It's sometimes easy for those of us on the audience side of the stage to forget, but rock stars are rock fans, too.
Take Joan Jett. Like any dedicated rocker, she's always listening to albums by her favorites, whether classic acts like Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones and T. Rex, or more recent finds like Nirvana or Social Distortion. And if you get her talking about the bands she likes, Jett sounds as enthusiastic as any fan.
Occasionally, though, the Rockville-born Jett tries to do something more than just enthuse over the music, and that's where the rock star advantage comes in. Because where Joe or Jane Rockfan have to make do with writing to their idols, Jett is sometimes lucky enough to be able to write with them.
"Backlash," the opening song on her new album, "Notorious," is a perfect example of how Jett turns admiration into inspiration. She wrote the song with Paul Westerberg of the Replacements for one reason, she says: "Really, it was just a matter of me being a very, very big Paul Westerberg fan.
"I think he's one of the greatest songwriters," she continues, speaking over the phone from her Long Island home. "I love the way he writes songs. I've thought for a while, 'Boy, I'd like to write a song with him.' It just got to that point where one day, I got the nerve to call him up and say, 'Paul, I've got a title and a couple of ideas. Would you like to write a song with me?'
"And he said yes."
Jett reports that the best thing about working with Westerberg was that he was nowhere near as difficult as he was rumored to be.
"Everybody that I speak to about Paul seems to think that I might have had a hard time with him," she says. "But not at all. We got along great. I was very pleasantly surprised that he played guitar on the record, that he also sang background. I had a great time working with him. He was real friendly, and I would like to write with him again."
Despite her success with Westerberg, Jett admits that making the leap from fan to collaborator takes some courage. "There are other people I would like to work with," she allows. "I guess deep down in my heart, I figure, oh, most of the time it will never come true.
"I don't go after it on a business kind of level," she adds. "I go after it more on an emotional level, and if it does happen and work out the way it did with Paul, then that's great." She also says that some of the people she'd like to write with might make for a "pretty scary" combination, given Jett's place in the rock world. "But you've got to be able to mess around."
Unfortunately, as the music business becomes more and more like big business, musicians like Jett are increasingly discouraged to "mess around." And frankly, she thinks that's stupid.
"To me, rock and roll always stood for individuality," she says. "It's bad enough that the media pigeonholes everything -- it's pop-rock, it's rock, it's hard rock, it's thrash, it's speed metal, it's heavy metal. It's like everything has to be in a category.
"When your fans start trying to do the same thing, I think they lose sight of the original point," she adds. "I think maybe they listen to the media too much or something. But I haven't had any problems from the audiences. I think they think it's pretty cool that I wrote with Paul."
Besides, Jett is a firm believer that quality will out, and that the audience will eventually catch on, if given time and the opportunity to listen. Just look at punk rock. Though it was reviled when it first hit the scene, the music played by the Sex Pistols, Clash and Ramones is now recognized as classic rock and roll -- even to the point of being covered by bands like Motley Crue and Skid Row.
And it's always like that, insists Jett. "They don't like it at the time the music comes out," she says. "Then later on down the line, they realize how important that movement or that band or whatever was, and then they understand that they missed what was important about the music in the first place, because they were looking at it from a media point of view."
If that means an album like the Replacements' 1984 album "Let It Be" will someday be recognized as classic along the lines of the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street," that's fine with her. Still, with all this talk about overlooked favorites, it's hard not to wonder just what gets Jett to crank it up these days.
"Well, I picked up on a band that everybody else seems to pick up on, which was that Nirvana album," she says. "It's three-chord rock and roll, and I like that. And Social Distortion, I hear that they're making a new record that's supposed to be great, so I'm looking forward to hearing that."
As for new music, to go along with the new year, Jett adds, "I just got a couple of tapes of a band called Fugazi. It's supposed to be the kind of music I would like. I'm going to check that out."
Just like any other rock fan would.
When: Tonight, 8 p.m.
Where: Hammerjacks, 1102 S. Howard St.
Call: (410) 659-7625 for information, (410) 481-6000 for tickets.