Joan Jett’s reputation precedes her. But far from being bad, it’s one of uncompromising rock ‘n’ roll credentials. The music icon spoke with Interview magazine about The Runaways movie about her seminal all-girl group. Watching her life play out on the big screen is an experience the 51-year-old called “pretty surreal.”
Jett and her longtime manager Kenny Laguna executive produced the project based on the book by fellow Runaway Cherie Currie’s 1989 autobiography, Neon Angel. The film debuted at Sundance and is set to open wide March 19. In her interview, Jett talked about everything from Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of her, being a girl trying to play rock in the 70s and the film’s frank depiction of sexuality.
Like, what was it like being a teenage girl who wanted to play guitar in the 1970s? There’s a scene in the film where a teacher tells her “girls can’t play rock ‘n” roll.”
That scene in the movie is basically true. I walked in and said, “Teach me how to play rock ‘n’ roll.” And the guy brought out sheet music and tried to teach me “On Top of Old Smoky.” That was the last lesson I ever took. Being told that girls can’t play rock ‘n’ roll-I mean, even as a kid, it was so illogical to me-it’s like, what do you mean? That girls can’t master the instruments? … What you mean is they’re not allowed, socially-it’s a societal thing. You’re not allowed to play rock ‘n’ roll because rock ‘n’ roll means you’re covering Sticky Fingers. Rock ‘n’ roll means “Whole Lotta Love.” You go listen to these songs and albums again and realize how dirty they sound, how much sex is dripping from them. And that kind of stuff is very threatening.
And how was Kristen to work with?
Well, I found Kristen to be through and through totally professional and just great to be around. I found us to be really, scarily similar, just in our physicality, the way we move through space. The first time we met was a little over a year ago, New Year’s Eve. She came to see us do a concert. We hung out for the whole day, and I just dumped on her about everything I could think about The Runaways — I mean, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I told her all that stuff and how much it meant to me … (S)he is so authentic. The thing that came through to me was that it was important to her to capture it. She really wanted to nail it.
When we were together prior to the start of filming, she was staring at me the whole time. And I was fine with it because I knew she was watching my posture, my mannerisms, everything I did, the way I hold my hands, just everything. And she really soaked it in. When we were hanging out together on set, it was like I had a mirror image. Even just sitting around, we’d do the same thing at the same time. It was just great — and it wasn’t creepy. It was wonderfully special.
Well, in Kristen’s defense, if I was around Joan Jett I’d just sit and stare at her, too. Also, I couldn’t agree with her more about the way both women “move through space.” Jett has more swagger, naturally, but Kristen is no slouch.
And how about all the sex in the movie, including some supposedly steamy scenes between Kristen’s Joan and Dakota Fanning’s Cherie.
JETT: Look, all kids experiment-all kids have those feelings. And so I think it’s kind of ridiculous not to give any sort of attention to it.
INTERVIEW: Are you comfortable if people say, “Oh, she was a lesbian,” or “Oh, she’s bisexual,” or whatever? When they see this movie, people are probably going to say that.
JETT: I guess they’ve always said those kinds of things to a degree anyway. Anyone who wants to know who I am can just read my lyrics. I’ve always written about who I am. Look, in The Runaways I learned at a very young age, because I could see the looks in the writers’ eyes when they would ask me questions about the band and our offstage antics, and I could see from the way they asked the questions that if I answered this stuff, that was all they were ever going to write about.
But that’s not what I want people to focus on. I want people to focus on the music. And if they want to know who I am, I write about who I am in the lyrics, so don’t be lazy-read the lyrics and figure it out for yourself. I sing to everyone, that’s the bottom line. You don’t want to say, “All right, you guys, you can’t be involved in this.” You want everybody to be involved. You want everybody to want you.
Mission accomplished there, Joan. No need to worry.