In 2010 the film The Runaways generated a ton of press attention for the big lesbian kiss between Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, playing Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, respectively. The film was largely based on Cherie’s memoir, Neon Angel, where she mentions having experimented with bisexuality, specifically with Joan. The real life musicians laughed about the moment in the film, both hoping it wasn’t the focus, that viewers would instead hear their story, the story of an all-girl band that started in Los Angeles in the 1970s.
Unfortunately, The Runaways barely touched on the reality of the band. It left out a lot, including the stories of the other members: Lita Ford and Sandy West are essentially in the background, and the handful of bass players that were part of the band at one time or another were made into a composite character. One of those bass players, Vicki Tischler-Blue, was behind another telling of The Runaways story Edgeplay, a 2004 documentary featuring, again, only some of the band discussing their ideas of what went down during the three years the band was together. Noticeably missing: Joan Jett.
Joan released her own book with Todd Oldham in 2010, though it was largely photos and a short oral history of herself and her career, so there was another piece, another point of view. But the closest anyone could ever come to knowing the full story of The Runaways is in a new book from rock journalist Evelyn McDonnell, Queens of Noise: The Real Story of The Runaways. It’s also a lot queerer than anything you’ve ever heard about the young women before.
There’s a sexual ambiguity that exists surrounding Joan Jett, and has throughout her entire career. Even in the book, Joan says she will not define her sexuality:
“I’m not discussing personally who I’m doing anything with. As far as addressing sexuality, I’m singing to everyone and always have been since the Runaways. I think I’m being pretty blatant. I think anybody who wants to know who I am, all they’ve got to do is listen to my music.”
Or look at her guitar, which has had different stickers ranging from two pink female symbols holding hands or one reading “DYKE” over the years. She might not identify as anything specific, but Joan is for all intents and purposes queer, as was drummer Sandy West. Queens of Noise details some of Joan’s relationships with Runaways songwriter Kari Krome as well as Lisa Curland (“their fights were legendary”) and Sandy’s with Linda Spheeris (sister to filmmaker Penelope Spheeris). At one point, Lita Ford originally left the band because she didn’t like being around “homosexuality.”
“I had never been around people like the Runaways. They were gay and I wasn’t. It was wild to me. My parents had never explained to me that people are gay. When I met them, I was like ‘You like girls, but you’re a girl.’ I didn’t figure it out, I didn’t like it, and I didn’t want to be around it.”
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Eventually she got over it and came back to the band, which was crucial considering she was the band’s best guitarist.