Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gay & Lesbian Musicians: Joan Jett

Joan Jett defined rock and roll for an entire generation of young girls who aspired to be like her.  The oft leather-clad singer is best known to the masses for her unique brand of simple, stripped-down, three chord rock and roll.  Her solid, gutsy sound is loud, raw, and performed with a defiant "up yours" attitude!  Stated simply, Joan is the total package; her sound and image contain every element needed to make a truly great rocker!

She combined the tough, swaggering image and beat of the Stones with the thundering power chords of bands like AC/DC, and the trashier elements of glam and punk rock to create her own personal sound.  Throughout her entire career, she has remained true to this formula, never changing her music or compromising her artistic vision.  She has truly proven that rock music is no longer just a man's world, and has done so by simply letting her talent speak for itself.  She has never made an issue of her gender by drawing undue attention to it.
Before Joan became the rocker that we know today, she entered the world as Joan Marie Larkin, on September 22, 1958.  She was born in a suburb of Philadelphia called Waynewood, Pennsylvania, where she lived until the age of twelve.  She then moved with her family to Los Angeles.  Then in 1973, at the tender age of 15, she had formed her first group and began playing gigs in the L.A. area.  The band quickly caught the attention of record producer Kim Fowley, who became their manager.

After renaming the all-female group, Fowley secured a contract for the band with Mercury Records, and The Runaways were born.  The band released three albums without having much success in The least in terms of their record sales, that is.  Still, in spite of this, they did find popularity as a live act on the L.A. rock and punk scenes.  They also achieved a great deal of popularity in Japan before breaking up in 1979.

Their breakup left Joan facing an uncertain future, but this did not keep her down for long.  She decided to move to New York to pursue a solo career.  Once there, she began making the rounds, and was systematically rejected by every record label in town.  Her reputation for associating with the most notorious punk musicians of the day caused labels to shy away, as they feared that she would be difficult to control.  It was also rumored that she was a lesbian, which was yet another nail in her coffin as far as record executives were concerned; none of them wanted to touch her.
In fact, the issue of Jett's sexuality was something that had followed her for most of her career.  When pressed about it, she would neither confirm nor deny the lesbian rumor; she would always decline to answer the question, admonishing that it was none of anyone else's business.  It wasn't until much later in her career that she finally decided to address the issue once and for all, by allowing herself to be billed as an "out lesbian rocker" at one of her performances.

Sexuality issues not withstanding, Joan quickly grew tired of getting the runaround from labels, and eventually hooked up with producer Kenny Laguna, who then became her manager.  Together, the team released Jett's self-titled debut album in 1980, which Laguna financed by using the money he'd been saving as a college fund for his daughter to press the records.  They then sold the records out of Laguna's trunk, making Joan one of the first women in the business to start her own label, Blackheart Records. 
The album was very successful for an independent release, and that success helped to land Joan a contract with Boardwalk Records.  Upon signing with the new label, the title of that album was changed to Bad Reputation and re-released by Boardwalk.  Soon after, she formed her band The Blackhearts, and released her second album, which was titled I Love Rock & Roll.  The title track became a number one hit.

As her success continued to grow, she gained more freedom to do things as she pleased.  Although she walked a tough road to get there, she finally claimed her independence as an artist, and an out lesbian woman...and all without compromising her integrity and personal vision, or jeopardizing the career she had worked so hard to build!  No wonder so many young women see her as a role model!  Though she may be reluctant to accept that title, it is definitely well deserved.  May she continue to enjoy success as she entertains us all for years to come!

Rock on, Joan!