Joan Jett interview: “…if the band asks me, that’s as close as I can maybe get to Kurt giving me the thumbs up”

She has been an outspoken musical firebrand and an ever-present since punk’s nascent beginnings in the mid ‘70s. Firstly causing uproar in seminal teenage band the Runaways before transitioning into a successful solo career as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

And now a new stirring documentary, Bad Reputation, offers a timely reminder of the rocker’s impressive credentials.

Featuring the likes of Billie Joe Armstrong, Iggy Pop, Miley Cyrus and more, together they wax enthusiastically about the woman often dubbed ‘The Queen of Rock and Roll’.

Speaking exclusively to NME ahead of its release, little was off the table, including her feelings on filling in for Kurt during the Nirvana reunion at Cal Jam earlier this month.

When you watch Bad Reputation back, what strikes you the most?

The story that comes through to me is perseverance. You owe it to yourself to shoot for your dreams. You only short-change yourself if you don’t go for it. Everyone is always going to tell you how to live your life. Telling how to live, how to be, what to do.

You’ve often been regarded as a feminist icon. Do you see yourself that way?

When I was starting out in the Runaways, we took a lot of shit from feminists. All teenage girls think about sex, but a lot of women felt we were using our sexuality. We were just acknowledging what all girls go through and took shit for it. It was very confusing. I didn’t quite get it.

I don’t know if I call myself a feminist. Those labels don’t really feel complete to me. Everyone’s definition of feminism is different. If feminism means being equal and being able to do whatever you set your mind to, then yes. That shouldn’t be based on your gender. 

‘I Love Rock N’ Roll’: a blessing or a millstone?

Initially, it was easy to think to myself, ‘Hey man, I’ve got other songs. It’s not just ‘I Love Rock N’ Roll’’. But you realise that if you start putting that out, it’s just egotistical, and not to recognise the rarity and blessing of what was right there… I just realised that if I’m going to fight with this song, I’m going to be fighting for the rest of my life. And that’s not a good way to be. So I had to make my peace with that really early on.

I also realised that it’s a fucking blessing, man. First of all, to have found the song. Second of all, that people hear it as a hit the way I did. It still really resonates with people today. I’m very happy and totally good with the energy around it.

Guitar music has been struggling in recent years. Does it have a future?

I think things tend to go around in cycles. I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see if that’s definitely going to be the case. To me, (guitar music) is a very physical style of music. I sure hope that people (still) see the import of guitar music and rock and roll. Let’s hope so.

You have said that Britain was ahead of the curve when it came to music in the 1970s. Was it a catalyst for you?

I think British music was a huge part of me getting into rock and roll in the first place. A lot of the bands that I resonated with on the radio were British: T Rex ‘Bang a Gong’ – I wanted to play that song. Free ‘Alright Now’ – I wanted to play that song.

Also, when the Runaways toured in England, I just felt that somehow the kids got it a little bit more. It’s not like we still didn’t get the piss taken out of us and have articles written about us that weren’t great, but we also had a lot that were positive.

Social media is a great platform for expression, but it’s also seemingly bred a culture of unbridled hysteria when something is uttered out of place. Is it something you’ve noticed?

Oh I’ve noticed it absolutely. One wrong thing and you’re in trouble. It’s scary, because we all live in that world. I’ve always been somebody who pretty much keeps their cards close to their chest. I don’t talk about everything. I don’t spew every thought online. I don’t have Twitter or Facebook except for business things that I want to let fans know about.

With this in mind, how do you think the younger Joan Jett would have fared starting out today?

I can’t see that I’d be much different. I don’t think feel I’d be throwing everything out there even if I were younger today, but this is just my personality, you know?

You took Kurt’s place when Nirvana were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014 and again at Cal Jam.  

I was honoured and humbled to be asked for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (performance). It was so scary but, at the same time, how could you say no as a Nirvana fan? But I got through that okay. And then the other day the Foos were playing a concert and I guess they wanted to do a couple of Nirvana songs. Dave asked if I would come out and do a couple and I said ‘sure’. 

Would you be open to doing more shows with them?

If they do (more shows) and they want me to be a part of it, I’d be honoured to. I feel blessed being asked when I was asked. It’s very heavy though, because Kurt’s fans are intense and it’s a lot to take on. You just can never be sure if you’re doing right, but you can only do the best you can do and if the band asks me, that’s as close as I can maybe get to Kurt giving me the thumbs up.

Bad Reputation is in cinemas on 26th October.