Think of your favorite female rock musician and now consider this -- she may not have stood a chance of getting her music to your iPod without Joan Jett breaking down a few musical walls starting back in 1975. She is indisputably the Queen of Rock and Roll, and the lady still rocks out, as badass as ever, at age 52.
My first exposure to Joan Jett was through the Runaways. I had no idea what a cherry bomb was, but I liked the way the girls spat out the word in the same way that I liked peeking at the fold-up of naked women on bicycles that came in one of our Queen albums. Rock and roll was just... interesting. More interesting, at least, than the Mozart I was learning to play in piano lessons.
My parents bought me a guitar when I was ten, and I wanted to rock out like Joan Jett. She was hot -- first and foremost -- and she owned whatever stage she was on. She was talented, she was gutsy, she was confident. She was everything I was not as an awkward preteen. I stood in front of my mirror with my acoustic guitar, wishing it was an electric one, and that I could play it like Joan Jett.
She was in Light of Day, damnit, with my future boyfriend, Michael J. Fox (if only he had responded to my fan letter marriage proposals!). And did I mention that she not only had the leather pants I was coveting from Commander Salamander, but she could wear them and look so amazingly hot. She wasn't sexy for men -- she was sexy because she was fucking sexy. Period. You got the sense that Joan Jett didn't dress up for anyone other than herself and if you enjoyed it too, more power to you.
It wasn't until I was older and read articles about the beginnings of the Blackhearts that I really appreciated how much Joan Jett rocked as a musician. Not only was she an instrument-playing member in an all-girl band when she was in the Runaways (unheard of at the time), but when her solo album was rejected by labels in America, she released it herself on the Blackheart Records label that she created with a producer. They built her following by selling her record at the end of the concert -- in other words, Joan Jett worked her ass off to get where she is today. She wasn't signed to a major label until after she had built a following.
While she's certainly the Queen of Rock and Roll, she's also a mother figure, ushering other female rock musicians to the stage. She was instrumental in the riot grrrl movement, producing a later Bikini Kill single when they were disillusioned with the way the girl revolution was being perceived. Joan Jett was clearly the go-to girl since she was already a revolutionary figure in music. And frankly, she embodies all that the riot grrrl movement stood for -- DIY, support other women, be radical, speak your mind.
I recently went back to playing guitar after about 20 years away from it. And while I may be a long way off from feeling like a rock star (though my fingers are nicely calloused by now!), I try to channel a bit of Joan Jett's swagger when I sit down to practice. The woman made me nod my head with her musical proclamation that she loved rock and roll almost 30 years ago. Picking up my guitar again is me answering her song with agreement. I love rock and roll too, and that's why Joan Jett is an awesome woman.
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