Joan Jett loves rock 'n' roll ... and the Packers

Kendra Meinert
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Since her days with the pioneering, all-girl punk band The Runaways, Joan Jett has become a symbol of girl power to women rockers.

As as you might expect when it comes to most things Joan Jett, she doesn't talk the talk of being a Green Bay Packers fan without putting some teeth into it.

The rock icon behind the snarl of "I Hate Myself for Loving You" and "Bad Reputation" has been a fan of the Pack since she was a little kid growing up in Pennsylvania and Maryland. While that may sound like a convenient thing to throw out there when you just happen to be playing Green Bay on home opener weekend, Jett does some impressive name dropping — Nitschke, Starr — to back it up.

She became a Packers fan much the same way she has become one of the most influential women in rock, from her days as a rebellious teen in the pioneering all-girl, pop-punk band The Runaways in the 1970s to undeniable jukebox hits like "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" and "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)" with The Blackhearts in the '80s to her ranking on lists of guitar great right alongside the boys. She did it by following her gut.

"I'm pretty sure it was a Sports Illustrated cover from what was then the Mud Bowl (Jan. 2, 1966, at Lambeau Field), and if you know about football you should know something about the Mud Bowl," the 55-year-old Jett said by phone. "It was before they did the Super Bowl, except it was the championship game. I believe the Packers played Cleveland.

"You could see a bunch of guys, but you couldn't see anybody's uniforms. You couldn't see who was wearing white. You couldn't see who was wearing their colors. You couldn't see anybody's helmets. Everything was covered in mud, except I guess somebody's hand swiped a Green Bay helmet, and I think it was Ray Nitschke, and so you could just see a little bit of the G on the helmet.

Joan Jett

"And for some reason as a little kid, I guess I was getting into sports then and I was getting into football, something about that said, 'That's my team.' ... Bart Starr and all that stuff. I followed it as best I could in the papers, and so just all these years I've been a Packers fan."

It's appropriate then that such an avid football fan would have a reworking of her 1988 hit, "I Hate Myself for Loving You," become "Waiting All Day for Sunday Night," the theme song for NBC's "Sunday Night Football." Turning over a song she co-wrote didn't come without some nervousness.

"I think there's always a little bit of trepidation, because you're not sure what it's going to turn out like. Being a football fan and a sports fan, I wanted to be involved. You have to have a tiny bit of faith, which is kind of hard to do sometimes, that it's going to turn out OK," Jett said. "We were involved to the degree we could be involved to know that the music would be somewhat representative. And as long as I didn't have to sing it, I was fine with that."

Jett said she had no desire to be the one to perform it when it debuted on "SNF" in 2006. The original and the new version are too similar that she was afraid she'd mix them up when doing her own shows.

"To me, it was too close, and it would sort of take away from what it was," she said. "But I'm very happy that it has continued to be the theme and they've had so many singers do it. You had Pink starting it out and then Faith Hill and now Carrie Underwood. It's really cool."

In advance of her performance with The Blackhearts Saturday night at Burkel's One Block Over in Ashwaubenon, she talked about last year's "Unvarnished," her first album in more than seven years; girls and guitars; why she thinks rock 'n' roll has gone underground again; and whether she'll be at Lambeau Field on Sunday cheering on her Packers.

On the freedom to take her time putting out an album on her Blackheart Records label:

"It's great to not have that pressure, because you want to be writing songs that mean something and you have something to say. I find, personally, for me, as I get older it takes longer to have those things to say. You know when you're younger there might be more stuff that you want to write about that you think is important. There's more subject matter sometimes and it's easier to write these songs. But as you get older, I just want everything I say to be genuine and have some reflection on my life and sometimes that does take time."

On being a hardcore road warrior when it comes to playing live:

"I've pretty much been on the road and never really taken a vacation for any length of time my whole career. It's just been the way I've been. I never really wanted to stay away from it. And then you start to realize, especially I'd say in the last 10 years since the Internet has really exploded, that when you leave what you do it's easy for people to forget what you do. You better be ready for them to forget if you leave for six months. Take off for six months and try to come back, it's harder to get people's attention. But I'm getting to the point now where vacation might be nice."

