Joan Jett: Jett Set
GW There’s basically an orgasm in the middle of the song.
JETT Exactly. And kids wanna do that. That’s why teenage boys form bands. And girls, they feel those same things. To deny that is really kind of fucked up. And it’s fucked up for teenagers who aren’t given a voice. So all we were trying to do in the Runaways was sort of give voice to that. We just happened to stumble into it very naïvely, not really knowing what we were getting into and not knowing it was going to be so threatening to people. But as we began to realize that it was threatening, all of a sudden it became the principle.
GW That sense of threat extended to your peers as well. In the movie, during soundcheck before a show, the Runaways are given a rough time by the bigger, male, headlining act. That incident supposedly occurred during your tour with Rush in 1977.
JETT Yeah, that’s true. But I’m not even so sure it was the members of Rush that were giving us crap as much as it was their road crew. They would be standing on the side of the stage, laughing during the show, throwing paper and wads of stuff at us. And I remember Cherie walking onstage and slipping, because we were all in platforms. Stuff like that. So it was like, people were threatened, but they were very juvenile in the way they took it out on us.
GW Afterward, your character breaks into the band’s dressing room and urinates on a guitar. Did you really do that?
JETT No, no, no. That whole scene, going into the dressing room, that was a complete embellishment for the movie. The Runaways never wrecked any other band’s gear. That would not be the way I would handle things. The way for me to get back at somebody has always been to blow them away onstage.
GW For the live scenes in the movie did you offer Kristen Stewart any advice as far as how to portray Joan Jett?
JETT One thing I made sure of was when she held the guitar that the pickup was right over her crotch. But basically, when I’m onstage I try not to think. As soon as you start thinking, you screw up. You have to just be in the music, because it’s really easy to get spooked. So with Kristen, if she was onstage and maybe not feeling it, or I could tell she was thinking about too many things, or worried about the camera or whatever, I would yell at her, “Kristen! Pussy to the wood! Fuck your guitar!” [laughs] Because you have to stay connected to it, you know?
GW With male players, there’s the cliché about the guitar being an extension of your manhood.
JETT Exactly. And I think that’s true for everybody. You want to expand. You don’t want to shrivel up!
GW After the Runaways broke up, was there ever a moment where you weren’t sure if you would continue in music?
JETT Oh, totally. I was devastated when the Runaways broke up, for a million reasons—my dream was over, I felt we had failed, I thought maybe it was all my fault. And I just felt really laughed at. It was like you could sense all of Los Angeles going, “We told you it wouldn’t work. Ha-ha.” And I was probably drinking too much, partying too much, kind of spiraling downward. So I definitely thought about other avenues. I even briefly considered enlisting in the military. I figured it’d help me get myself together, I’d get to travel some, maybe get some discipline.
GW Once you made the decision to continue as a solo artist, you were turned down by more than 20 record labels.
JETT Kenny [Laguna, Jett’s longtime producer/business partner] knew a lot of people, and he figured he could get me a deal quick, no problem. But everybody he went to said, “Can’t help you, Ken, can’t do it.” And they all gave various excuses that he thought were ridiculous.
GW Such as?
JETT “She can’t play.” “She can’t sing.” “She’s too intense.” “Maybe she should lose the guitar.” I’m sure there’s probably a few others that Kenny never even relayed to me because he thought it’d hurt my feelings. But we still have a lot of those rejection letters.