For artists with a history more extensive than a six-minute egg, the 1990s were a staggeringly confused time. Joan Jett crested to the top of the Hot 100 in 1981 with "I Love Rock N Roll," but a little more than a decade later she was attempting a career jump start in a climate where "alternative" artists skittishly avoided words like "rock" and "roll" like a diabetic vampire shuns a crucifix candy cane. Far from being old hat, Jett aligned herself with riot grrrls like L7 and Bikini Kill, who rightly cited her as a key influence.
Her new album, Sinner, ends 10 years of virtual silence, but for an interim compilation and an earlier draft of this album that appeared in Japan two years ago. Sinner ranges from her most graphic material to date ("Relax while I pound your ass," she sings in "Fetish") to her most vulnerable ("Every little bit of me is naked now," from "Naked").
"Vulnerable? Ya think?" wonders Jett after a pause long enough to suggest the cellular carrier dropped the call. "That may be the case. It's hard for me to see what other people see because I'm inside it. 'Naked' is more about introspection, going to a place in your own self where the excuses you give to other people don't fly, 'cause inside you know the truth. I don't find it difficult to write about that stuff. Maybe that's part of growing up."
She's definitely an older (wiser?) Jett on Sinner. But she also remains unapologetically rock 'n' roll, still unflinching, scowling and generally recelebrating the hard-knock sound that's always been her inspiration. However, she's morphed again too Jett and her band are headlining the 2006 Warped Tour, putting them right in the thick of today and what counts as rock to the kids.
What's it like being the senior act on Warped? "It's like a rolling block party and punk rock circus combined," she says. "It's very friendly, the camaraderie between bands is amazing, everyone's very supportive, everyone watches [each other's sets], and it's a blast. I'm trying to picture what it's like to see 200 tour buses rolling down the road."
In a way, despite having helped define the modern, mass-marketed summer package tour, Warped resembles the rock 'n' roll package shows that rambled around the country in the '60s and '70s. "We're doing four songs off the new record 'cause we only have 30 minutes and we have to get in the older songs and acquaint some of the kids with who we are," Jett says.
Has Edgeplay, the recent Vicki Blue documentary on the Runaways, made younger audiences more cognizant of her pre-Blackhearts history?
Big silence. "It's made zero impact. I had nothing to do with it. I totally don't [support it]. I don't see the Runaways as a Jerry Springer fest. I did my job in that band and I didn't get into fights with people. It was about the music."
And if you were wondering about that music, she still loves rock 'n' roll even if, like country music, none of us can agree on what passes for it anymore. In that sense, Warped is like a laboratory. "It's very subjective, all these classifications," Jett says. "Even some of the punk rock on this tour doesn't sound like punk rock it sounds like heavy metal. And then what do you consider punk rock? It's not classic Chuck Berry progressions, but it's all rock 'n' roll in the end."Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]