LGBT Icons: Joan Jett
Posted by mandyf on September 18, 2011
On September 22, 1958, Joan Jett was born in a Waynewood, PA. hospital as Joan Marie Larkin. By the time she was 12, her family moved to Los Angeles, and by the time she was 15 she had formed her first band. It wasn’t long before the band was discovered and signed by Kim Fowley who renamed them the Runaways. It sounds like the perfect story, but along the way Joan faced her share of adversity.
The Runaways broke up for good in 1979 leaving Joan, then only 22, like so many of her generational peers wondering what she was going to do. Joan was already known around the world and respected as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. They were actually so big that bands like Van Halen, Cheap Trick, and Tom Petty opened for them, not he other way around. The problem was she also had a reputation. She was known to hang with the most notorious punk musicians of the time which many labels felt might be an issue when it came to controlling her. It was also at the least widely rumored she was a lesbian, or at least bisexual, and some labels felt that might create a marketability problem.
It was that same year Jett met Kenny Laguna after cutting three tracks with Paul Cook and Steve Jones who were former members of the Sex Pistols. One of those songs was an early version of I Love Rock n’ Roll. The album was released in Europe where it did well, however 23 U.S labels took a pass on her. Again it was an issue of her reputation, their feeling the music was dated and appealed an to no one, and a fear that she may tank herself on tour by reverting to some of her original lyrics.While that has never fully been confirmed, it has long been a rumored that in many of her early songs, original drafts made use of the pronoun “her” where “him” was what the labels wanted. Years later no executive will comment on that and Jett has remained mum on the topic.
Of course there was also the issue of her image. Jett while regarded as attractive by nearly everyone, is credited with being the original “riot grrl” which was thought to be a career killer when came to sales. Labels wanted perky and pretty with big smiles, not a guitar wielding, sneering bad girl. With no options left, Laguna put up his daughters college savings money to press records they sold out of his Cadillac under the name of Blackheart Records. Without realizing it, Jett had become the first woman in rock music to form her own label.
As fate would have it they couldn’t make albums fast enough to meet the demand. Laguna reached out to a friend at Casablanca Records, Neil Bogart, who signed Jett to a joint venture on the Boardwalk Records label. Her album Bad Reputation was re-released, and soon after I love Rock n’ Roll came out and went to number one. Of course if you remember the era, you notice that once Jett signed on with the Boardwalk venture she did toe the line to some degree and did photo shoots in outfits other than black leather, and also used him rather than her when she sang her songs except on her cover of Crimson and Clover which were of course the original lyrics.
As time moved on Jett enjoyed more success and had more freedom to do as she as pleased. While Jett would never come right out in public and declare she was a lesbian, people started noticing something different at her concerts regarding her stage presence and often that the crowds were becoming more and more female. Rumors ran wild, but when she was often pressed on the issue she chose to remind people her sexuality was her own business. This remained her stance until only a few years ago when she allowed herself to be billed as an “Out Lesbian rocker” at the Dinah Shore Weekend. It was around that time she was romantically linked to sex goddess Carmen Elektra. While they never did co-habitate they were regularly seen together although neither would confirm or deny anything on their dating status.
Joan has somehow remained above the fray of controversy that swirls around so many women in entertainment. She does support gay rights, but she will never be accused of being “in your face about it.” She has long been an example of how to productively work towards any goal whether it be advancing a career, marriage equality behind the scenes where the real grunt work is done, and has served for many as a reluctant role model. For many lesbians of her generation, they can see their lives in many regards paralleled in her own; in the closet, then into the shadows, in the light but shying away from it, and then finally open and proud. Joan is unashamed of who she is and is equally unashamed of exercising her right to live as an equal human being while telling people what she does or who she does it with is none of their business. As such, Joan Jett has become one of the most important lesbian icons of her generation.