7 things we learned about Joan Jett from the documentary 'Bad Reputation'
From being rejected by 23 record labels to filling in for Kurt Cobain during Nirvana's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, here are some lesser known facts about Jett.
Most people might remember Joan Jett for the smash hit 'I Love Rock n Roll'. But there's so much more than the 1982 chart-topping hit that defines her ever defiant personality. The rock star who turned 60 just last week goes by the epithets 'Queen of Rock 'n' Roll' and 'Godmother of Punk' and is widely considered as the one who paved the way for female rock acts and a beacon for female artists during a more hostile time.
Jett has three albums that have gone Gold or Platinum and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her band The Blackhearts in 2015. During her career, first with the Runaways and then The Blackhearts, she broke the shackles of a male-dominated scene and practically conceptualized the very first female rock star. Jett's prolific career and struggle to stay in the spotlight through the burgeoning punk scene of the 70s and her battle as an underdog female artist is explored in the documentary 'Bad Reputation', which hits theaters this Friday via Magnolia Pictures.
Featuring interviews with Billie Joe Armstrong, Miley Cyrus, Debbie Harry, Nikki Haley, Iggy Pop, Kristen Stewart, Pete Townshend, and some insightful archival footage, the documentary is a story of the undying spirit of Joan Jett and the fight to put her name in the pages of rock history. Along with the many insights, the film also throws up some interesting lesser-known facts about Jett. Here are 7 things we learned about the pioneer of punk rock from the documentary:
1. She used to buy her outfits from an S&M fetish store called 'The Pleasure Chest'
Jett's iconic leather-clad look owes thanks to an L.A. fetish store called 'The Pleasure Chest', where Jett would go to buy her accessories. But the look wasn't wholly original and was in fact, inspired by the punk scene in the UK. During her time with the Runaways, the band visited London and Jett got a chance to hang out with The Sex Pistols while being exposed to the freshly brewing Punk aesthetic of the U.K. Jett brought the look and feel of the movement back to the States and the shock factor was immense. Nobody was sporting safety pins attached to leather jackets and chains at the time when Los Angeles was tilting towards the glam side of rock 'n' roll. "I kinda went over as a glitter person and came home dressed as a punk," Jett says in the documentary.
And speaking of The Sex Pistols...
2. 'I Love Rock 'n Roll' was first recorded with two members of The Sex Pistols after Jett saw the song on TV
Although 'I Love Rock 'n Roll' was Jett's greatest hit, it wasn't a wholly original tune. The song was originally written in 1975 by a British band called the Arrows, who had their own TV show which ran in the UK in 1976 and 1977. During that time, Joan Jett was touring England as part of The Runaways. She happened to catch an episode of 'Arrows,' during which she saw the band perform the song. When The Runaways broke up in '77, Jett began work on her own solo album. In the sessions for that album, she recorded a version of 'I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll' with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols. It was released as a B-side to her cover of Lesley Gore’s 'You Don’t Own Me.'
Jett’s first album was released in 1980 as 'Joan Jett,' but re-released in 1981 as 'Bad Reputation.' The version of 'I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll' she had recorded with Jones and Cook didn’t make it onto the album, but 'You Don’t Own Me' did. But a polished version recorded with the Blackhearts featured on her next record and reached Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 while also capturing the global market, largely due to a big push from MTV, which had just started at the time.
3. She started her own record label Blackheart Records after being rejected by 23 labels
After her split with The Runaways, Jett overcame a rough patch and driven by her new producer Kenny Laguna, she started working on her first solo effort. Jett and Laguna entered the Who's Ramport Studios with the latter at the helm and sent the demos of the recordings to 23 record labels, only to receive 23 rejection letters. Frustrated by the response, the two decided to put out the record themselves, releasing it independently on their new Blackheart Records label, which they started with Laguna's daughter's college savings. The practice might be quite common in the current indie scene but back then, it was a daring move and almost unprecedented, making Joan Jett one of the first indie artists in the true sense of the word - someone who pioneered the DIY approach that forms the center of the punk philosophy to this day.
4. She was furious about 'Bad Reputation' being chosen as the title of her first solo record
After achieving some success through the sales of her self-released debut, help arrived in the form of Laguna's old friend Neil Bogart, who ran Casablanca records and made a deal to sign Jett to Boardwalk Records, which mostly put out disco songs. During the time, unbeknownst to Jett and Laguna, Bogart took the liberty of changing the name of the album for the 1981 re-release to 'Bad Reputation'. The title was an obvious reference to Jett's history with the Runaways and the eventual split, a dark time of her life during which she had to face the "I-told-you-so" attitude from everyone who told her she couldn't make it as a female rock star. The title totally pissed Laguna and Jett off, but they ultimately decided to go with it.
5. Her manager Kim Fowley used to throw things at the band during practice to prepare for actual gigs
Jett didn't have an easy time during her years with the Runaways. The band would not be taken too seriously in the male-dominated rock scene of the 70s and were often branded as either 'cute' or even worse, slut-shamed on a regular basis by the masses and the media alike. At the time, the Runaways was being managed by the eccentric producer and manager Kim Fowley, who has been described as "one of the most colorful characters in the annals of rock & roll". The Runaways would often be subject to abuse while on stage, with the crowd often tossing things onto stage. As Jett reveals in the documentary, she even had a bruised rib once after somebody struck her with car battery while on stage. Fowley had a strange way of dealing with this situation. He would throw random things at the band while they practiced in order to get them ready for the real deal, something that Jett calls "target practice" in the documentary.
6. Panama's dictator Manuel Noriega was a fan and wanted to meet her
Fun fact: Joan Jett was the first American act of any kind to perform behind the Iron Curtain and also the first English speaking rock band to appear in Panama and the Dominican Republic. As her popularity skyrocketed through the 80s, the Blackhearts hit Panama City in 1984. At the time, Manuel Noriega had grabbed total power in the country as the de facto head after a military coup and tensions were high, but the band was there to rock out. As Laguna reveals in the documentary, Noriega was fascinated by Joan Jett and arranged a private plane to pick her up so he could meet the famous rock star. Laguna and Jett didn't know how to refuse the offer, but in a stroke of luck, Noriega was embroiled in a massive drug scandal and Jett was saved from the uncomfortable meeting.
7. She filled in for Kurt Cobain during Nirvana's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014
Jett had professed her love of Nirvana long ago. She said that Kurt was “a great guitar player and a great singer,” in a 1996 interview and that she “used to listen to [Nirvana] all the time. . . day and night.” She has also co-written the song 'Any Weather' for her 2013 record Unvarnished with Grohl and toured with the Foo Fighters and joined them onstage, where they’ve backed her playing her songs. Jett also has a history with Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear, as she produced the debut full-length, 1979’s 'GI', by his first band, punk screamers the Germs.
So it was a fitting tribute when Jett joined Nirvana's Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear during the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 for a stunning rendition of the 1991 smash hit 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. The following year, Jett returned to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony - but this time, she was the one being inducted, finally fulfilling her dream of wanting to be remembered as a pioneer for female rock acts in the pages of rock history.