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Runaway girl still rockin'

When Joan Jett first performed on our fair isle, she was a mere 16 years old. The eldest member of the all-girl five-piece band, The Runaways, was 17 at the time, and the heady cocktail of unbridled female sexuality and very loud guitars naturally caused quite a stir -- if not very many record sales.

That would come later for Jett, when, with her next band, The Blackhearts, she would score a worldwide hit in 1981 with a cover of The Arrows' I Love Rock'n'Roll. You'll be sure to hear that one when Joan and her merry men play support to Green Day at Marlay Park on June 23.

More Spice Girls than Patti Smith (the latter dismissed by lead singer Cherie Currie at the time as "morbid curiosity . . . like the way people look at a dead dog lying in the middle of the road with its guts spilling out"), The Runaways were formed in 1975 by eccentric rock entrepreneur Kim Fowley at his friend Rodney Bingenheimer's glam-loving English Disco, which was just about to shut up shop on Sunset Strip. A year later, The Runaways had their debut album out; three years, and five albums, later, they disbanded, noted American writer Evelyn McDonnell (who's currently working on a thesis of the band) arguing that "Fowley was in over his head with handling a bunch of adolescent women. He overplayed their jailbait image and underplayed their talent."

Jett has always been precious about her first band, refusing to get involved in a 2004 documentary, Edgeplay, but now, with a Jett biography having hit the bookshops in March, and a Runaways biopic (based on Currie's autobiography, Neon Angel, starring Twilight's Kristen Stewart as Jett and Dakota Fanning as Currie) about to hit our screens, the woman born Joan Marie Larkin is finally ready to put her side of the story on record.

PAUL BYRNE: With a surname like Larkin, you've got some Irish roots, right?

JOAN JETT: I do indeed. My father was Irish, and I believe he came from county Mayo. Want to explore that a little bit more when I have the time . . .

PB: Well, it certainly explains your sexiness, your talent, and your great artistic abilities. We should talk about The Runaways movie, which you executive produced. Are you happy with it?

JJ: Well, the process is extremely difficult, getting there, but I think the movie definitely gives you a sense of what it was like to be in The Runaways. And I think that was the goal; to give it a genuine sense of what it was like, and to show the rock'n'roll essence, the authenticity of it -- and I think they got a lot of that.

PB: There's only so deep down you can go with a mainstream movie, former member Vicki Blue's 2004 documentary Edgeplay concentrating largely on the dark side of The Runaways story. Did you struggle with the balance here?

JJ: I never wanted a movie in the first place. I figured, all they could do was screw it up. When I realised there was going to be a movie, I had to decide, do I want to be involved, or am I going to say, no, forget it? I decided, once I was going to sell them my life rights and stuff, that I wanted to be involved in all of it, and be there as much as possible. And once I met Kristen Stewart, and talked to her about the role, and about her take on it, I was confident that she was going to have what it takes to get where she needed to get.

PB: With the movie, and the new biography published in March, you must be feeling a little like Spinal Tap standing by Elvis' grave, and coping with a little too much perspective?

JJ: I didn't find it emotionally hard at all. The Runaways was the most fantastic, wonderful thing that ever happened to me. I love it so much. Even the bad stuff.

I was a 17-year-old girl in a rock'n'roll band, living my dream, going around the world with other bands I admired, and getting too crazy for my own good sometimes. But, you know, it was incredible.

PB: In those years, there was a constant debate about The Runaways being a powerful blow for feminism, while others saw it as exploitation of naive young girls. How did you view it at the time?

JJ: Well, I thought it was a lot of fun. It was a fun rock band, but I knew there were bigger implications. And I knew there would be people who would play up that jailbait aspect of it, whereas for me, that's who we were. It wasn't a schtick, you know what I mean? We were real. And we were teenagers, and you feel the feelings you feel. You want to go out and meet people. You want to have fun, you want to have sex. You want to do all those things. I just didn't think that we were girls that needed to be limited. I wanted to be The Rolling Stones, I wanted to be Led Zeppelin. I wanted to be those bands, and do what they did, make the sounds that they made, and that's really the way I looked at it. I didn't see it as a feminist thing until people started telling me that I couldn't do it.

PB: In Edgeplay, Cherie talks of wishing someone would take a gun and blow Kim Fowley's brains out. Was there some nasty bulls**t going on there?

JJ: No, when I saw the Edgeplay thing, I thought, these girls were in a completely different band to the one that I was in. I don't know what the hell they're talking about. Not to mention the fact that they were free to leave at any time. So, if you weren't having fun, why did you go? Why did you show up? So, I don't have too much sympathy for the retrospective, looking-back victimhood. I don't dig it, and I don't believe that Cherie really feels that way, even now. If you were to ask her that question now, I think she'd say no.

PB: It's both a blessing and a curse to have that one song that everyone knows and loves; does your relationship with I Love Rock'n'Roll go in and out of love?

JJ: I had to come to terms with that early on. If you want to sit there and be frustrated about it every night -- that people aren't recognising your other songs, and are focusing on I Love Rock'n'Roll -- then, you're going to be miserable for the rest of your life.

So, I just have to be grateful that I was able to have some sort of relationship with this song, and that it was a hit.

Joan Jett And The Blackhearts support Green Day at Marlay Park next Wednesday. The Runaways is in cinemas in September