Monday, November 12, 2018

Cherry Bombs and Jezebels

For the record I am not particularly, nor have I ever been, a Joan Jett fan.

That said, I didn't hesitate when I saw that the James River Film Society was screening "Bad Reputation," the new documentary (I am, after all, a major documentary dork) about her at the Visual Arts Center, grabbing a couple of tickets the moment I saw it would be showing a few weeks later on a Friday night.

And not that I needed validation, but the next day at lunch with a favorite Gemini, she brought up seeing a photo of Joan Jett online. "Maybe it's the hair, but I immediately thought of you," she told me. "That was your era, right?"

Technically it was, because the Runaways first album came out in 1976, although I didn't know that until I saw the documentary. Sort of like I didn't know that Rolling Stone considers her one of the top 100 guitarists of all time. Nor did I have a clue that her first band, the Runaways, were teenagers and considered a glam band.

Look, I couldn't pay attention to everything being played in the '70s and frankly, disco offered the allure of dancing, so I missed out on a lot of rock 'n roll back then. But I digress.

Since it only made sense to invite someone who'd been a music lover when Joan kicked off her career, Mr. Wright got the other ticket and we set off to up our Joan Jett knowledge. Always eager to park once and party twice, I chose El Pope for dinner, mainly so I could have their "Best in the Fan" pupusas again while Mr. Wright demolished chicken and Chorizo sopapillas.

Honestly, I don't know how this place has hung on in the high-rent Fan for over a year now, but I do know that despite a dining room that never seems to get full, they put out some stellar food and always with a smile. For my three pupusa mix, I chose tilapia, shrimp and bean, mainly because the other times I'd not been asked to choose and had wound up with pork, beans and beef. Delicious all, but it was time for something different.

Besides, Joan Jett's a vegetarian, so it was the least I could do.

Walking into Vis Arts, we ran into MJ, the guy responsible for the James River Film Society all these years. After apologizing for not getting a chance to chat at the Silent Music Revival a few weeks ago, he shared that "Bad Reputation" had played at Movieland for exactly one screening (for 63 people) and that was part of the reason they decided to show it.

I hadn't even gotten wind of that one screening, so I was just glad that fellow movie and film fans were on the ball.

The evening began with trivia and a t-shirt giveaway, but no one seemed to know Joan's real name  - Joan Larkin - so I felt better about being there despite my lack of Joan Jett cred. At the very least, I was alive all the while she was making music, even if I wasn't paying attention.

And now that I've seen the documentary, I'm a little ashamed that I wasn't following her. There's no doubt that the woman is a feminist icon, from her early days with an all girl band through her years spent proving that women can be killer guitarists to all the artists she's helped, mentored or played/sung on their records.

I mean, this is the woman who fronted the two remaining members of Nirvana in their performance when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after Cobain died. I can't imagine how many musicians would have sold their soul to be taking Cobain's place on that stage.

Yet one of the most startling things about the documentary was all the old photographs of Joan, first as a fresh-faced teenager, later as a serious '80s babe with spiky hair, smokey eyes and serious attitude. Asked to describe her trademark shag haircut, she referred to it as "a bastardized bob." I'm telling you, Joan Jett has always been an attractive woman, although I was far less impressed with her current nip and tuck/botox look. I'll never understand wanting to look that fake.

Plastic surgeries aside, watching clips of her performing for the past 40+ years was nothing short of awe-inspiring because of her mad guitar skills and full-on punk attitude. That she chose not to marry or have kids only made her devotion to rock and roll more obvious, never more clearly shown than in a clip when she was on a '70s talk show and asked about those two feminine goals.

Joan was on a mission to rock the world and there was no place for something so mundane as diapers in her life.

Considering the subject, it was a wide-ranging group of people who made up the talking heads in the documentary. What I'm saying is, when's the last time Iggy Pop, Michael J. Fox, Miley Cyrus and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day shared the screen (don't even get me started on Debbie Harry in her bug-like sunglasses, obviously intended to hide her eyes).

And that's without even acknowledging how Nikki Haley got in there.

Where the film let me down was on the subject of anything personal because clearly Joan wasn't interested in sharing that part of herself, although given how often she was the onscreen talking head, there was no shortage of Joan commenting about her musical life.

The good news is, I'll never hear a Joan Jett song the same again. I didn't even recall that she'd covered "Crimson and Clover" in 1983, not even bothering to change the pronouns from "her" to "him."

Put another dime in the jukebox, baby, that's how much Joan loved rock and roll. My era or not, I may not have been a fan before, but I sure am now.

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