Friday, January 27, 2012

Joan Jett, Runaway

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Joan Jett, Runaway


Before the limited release of Floria Sigismondi's kinetic, well-received The Runaways, I posted a roundtable interview I participated in with Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, who play the teenage Joan Jett and Cherie Curie, respectively. Please check it out on I promised then that to coincide with the film's wide release I'd post the following roundtable I was on with Jett, the movie's executive producer and mentor to Stewart. No surprise, she dominated the room. And she's passionate. Below, I show my questions and statements, minus where I mumbled that I have long been a big fan.
Q: What did you think when you were approached with the idea of making a film about the Runaways?
Joan Jett: It didn't actually happen like that. It was sort of in the works for years. My producer and manager, Kenny Laguna. had been trying to help Cherie get her book published. And when it didn't get published he thought maybe a TV-movie might be cool, so he investigated that avenue. They weren't interested. He finally came across the Linsons [John and Art of Linson Entertainment] and they were interested in pursuing it. Floria [Sigismondi] signed on, River Road signed on, and at this point it became a serious thing. Then I had to make a decision--am I going to be involved or not? I just felt that these were real movie people and they were going to make a real movie, so I decided to give it a shot.
Q: Did you become Executive Producer from the onset or was that a later decision?
JJ: It was pretty much from the onset, I believe.
Q: How do you feel that the Runaways story is finally being told? Not too many people, especially the younger generation, know about them--they know about you, not the group.
JJ: Some of them might know about me. I think it's great. The only thing really interesting in itself about an all-girl band trying to break down barriers and such is that it's a real story. Of course it is a movie so there are aspects of it that might be embellished here and there--time-line shifts and such--but most of the things you see did happen to us. It really happened. The movie also touches on a lot of issues teenagers go through, including talking about communication between family and friends--and trying to get through that whole mess that kids have difficulties with--and their exploring their sexuality and a whole gamut of feelings kids experience when they hit that age. It's complicated, it's not always easy, there aren't easy answers--and we're not claiming we're giving you any answers. We're just telling you what happened to us.
Danny Peary: As a member of the Runaways--like the Beatles or the astronauts who landed on the moon or a company of soldiers who experienced something--can the five of you really tell anybody else what it was really like?
JJ: I think you can try to explain it to a degree. Unless you've lived a similar experience it's kind of hard to really get a sense of it, especially now when music has changed so much. Even the goal you have when you form a band. When I started a band, I knew what the goals were--I wanted to become famous, I wanted to become a rock star. You had a finite goal of getting signed, and you knew you wanted to get records out, and you knew you wanted to play big concerts. But I'm not quite sure why you form a band today. What is the goal? Is it to get a deal, is it to get on TV? It's diffuse. It's not bad necessarily, it's just unsettled. Then I knew what I was looking for; now I wouldn't be so sure.
Q: Do you feel any all-girl bands have encompassed some of the magic the Runaways had?
JJ: Through the years, certainly. But I don't think you can make comparisons. People have drawn parallels to the Riot Grrrl movement in the mid-nineties, with Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, L7, the Breeders, Sleater-Kinney. A lot of bands like that had some success. But beyond girls playing instruments I don't believe you can say it's the exact same experience. I think we were doing something a little bit different.
Q: What's different is you were doing it first. They had a role model, you didn't. So in your collaboration with some of those groups were you able to kind of translate stuff you guys learned about--not just being in a band and being a musical influence but being a personal influence?
JJ: Yeah, to some degree. But I can't really tell you the goals of that movement because I didn't start it and wasn't part of it--because they had a wider goal than just inspiring girls to pick up a guitar. My big gripe is that people don't allow teenagers to own their sexuality. Wherever they land and whatever their preferences are is not important. It just that they are drawn toward those feelings and feel disrespected and that they're supposed to bottle it up and see nice, neat little answers for every single thing when it's not always that way. Where I was coming from--I didn't like being told that girls can't play rock 'n' roll. I'd say, "What do you mean girls can't play rock 'n' roll?" I'm sitting in school with girls playing Beethoven and Bach on cellos and violins, so "What do you mean girls can't play rock 'n' roll? Do you mean they can't master the instruments? No, you don't mean that. You mean that socially we're not allowed to play rock 'n' roll because rock 