ICON: Joan Jett

The crowd is on their feet. The energy of the outdoor arena and the group of music lovers that have gathered for the show is so exciting and overwhelming that my eyes well up with tears. It’s the second show I’ve ever been to and the anticipation is palpable as the drums and guitars start to play familiar notes. She walks out to the center of the stage.

Larger than life for such a physically small person. The applause is thunderous as the lights hit her signature shag haircut. Everyone was shouting JOAN, JOAN, JOAN as she crossed the stage with her signature swagger and unmistakable level of confidence. Then she let out that unmistakable voice. As a junior high school kid fighting to figure out who I am and where I fit in, this raspy growl resonates deep inside me. I start to cry.

Joan Jett was born Joan Marie Larkin in Philadelphia suburb on September 22nd, 1958. Virgo in the Cusp of Beauty. Her father moved the family often and they eventually ended up in Los Angeles where Joan’s parents divorced.

To deal with all the changes, the thirteen years old became a fixture at the iconic Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco on the Sunset Strip. The glam Rock club gave underage Joan a place to find herself and one of the first things she found was her new name. Jett. With two T’s. Perfect last name for a girl whose goal was to take over the world.

In 1975, Joan started The Runaways with drummer Sandy West and producer Kim Fowley. The band fused rock music with the new punk sound and they began to play out at bars and music venues. Their sound and style was immediately and universally applauded as groundbreaking The influence Joan Jett and the Runaways had on
generations of badass, rock & roll ladies is immeasurable The original members of the band were Sandy West, Joan Jett, Micki Steele, and Lita Ford, all icons in their own right.

The influence these premier female rockers had on music today is monumental. Musicians like Karen O, Miley Cyrus, and the Riot Grrrl movement all count Joan as a mentor or inspiration. She left a lasting impression for future generations to look up to.

When The Runaways dissolved, Joan found herself needing to make a comeback at the young age of 22. Never one to give up, Joan recorded a demo on her own, but that didn’t go anywhere. She then teamed up with musical prodigy and producer Kenny Laguna who helped fuse Joan’s punk inspired passion with a more pop energy.

After being turned down by over 20 labels who told Joan to lose the guitar and soften her image, Joan and Kenny started their own record label, Blackheart Records, and
produced a record as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, with Kenny’s baby daughter Carianne’s college fund. History was made. The record contained mega-hits like Bad Reputation, I Love Rock N Roll and Others, which not only topped the charts but have become iconic around the world.  Coincidentally Carianne, whose college money started the label is now the companies CEO. Now, that is what you call girl power.

As Joan Jett and the Blackhearts found success, Joan also became a style inspiration. Managed by the brilliant Meryl Laguna Joan’s style started to inspire designers and fans
alike. Today Joan is an icon for the feminist-punk riot-grrrl movement, and her name is shorthand in fashion. Her signature smokey cat eyeliner, Sally Hershberger shag, and
love of leather look pants has led her to be the face of brands including YSL, collaboration with Tripp clothing and countless copycat beauty and fashion editorials. The biopic The Runaways, featured Kristen Stewart as Joan. The film was based on a memoir by singer Cherie Currie, and Joan was an executive producer.

However, Joan is more than a pretty face with a kickass voice and a guitar. She has used her position and acclaim to champion causes she believes in. From LGBTQ causes to homeless shelters, women’s concerns and community programs, Joan puts her money, and her influence, behind bettering the world. She has been recognized by
organizations like Little Kids Rock and Generation Next for her commitment to helping musicians. She has been honored by PETA and Farm Sanctuary for her fight for animal rights and is vocal about zoos and Seaworld being held accountable for their cruelty. One of her relationships that Joan is most proud of is her longtime work with the USO and the Wounded Warrior Project. Joan and the Blackheart family work to benefit veterans and service members in every way they can.

Cut to three decades later and I am now backstage stage left. Joan Jett and The Blackhearts have just been inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. We are in the process of filming a documentary about Joan called, of course, Bad Reputation. Three generations of Laguna’s are off stage cheering as committed to the music as they have been for decades. I move the signature black bangs away from her face and check the legendary cat eye and add one more swipe. She looks me in the eye and smiles. Runs off on to the center stage. The crowd at the outdoor arena is going wild. I smile and understand the power of the word icon.

Words James Vincent
Illustration Zteven