Oct 24, 2014 10:35 AM
Punk icon Joan Jett savors rockin' role-model gig
The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) "Can't stay at home, can't stay at school! Old folks say: 'Ya poor little fool!'"
Punk pioneer Joan Jett doesn't give a spit if you lump her in with old folks. The "wild girl" in the incendiary anthem "Cherry Bomb" embraces aging while raging and, at 56, relishes her gig as a rockin' role model.
On Thursday night, the snarlingly sensuous singer-guitarist, flanked by famous friends and fresh-faced acolytes, provided the three-chord thrash as she was named Rocker of the Year at the jubilant Little Kids Rock educational fundraiser. Alice Cooper presented the award. Other performers included Billie Joe Armstrong and Tommy James, who sang "Crimson and Clover" with Jett.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2015 nominee, who co-founded the seminal group the Runaways at age 16, spent decades fending off music industry males who snubbed and humiliated female rockers. While the glass ceiling is still not entirely shattered, "there are girls playing rock 'n' roll in every city I go to," Jett said in an interview with The Associated Press.
These days, Jett's ferocious philosophy is tempered: count your blessings; welcome challenges; find your passion; honor your parents; "be kind but don't take any crap."
"Aspects of me are very confident. I'm also very shy," confesses the woman who struts around the stage with flaring nostrils and arched brow, tenderized by a wink or wry smile.
Post 1980s inflation and technology have recalculated "I Love Rock and Roll's" route to the dance floor ("so put another dime in the jukebox, baby"). But Jett's take-no-prisoners pathos roars on in Generation L.K.R.
"She is the queen of rock; I've been listening to her all my life," singer-songwriter Tsi Shaffer, 17, of Jersey City, New Jersey, said before performing. "She's iconic because she's such a strong woman."
Little Kids Rock, which provides instruments and lessons for budget-strapped schools, makes young rockers want to cruise in the education lane.
Who wouldn't when you're surrounded even for a single, shooting-star night by old-school cool like Jett and Rock Hall denizens Cooper, Darlene Love and Steven Van Zandt?
Instrumentalist-vocalist Jake Clemons, doing his own thing after globe-trotting with Bruce Springsteen, received the Big Man of the Year award named for his uncle, the late E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons.
Performers from Franklin L. Williams Middle School in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Manhattan's Lower Community Middle School and Public School 98 held their own amid the masters at the Hammerstein Ballroom.
Jett's parents bought her a $30 guitar when she was 13. Her teacher looked at her strangely when she wanted to rock. She soon figured it out herself.
"When you're a kid," she says, "you're naive" and "figure you can conquer the world. You don't think about obstacles."
Still, she acknowledges it was "life and death ... scary" when 23 record companies rebuffed her first solo album.
The rejection was actually a "blessing" prompting producer Kenny Laguna and his wife to sink their meager life savings into Blackheart Records.
Jett peddled her vinyl "out of the trunk of the car."
This year, the doting aunt and cat-mom dominated "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with Nirvana at the Rock Hall show in Brooklyn and appeared in a Stephen King-based Lifetime movie.
Riper themes inform her art: the "devastating" loss of parents and friends; midlife "freakouts."
Rock keeps you mentally young, but maturity has its advantages.
"Some aspects of being young were difficult," says Jett. "Being too much in your mind." Even a rebel can "worry about what people think about you, say about you."
The grown Joan knows how to "take a step back and breathe."