On her appreciation of her success now compared with when she was just starting out with The Runaways:

"(The Runaways) were successful for just being able to stay together. Success for me isn't a reflection of having hits or being on the charts necessarily. That can be one measure of success. Just The Runaways being able to be a band and put out records and go on tour to me was success. And getting written about was success, because people were finding out that girls want to play rock 'n' roll. It's funny to think about now, but we were looked at like we had three heads at the time.

"I think now I definitely recognize the blessing that it is to do what I do. That I'm still able to do it and that I still am doing it. Because it's hard out there. Life is hard, no matter what you do, no matter what job you do, it's tough. So to be able to keep doing this is definitely a blessing. I look at it like that every day, and I remind myself of that when it gets hard and you're tired and you're not in the mood to get up and go, because that happens, too."

On how it come it seems girls aren't playing guitars, at least not the acts performing on awards shows:

"Well, the thing is they are. That's just not what's getting written about. If you go to any city, big or small, around America, you're going to find girls who are playing rock 'n' roll and girls who are playing guitars and all-girl bands and girls in bands that are playing rock 'n' roll. They exist. They're out there. Even when rock 'n' roll was the thing, it was hard to get noticed, because there's so much out there. Now I think rock 'n' roll, from what I sense, has fallen slightly out of favor as far as what the charts reflect. It's all about the big pop girls or bands.

"Rock 'n' roll is almost going back to being underground in a way. People are going for what's popular, so they prefer to do things that they know that people are going to have to pay attention to. If you're not sure you're going to get paid attention to playing rock 'n' roll and you want to be famous, you'll do whatever is popular at the time, which I don't think is really great. To have a grounding, to love what you do and not switch just to get famous, to me, that's not where I come from."

On why she loves rock 'n' roll:

It's not that I dislike other styles of music at all ... but I like rock 'n' roll. I like the sound of the guitar. I like the way it makes me feel. It gives me a feeling in my body when I'm playing the guitar. I can't really explain it. It kind of hits you in the crotch and moves up. That's who I am. I'm just not interested necessarily in genre hopping or switching styles. I'm not saying it could never happen for some project I wanted to do. I might try something different. But in general, my being is rock 'n' roll. It's sweaty, three-chord stuff."

On the "interesting phenomenon'' of people and their phones at concerts:

"You're sitting 10 feet from somebody you idolize or like their music or whatever, and instead of being present and looking in their eyes and looking face to face you're behind ... your phone, kind of experiencing it live but really getting it for later. I understand it, so it's not easy for me to say that's wrong, because I get it. I get both sides of things — too much, ya know? — that I understand why people would want to do that, but I also understand the band saying, 'Hey man, you're at the show! Be with us while we're here!' I get both sides of it."

On her status as an icon, both in rock and as a feminist/activist:

"I'd like to think I'm humble and don't think of myself like that. I know people throw those words around. It's a big thing to be. It's a little bit scary to say, 'Yeah, people think of you like that.' But I would never say that about myself.

"I would want people to take away from me that you can do what you want to do or that you should try to do the things you want to be in life. Don't let other people scare you off. That seems to be the default setting for everybody. ... You should really be encouraged to shoot for your dreams and if you're not able to achieve it, at least you tried and you won't wonder your whole life what if I had tried. So that's one thing you've got to give yourself in life is to go for the things that you want to be. If you didn't at 16 when you first thought of it or at 24, and you're 50, do it. You can still give it a shot. I would hope that would be what people would take from me, to try to persevere in the face of adversity ... I've been told that my whole life. 'You can't do that.' And I'm still here."

On whether she's sticking around to go to the Packers game:

"I'm not going to be able to do it this time, but I'm gonna get there. I've driven by Lambeau Field a couple of times, but I have not seen a game yet. But it's on my bucket list of things to do, and I'll get there."

When you're talking about Joan Jett, who's going to bet against her?

— kmeinert@pressgazettemedia.com and follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert.


Who: Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, with The String Benders

What: Green Bay Packers home opener weekend

When: Gates at 4 p.m., String Benders at 4:30 p.m., Jett at 8:30 p.m.

Where: Outside Burkel's One Block Over, 1007 Tony Canadeo Run, Ashwaubenon

Tickets: $30 advance, $35 at the gates; Ticket Star locations, ticketstaronline.com, (800) 895-0071

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