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Joan Jett’s back with ‘Sinner’
Rockin’ legend talks about music, gossip and the deception of the Republican party

by Lawrence Ferber

Joan Jett’s latest CD ‘Sinner’ boasts some provocative, naughty lyrics and titles, including ‘Fetish,’ ‘Naked,’ and ‘A.C.D.C.’
Rocker Joan Jett has claimed the title of “Sinner” for her latest album. Filled with the pop hooks and tasty guitar rock she’s been feeding us since “I Love Rock N’ Roll,” “Sinner” (Blackheart Records) also boasts some truly provocative, naughty lyrics and song titles (including “Fetish,” “Naked,” and “A.C.D.C.,” a cover of The Sweet’s song about a slutty bisexual gal) and a dash of politics. Several songs feature songwriting and vocal contributions from Le Tigre’s openly queer Kathleen Hanna.

Having first garnered attention during the late 1970s in all-girl rock outfit The Runaways, the Philadelphia-born Jett went solo and had her first number one hit with “I Love Rock N’ Roll” in 1982. Besides making music as Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, she’s also appeared in films (including “Light of Day,”) played Columbia in Broadway’s 2001 uber-gay “The Rocky Horror Show” revival (for which she shaved her head), and her ditty “Bad Education” became the theme song for cult TV gem “Freaks and Geeks.”
In reality, Joan Jett has hardly ceased touring during much of her career. In 2002, she raised eyebrows in the Middle East when she did 10 days of performance for the troops stationed in Afghanistan. Reportedly Jett would come onstage wearing a birkha, which she ripped off and stomped on before blazing through her legendary down and dirty rock show.

Now celebrating the 25th anniversary of her own Blackheart Records label (co-founded by creative partner/singer-songwriter Kenny Laguna), Jett is re-releasing her entire catalog, remastered and souped-up with extras. She’s also currently on the road with The Vans’ “Warped Tour” through summer.

Q. The new album is called “Sinner.” What’s the worst sin you’ve committed, Joan?

A. That’s interesting, because everyone’s take on a sin is different, right? But probably not being truthful at times in my life for one reason or another.

Q. Have you known any AC/DCs in your life?

A. Oh, I’m sure many. Probably many more than I know. I want to sing to everybody and that’s really the thing. I’ve always wanted to do that and I never like to paint things down because you want everyone to think you’re singing to them.

Q. What about the song “Tube Talkin’?”

During a 2002 performance in Afghanistan Joan Jett reportedly stormed onstage in a birkha, ripped it off and then stomped on it as she launched into ‘Do Ya’ Wanna’ Touch Me?’

A. It’s a song written by Kathleen Hanna and to me it’s a song about gossiping and how poisonous it can be.

Q. What’s the worst gossip you’ve heard about yourself?

A. That’s a good question. I don’t pay attention, because ultimately it’s not important and it will get you bent out of shape.

Q. Do you actually give a damn about your reputation?

A. Yeah, to a degree depending [on[ what part of the reputation you’re talking about. I want people to care. I feel genuine, I try to be humble and be real and appreciative about what I have and that I’m blessed. But on a grander scale, if people are going to judge me on what I wear or how I dress, than I don’t give a shit. I do care on a humanity level, but in a sense, no, I don’t give a damn. If you and I met one-on-one, yeah, I would want you to leave thinking I’m a nice person.

Q. “Baby Blue,” co-written by Kathleen, is also on the sexual and queer side. The lyrics go: “Switch-hitter/you know she plays the field/she ain’t concerned/as long as its real/top bottom/she does either/always in control/she’s a teaser.” So who is this Baby Blue?

A. Baby Blue could be anybody. I could be talking about someone I met or I could be talking about myself. It goes back to that [idea that] I want things to apply any way people want to hear them.

Q. Is there a specific real-life Baby Blue that inspired this song?

A. I would have to say yes, I guess, but it might not be the same one who inspired Kathleen. Kathleen and I wrote four songs together on the album. I met Kathleen when a lot of things were happening. She was involved in a movement called riot grrrls or something, about women in music and rock and roll doing it their way. We were also involved during a time when a band called The Gits was in Seattle. They had a female lead singer, [Mia Zapata], who was walking home from a club one night, I believe after a show, and she was raped and murdered. The whole community came together to try and find the killer. I knew Kathleen through this time period and it was very interesting. She’s a really intelligent woman, she’s great, she’s funny, she’s really outside the box which I get a kick out of and she’s a lot of fun to hang out with.

Q. The song “Riddles” ends with the famous sample of Dubya, aka The Decider, botching up the “Fool me once shame on you” saying.

A. “Riddles” is really about how the government doesn’t talk to us straight. I campaigned for Howard Dean. I went out and tried talking to Americans about why I thought he should have been our president during the primaries. Howard Dean spoke straight to you. This [Bush] administration doesn’t. They use a deceptive language, couching policies [in a way] that is confusing to Americans even when they are trying to negotiate a Medicare thing. It’s just overwhelming. We as Americans should not be fooled, and we have to make our voices heard.

Q. I saw you in “Rocky Horror” with your shaved head. You looked great!

A. I loved it. The more people hated it, the longer I kept it [shaved]. It’s that thing where woman have to have their hair — it’s part of their sexual identity — and I really saw firsthand how people reacted with disgust. It was quite interesting as an experiment.

Q. So people would look at you and go eewww?

A. Pretty much, even my friends. Men can shave their heads and everyone thinks it looks cool. I just didn’t get it. I love fucking around with gender issues.

Q. You and the Blackhearts have played some gay Pride events. What year was the first one?

A. I think maybe around 2000.

Q. Was it a big decision to play a big gay event?

A. I don’t think so for me, not really. We wanted to make sure it would be fun for everybody and there was no reason why it wouldn’t be. It’s rock and roll, people are people.

Q. What are you looking forward to the most with the “Warped” tour?

A. It’s been a long time since I’ve had any new music out and it will be really great to turn a whole bunch of people on to me, the music, and maybe put a face to the name with somebody who loves “I Love Rock N’ Roll” or is familiar with it and now they have a chance to connect it all. It’s also a good chance to get out and play for a different audience. We’ll be on the road pretty much from now until November. It’s a nice way to mix it up.

info: Joan Jett performs at Raleigh’s Alltel Pavilion on June 27. She is at Charlotte‘s Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Aug. 8.

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