Childhood & Early Life
Joan Jett was born Joan Marie Larkin in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, on September 22, 1958, to James and Dorothy Jett Larkin. She was the eldest of the three children in her family. Her father worked as an insurance agent, and her mother worked as a secretary. The family attended church regularly, but they were not particularly religious.
Her parents’ divorce had her eliminating her father’s last name from hers. She took her mother’s middle name, “Jett,” to be her official last name. She considered her mother to be her role model and gave her a lot of credit for her own rebellious attitude and artistic inclinations.
Soon, the family moved to Maryland, where Joan started developing a keen interest in music, especially in rock music. She enrolled at ‘Randolph Junior High’ and then at ‘Wheaton High School.’ She got her very first guitar at the age of 14. She wanted to learn music, which had her parents arranging for a music teacher for her. Initially, she followed the instructions of her tutor religiously. However, she quit soon, as the instructor was more inclined toward folk music. * The family’s move to California turned out to be a major career breakthrough for Joan, as that exposed her to a thriving music scene for the first time in her life. Joan hung out a lot at ‘Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco,’ which defined her style of music in the future.
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Joan Jett was determined to form a band at the age of 15. The same year, she founded her own band, ‘The Runaways,’ with a few of her female friends. The band was somehow fresh and unique in terms of what was popular in the mainstream music scene at that time. ‘The Runaways’ relied on heavy rock sounds to make listeners feel the same level of aggression that they, young female teenagers of that era, experienced.
In the 70s, disco music had begun rocking everybody, while rock music had not yet found a solid voice. ‘The Runaways’ too did not taste success initially, as most people considered them to be amateur teenagers, screaming about sex, drugs, and rebellion. Their costumes further alienated them from the rest. They wore lingerie and jump suits on stage, which annoyed the audiences, rather than impressing them.
Joan is a “liberal” and strongly opposed the Iraq War. She has also been associated with ‘People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) and has claimed to be a vegetarian for more than 30 years.
In 1977, the band released their sophomore effort, the album ‘Queens of Noise.’ This album too was not very successful in the US. However, Japan welcomed ‘The Runaways’ with open arms once again. The band managed to score three “gold” records in Japan.
The love Japan showered on Joan and her band was reciprocated by the band through their album ‘Live in Japan,’ which was partly dedicated to their Japanese fans. Ironically, the album was the band’s first major success in the US. Dejected by the failure of their albums in the US, Joan moved to England toward the late 70s and also contemplated the possibility of going solo.
In England, she met Paul Cook and Steve Jones, former members of the groundbreaking rock band ‘Sex Pistols.’ She eventually moved back to the US and worked as the music producer for the ‘Germs,’ an American punk rock band. In the early 80s, she starred in the film ‘We’re All Crazee Now!,’ which was based on ‘The Runaways.’
She started working on her debut solo album but had a very hard time finding a record label. It is said that she was rejected by 23 record labels, and this led to the foundation of ‘Blackheart Records,’ a label which she founded in collaboration with producer Kenny Laguna. Thus, Joan became the first woman in American music history to have operated as the head of a record label. Her self-titled solo album was released in 1980.
'Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ came into the existence after her collaboration with Kenny, and Joan’s debut album was re-released as ‘Bad Reputation’ in 1981. The concert that took place in New York in the spring of the same year turned out to be a passport to the American hearts for ‘Joanna Jett & the Blackhearts.’
In early 1982, the band released another album, ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’, which became a major hit. The title song from the album remained on the top of many music charts for weeks to come. Not willing to rest, the band immediately started working on their next album, titled ‘Album,’ which was released in early 1983. The album could not repeat the success of their early efforts. However, a couple of singles from the album were massive hits.
In the following few years, Joanna tried her luck in acting, but failed to make a mark. Subsequently, she released a few more albums, which led to little commercial success. Following this, she started focusing on collaborations with other artists, such as ‘Bikini Kill’ and ‘L7.’ She also associated herself with a few all-female bands, which tried to emulate ‘The Runaways.’
In the 2000s, she released albums such as ‘Fetish’ and ‘Naked,’ and made a subtle political commentary with her 2006 album ‘Sinner.’ She released her next album, titled ‘Unvarnished,’ in 2013. This has been her last album to date.
Over the years, Jett’s music has been featured in several films and TV series. A few such popular soundtracks were those of ‘Shrek,’ ‘Baby Mama,’ and ‘The Runaways.’ She has acted in films such as ‘By Hook or By Crook’ and ‘Boogie Boy.’ She has also lent her voice as a narrator in ‘Godly Boyish.’ However, she did not receive any considerable success in her acting career.