'n' roll implies sex." You're looking at Mick Jagger and the cover of the Stone's album "Sticky Fingers" and Robert Plant with his shirt open--these were my references.. These are the singers I listened to. "Whole Lotta Love"--go listen to that. That's a dirty single. That's what I grew up with. And being told I couldn't do it just because I was a girl didn't wash. My parents always told me I could do anything I wanted and I believed them. I think it's important to own your sexuality. Women owning their sexuality is threatening. Let me just say this: I just did a bunch of interviews about this movie and I was on the phone with a writer. We had a long discussion. I read the paper yesterday and I read that "Kim Fowley created and controlled the Runaways." This writer was on the phone with me and could have checked his facts, on which he was wrong 100%. If it was a boy band, he never would have used the word "controlled." He would have said "managed." And I am livid about that still today. It makes me tremble with anger. And I think you can see that.
Q: It's like girls can't possibly be doing this on their own.
JJ: You make my point. This guy could have checked his facts and didn't, so it's either bad journalism or he wanted to perpetuate the view that women cannot do it themselves, that men must be controlling it at its root, must be telling her what to wear, what to say, how to dress, how to act. She's acting tough? Then they must have told her to do that to sell records or something. Come on, man, get real. It just gets really tiring playing that fencing game. We're talking about music. If they have some other issue, then they should go talk to someone else. I don't know what else to say about it.
Q: What do you want people to take away from this film?
JJ: Ultimately: follow your dreams. That good old cliche is the message I want to get out beyond just showing what the Runaways went through. I really feel that people beat down other people's dreams constantly. I see it a lot with writers when I talk to them about this. Writers are told, "You'll never make money that way, get a real job!" Writers want to write, they want to put words to paper and that's their dream but they're told to do something else. To me it's really important to try to follow your dream and if some reason life takes you a different way, at least you made an attempt at fulfilling yourself and maybe you have some great stories to tell.
Q: What was your experience working with Kristen Stewart?
JJ: I met her last New Year's Eve. I just dumped on her about the Runaways for several hours and asked her if she was going to cut her hair. She said yes, and I had great faith she was going to be able to pull this off because she seemed very dedicated and genuine--she was authentic. We had a few weeks before filming started to spend time together and she picked my brain.
Q: Was it fun watching the film unfold on the set?
JJ: Working with the actors and stuff was great. They were brilliant. The whole process was brutal.
Q: Cherie says she didn't know you were upset that she left the Runaways until you wrote the foreword for her book. You guys didn't talk or communicate over the years?
JJ: No.
Q: To tell her how upset you were?
JJ: No.
Q: Then what was it like writing that foreword?
JJ: I really have nothing to say about it. I said I what I got to say in the foreword.
DP: I want to ask you about "Dead End Justice," which I think is the Runaways' masterpiece. There is a prison break in the last verse and you are calling Cherie by name and she is calling you Joan. It's "Joan, I'm getting tired, I've run out of fire and can't go any farther," and you reply, "Cherie, you must try harder." Then "Joan, I'm down, my ankle." Then Joan says, "I can't go on but I can't leave you. What do I do?" "Save yourself, you know what you've gotta do." "Oh, my God." It's as if there was a metaphor going on about the two of you escaping something in real life.
JJ: This is life imitating art. I was thinking the other day, maybe about this particular song, how with the Runaways there were a lot of instances where life imitated art, but the art imitated life, too. Those lyrics are interesting. I never thought of them the way I just heard it. [To others] The song we're talking about is "Dead End Justice." There's a scene in the movie that has part of the song in it. We used to end our show with this. It was the Runaways' "Bohemian Rhapsody." It is a big, long song. The first half is about kids acting out and being bad and going to juvenile hall. And Cherie and I are in juvenile hall and we decide to break out. We jump the guards and break out, but Cherie falls and gets hurt and I keep going. On stage, Cherie used to have blood packets in her mouth and on her shirt, and when she'd come out Lita [Ford] would shoot her with the guitar and she'd go flying and the blood would come shooting out. And the roadies would carry her out with Sandy [West] doing a cadence on the drums. This was 1976 and was really mind-blowing.
DP: Did it have anything to do with you two feeling trapped being in the band by this point, although this was the first album?
JJ: No, this was early on. I think this was just us creating a story about teenagers getting into trouble...
DP: You use your own names...
JJ: Yeah, it's kind of interesting things turned out the way they did.


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