CRIMSON AND CLOVER
03 December 2010
‘It’s a shag, not a mullet.’ Joan Jett rasps at me with her smoke filled throat. ‘Technically a mullet is short in front of the ears and longer behind.’ It’s good that she has clarified this, she does not seem the sort of woman that takes much shit and certainly I would not want the terminology of her ‘do to be wrong. Having started way back when in 1975, with her band The Runaways, Joan was the original bad girl, all leather pants and back combing, ‘two hours sometimes just with the hairspray,’ she confirms. ‘It wasn’t initially leathers; it was glam…British glitter rock, Bowie; that kind of thing. That was The Runaways origins.’
She started The Runaways as a mere kitten aged 15, ( on rhythm guitar and sharing vocals with lead Cherie), the band started to pick up a whole load of attention across the world; and for good reasons, six hot leather clad chicks rocking out, what’s not to like? After five years, the band went their separate ways, and Joan was left to forge a career out of the rock n’ rubble. So, being that shaggy haired multi-tasking alpha female sort, she did. When no record label would take her solo work, she started her own, Blackheart Records. She found ‘three good looking guys’ to play instruments and she partied on as Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, giving forth timeless classics such as ‘I Love Rock And Roll,’ (You might remember one Britney Spears grinding doe eyed and snake hipped to it, but Joan was on it first), as well as ‘Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)’, ‘Bad Reputation’ and ‘You Don’t Own Me’. Back in the hazy days of ‘75, sartorial subcultures were a lot more D.I.Y, ‘although there were a few shops we could get platform boots, but most of it was handmade.’
The biker jacket n’ ratty hair look might seem common place now, but Joan chartered new territory – taking the middle finger of punk and the slinky glitter spray of glam and creating a whole new back combed beast. This ‘you can fuck me but don’t fuck me over’ look was a whole new one; post flat shoe-d hippy era, pre 80’s power shoulder-pad – opening new doors for girls to equal their brothers in the biker jacket stakes. ‘I don’t know how I feel about that way of dressing being so mainstream now,’ she states. ‘People ask me what it’s like to be the template for a look and I feel funny about being part of that terminology. I wouldn’t think of myself as an icon if people didn’t tell me about it,’ she mulls over what she’s just said for a moment or two. ‘Although I am very flattered by it, it’s hard to put myself into that context. If people didn’t tell me, it wouldn’t be something I thought about myself.’ There’s a saying that old punk rockers never die, they just wear more expensive clothes, and Joan’s no exception to the rule. ‘The leather pants are a base,’ she explains matter of factly. ‘Then I’ll just have to find a belt or a jacket. I love Balenciaga, they make amazing black-and-white and leather stuff. I have bits of Dior, Dolce, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Burberry – anyone really. There’s always something I can find, it’s all about the picking and choosing. I’ve always been very attracted to the British sense of style and music and the way the two combine in England. In America if you step outside the box of what you’re supposed to be like you get slated for it. In Britain I get an impression it’s more of an artistic expression, instead of judging everyone on a personal level.’
‘I remember seeing The Clash at some venue in about ’75 and I’d never seen a crowd of kids gathered like that with such a distinct and individual look. In the States nothing like that was going on. I remember going over for that first tour [with The Runaways], all glammed out and seeing that Clash show and the kids were all pogoing. It was an amazing spectacle. I was hooked on the whole thing. It played into my own sense of alienation. It was a transformative trip.’
This year there will be a film released on The Runaways, starring hot young thing Kristen Stewart as Joan. ‘It’s interesting because it’s not really a biopic, it’s not really a documentary about The Runaways forming, it’s more a parallel storyline based on Cherie Currie’s book Neon Angels. It will have it’s own storyline, using a real band, but everything that will happen is not necessarily something that has happened to us.’ Joan Jett broke the mould, forming one of first girl rock n’roll bands, putting her own record out, wearing leather pants, and generally giving the two-finger salute to the male-led music industry. ‘I think I’m probably someone who started off just trying not to be a typical girl,’ she grins. ‘Just don’t call my hair a mullet.’
I originally wrote this for the LOVE magazine blog.