a gritty voice. "Then you realize finally a lot of women are doing it--and that's great. And if you had anything to do with that, it's even cooler. But it's not like I feel pompous. It's more like a camaraderie kind of feeling. More like I want to see them do well."
Some of those newer Jett disciples collaborated with the queen of noise and her band, the Blackhearts, on the group's new album, "Pure and Simple." Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna--the leader of the hard-core underground feminist riot grrrl movement--helped write four of the album's 12 songs, and Kat Bjelland of Babes in Toyland and L7's Donita Sparks and Jennifer Finch co-wrote and play on various tracks.
It's a good move.
There's now a more spontaneous, garage-rock edge to Jett's usual headstrong riffage, making it seem--ironically--that she was actually influenced by the discordant bands around her, especially Bikini Kill.
Jett, 33, who got her start with L.A.'s Runaways in the mid-'70s, saw the Olympia, Wash., group play two years ago and was floored by its originality and energy. A year later, Bikini Kill asked Jett to produce the group's single "This Is New Radio"/"Rebel Girl." That session led to Hanna and Jett's collaboration on the new Blackhearts album.
The pairing makes perfect sense because Jett--best known for her 1981 hit "I Love Rock 'n' Roll"--is often referred to as the original riot grrrl, going back to her days with the Runaways.
That band formed in 1975 as one of the first all-female groups with attitude--even if the sneers were partly the brainchild of producer Kim Fowley. Jett took the GED and left high school early, and the quartet put out three albums, including the now legendary single "Cherry Bomb," but split up by late '79.
"Maybe they say I was the first (riot grrrl) 'cause I was in the Runaways and wore a black leather jacket," she speculates. "The riot grrrls aren't just the bands, but a whole network of women across the country with fanzines.
"I didn't have that support, not at all. Girls the ages of the Runaways seemed really resentful and jealous of us. Our audience was 90% male, and the women were really threatened, like we were gonna steal their boyfriends or something."
Now, thanks to the persistence of such female artists as Jett and Chrissie Hynde, the strong messages of Bikini Kill and L7 scare boyfriends in the crowd while the women rock on.
More GRRRL Talk: Speaking of Chrissie Hynde, the Pretenders' leader has come up with a list of do's and don'ts for what she calls "Chick Rockers."
Some of the more choice bits of Hynde's advice, which was included in the press kit for the band's latest album, "Last of the Independents":
* "Don't moan about being a chick, refer to feminism or complain about sexual discrimination. Write a loosely disguised song about it instead and clean up ($).
* Do not insist on working with females. Get the best man for the job, and if they happen to be a female, great.
* Shave your legs for Christ's sake.
* Don't take advice from people like me. Do your own thing always."
Wedding Bells: One of Lollapalooza mastermind Perry Farrell's brainstorms this time around is a computer matchmaking service at each show that will link up lovelorn 'paloozians through a sort of on-line flirting. He even hopes to have marriages on stage, beginning with his own to his girlfriend. Wedding Bells might sound right pretty up against the squealing dissonance from the second stage.
Bass Player Found Dead
Kristen Pfaff, the bass player of Courtney Love's rock band Hole, was found dead at her Seattle home, police say. F2