Joan Jett still loves rock ’n’ roll. And she loves that she’s still playing it 30 years after emerging with short-lived teen rockers the Runaways.
“I’m very proud that we’ve been able just to stay alive,” says Jett, 45, who celebrated the 25th anniversary of her Blackheart Records label with the mid-June release of “Sinner,” her fi rst new studio album in the United States in 12 years.
After the Runaways ended in 1978, Jett remembers, “nobody wanted anything to do with me. They didn’t want the music. They didn’t hear it. They said there were no hits. We still have those rejection letters from 23 labels, major and minor.”
Jett’s had the last laugh, of course. In the early ’80s, she ran off a string of hits that included the seminal chart-topper “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll,” “Bad Reputation” and covers of Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover” and Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” — all of which, she notes, were on the demo tapes she gave to the record companies that rejected her.
All told, Jett’s had nine Top 40 hits and eight platinum and gold albums. And she’s spending the summer on the Vans Warped Tour, an annual punk and modern rock festival attended overwhelmingly by moshing music fans young enough to be her children and weren’t yet born when she had her fi rst hits.
“They asked if I wanted to do it, and I was pleasantly surprised,” says Jett, who was born Joan Larkin in Philadelphia and raised in Baltimore and Southern California. “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 fi t there because of the Runaways. We were one of the bands who were in there early to the punks 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.”
Warped Tour founder and director Kevin Lyman says Jett “brings class and style” to the outing and also has valuable lessons to teach the younger bands on the bill.
“Everyone out there would like to do this as long as they possibly can,” explains Lyman, who’s previously included veterans such as Billy Idol, the Offspring and Green Day in Warped lineups. “I’m trying to show these kids there’s bands like NOFX and Joan Jett, still putting out amazing music.
“I think the other bands are looking at her and going, ‘She can still kill it after being around so long — how rad is that? Maybe I should do that — pay attention to my business, not worry how big my tour bus is ...’ ”
With “Sinner,” meanwhile, Jett also is demonstrating that you’re never too old to grow up. While the album stays true to her energetic musical past, it also features some serious discourse. Jett deals with sexual identity and tolerance in “A.C.D.C.” and “Andro gynous,” while “Riddles” is as harsh an indictment of the George W. Bush presidency as anything else you’ll fi nd in the mainstream marketplace.
“I love writing about falling in love, falling out of love, sex, all those great things I’ve written about my whole career,” Jett says. “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’m just talking about what’s going on right now. People feel hopeless, I guess — ‘Man, that’s too bad, but what can I do?’ They’re a lot of really good people, but they feel overwhelmed. I get that, but I’m trying to shout in their face, y’know? Like, ‘Wake up, people!’
“I’ve got a big mouth. I can do that.”
WARPED'S SUPER SIX
You still don’t get more bang for the buck than the Vans Warped Tour, which hosts some 90 bands — national and local — on a variety of stages. You also get extreme-sports athletes and a variety of other diversions, including the Super Soaker and Nerf Blaster area, a MySpace Tent, the Sony PlayStation area, a Major League Baseball Authentic Collection exhibit and screenings of the Al Gore fi lm “An Inconvenient Truth” in the Warped Eco Initiative tent. The festival’s new location in the Comerica Park/Fox Theatre area also features storage lockers that can be used throughout the day.
With so much going on, it can be hard to focus — much less get to everything you want to hear, see and do — but these are six things not to miss on Saturday:
Thursday — The New Jersey emo/ scream-o/schmeamo group is really just a plain good rock ’n’ roll band, proven again on its latest album, “A City by the Light Divided.” Rise Against — The Chicago hardcore troupe is this year’s buzz band thanks to the surprising Top 10 debut of its fourth album, “The Sufferer & the Witness.” Ramonesworld — The pioneering punks are remembered in this special area, put together by the band’s creative director, Arturo Vega. The display includes memorabilia and vintage videos, and those who “Hey, ho, let’s go,” there will get a chance to speak to Vega himself. The Sounds — Spice your Warped experience with a little international garage rock flavor from this White Stripesapproved Swedish quintet Underoath — The best that metal has to offer on this year’s Warped is this Floridian quintet, headbanging the drum for its newly released third album, “Defi ne the Great Line.”
NOFX — The Orange County, Calif., rockers are old school Warped Tour, punk rock heritage that’s kind of like eating your musical peas and carrots. Loudly.
The Vans Warped Tour runs 11 a.m.-8:40 p.m. Saturday (July 29th)in Detroit’s Comerica Park/Foxtown area. Tickets are $29.75 in advance, $30 day of show. Call (313) 471-6611. For information about the festival, including a full list of bands and other attr
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