It remains one of the purest, loudest, sweatiest shows I've seen. The club crowd leaned rapturously forward for two-plus hours; the rocker acknowledged the fans' passion by flicking baptismal drops of perspiration with a lascivious smirk. And all the while, the hits were relentless, grindy pelvic odes to young lust, youthful rebellion and the randy power of an isolated guitar riff. Bad Reputation. I Hate Myself for Loving You. I Love Rock N' Roll.
Standing 5 foot 4, and no more than 100 chiseled pounds, Joan Marie Larkin was a marvel that night a few years back at D.C.'s venerable 9:30 Club. There was nothing fancy about her gig, mind you. There was no great meaning to her music. She wasn't breaking rules — at least not then. But I can honestly say there aren't many solo stars, male or female, who can bring it like the one and only Joan Jett.
Earlier this month, the 51-year-old Pennsylvania native released a remastered swarm of Greatest Hits, a two-CD, 21-tracker issued by her own Blackheart Records. That must-have comp is timed to the April 9 cinematic release of The Runaways, a glossy, star-packed biopic about the first all-female rock band, a glammy, progenitive '70s outfit that featured Jett, who is played by Twilight's half-lidded ingenue Kristen Stewart.
In real life on the unreal Sunset Strip, the Runaways also starred such notables as destructive singer Cherie Currie, future metalhead Lita Ford and soon-to-be-Bangle Micki Steele. But Jett, just a teen at the time, was the band's catalyst. She co-wrote the stuttering come-on (and the band's unofficial theme song) Cherry Bomb with band manager Kim Fowley, and her guitar and vocals added switchblade edge. The Runaways were built to burn fast, but Jett soon embarked on an '80s run that made her a superstar.
The Runaways make sense as movie fodder; Jett's music has always been dramatic, cinematic, perfect for big, rolling opening credits. How has Quentin Tarantino, an avid record collector, not used that monster kick-drum start to I Hate Myself for Loving You, which exists in both the glammy present and the Fonzarelli cool of the 1950s? The punk sprint of Bad Reputation is just as potent as anything by the Ramones. And she injects leather-panted swagger into her covers, too: Gary Glitter's dinosaurian Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah), Springsteen's ecstatic Light of Day, Sly Stone's groovy tolerance plea Everyday People.
So it's with my own lascivious smirk that I welcome back Jett's music to the pop culture forefront. Here's hoping her ammo bag of ch-ch-cherry bombs and flammable hits will be rediscovered and ignited in high school parking lots all over America. With all due respect to Billy Idol, it's tough to top Jett's rebel yell.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.