Joan Jett

Crimson and clover

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By Gary Graff  

Joan Jett loved rock 'n' roll when she joined the Runaways in 1975, when she went solo in 1978 -- and now, as she releases Sinner, her first new studio album in the U.S. in more than twelve years.

The album, which also marks the 25th anniversary of Jett's Blackheart Records label, finds the original riot grrrl rocking with a bit of a message, too, dropping a cherry bomb on the Bush presidency in "Riddles" and singing frankly about sexual identity and tolerance in "A.C.D.C." and "Androgynous." Kind of makes you want to put another dime in the jukebox, baby...

Q: Twenty-five years of Blackheart Records must feel pretty amazing.

Jett: Yeah, I'm very proud that we've been able to just stay alive, first of all, for twenty-five years. It was out of necessity, 'cause nobody wanted anything to do with me. They didn't want the music. They didn't hear it. We still have those rejection letters from 23 labels, major and minor. They heard "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," "Crimson and Clover," "Do You Want to Touch Me" and "Bad Reputation" and told us we needed a song search! So it was good we were able to have an outlet with Blackheart. It started in the trunk of a car -- literally, we were selling records at the shows out of the trunk of a car -- and a P.O. box, and it went from there.

Q: What took so long to get Sinner released?

Jett: It probably started ten years ago. We went into the studio to make a new album, and at the time the whole music industry was changing. Warner Brothers, which was distributing Blackheart at the time, changed administrations after we had finished the first version of the CD. The new administration wanted to put their sort of stamp on the album and wanted us to record another one, which we did. And then they changed administrations again and decided they didn't want to deal with it. We kept coming back to it because there was a lot of good stuff there. But I was quite frustrated by having made a couple of records and not being able to get them out.

Q: "Riddle," the first track, takes you into some unusually heavy political territory.

Jett: I love writing about falling in love, falling out of love, sex, all those great things I've written about my whole career. But after a while you want to write about something beyond that, too. It's hard. How do you write about something like the state of our country, the bigger issues, without sounding preachy or dogmatic, just talking like a person? I want to speak without being partisan, without saying 'These are the good people' and 'These are the bad people.' I'm just talking about what's going on as I see it right now.

Q: You're playing the Vans Warped Tour this summer, where most of the audience is probably young enough to be your own kids. How'd that come about?

Jett: They asked if I wanted to do it, and I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it would be a great way to get out and do some hard touring and get in front of a whole new audience. And I think I fit there because of the Runaways. We were one of the bands who were in there early to the punk scene. They've had Green Day on the tour. Billy Idol's been on it. The Ramones did it. It's good to show kids where things come from.

Q: So what happens if VH1's "Bands Reunited" ever comes after the Runaways?

Jett: Boy, I don't even know, 'cause that's not even a possibility. I doubt anybody would even tell me about it. They'd already know my answer.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.