She really does love rock 'n' roll.
Talk to Joan Jett on the telephone and you can't miss it. It's the voice of a fan.
She's going on about the young bands she's been listening to: "I'm a huge fan of the Replacements. I really like Jane's Addiction, but now they broke up. I like the Nirvana record, but everybody seems to like that. And I just got turned on to this band Fugazi from D.C. They're a great band."
Then there are the bands that lit her rock fire: "I think the first single I ever bought was 'All Right Now' [a 1970 hit by British hard-rock group Free]. There was all that great stuff that was on the radio then -- Hendrix, Zeppelin. T-Rex. I had a big crush on Marc Bolan for a while. I can remember getting into an argument with my mother about a Zeppelin song. I think it was 'Whole Lotta Love.' There's this part with all these weird noises, and we were arguing about whether it was music or not. And then my brother agreed with her. The two of them made me so mad."
And then there's the part that Jett loves best, what she's been doing now for more than half of her 31 years -- hitting the road. "I TC like getting nervous -- that's what you live for. You need to be on your toes. You've got to realize you're lucky to be out there playing for people. It's an honor to do it."
Jett and her band, the Blackhearts, have been playing in more intimate confines lately than they're used to. Jett's new album, -- "Notorious" (Blackheart/Epic), has yet to take off commercially, and the group is performing in clubs and small theaters this tour.
That doesn't seem to bother Jett. "I would prefer to play in a theater, rather than a big arena where it's so cold you have to keep your coat on for the whole show. I mean, it's nice to hear 20,000 people screaming. It's a rush. But I like to get up close to the people. In a small place, everybody can see you, and you can see them. They're right in your face."
Jett takes the fan-performer social contract seriously. She keeps a log of people who write to her, and occasionally calls one when she's in their city. She estimates that in a good year, she plays 300 or so shows -- an outrageously high number for an established yet still-young act.
"We like being thorough," she says. "We'll play seven cities in Iowa. We don't just go in and play the biggest place and leave. And we go around the world to places that are not thought of as regular markets for rock 'n' roll."
The band opened the "Notorious" tour in Bangkok. "We've played Malaysia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Lapland. East Germany way, way back in 1982, when the Cold War was still very cold."
Jett is a native Philadelphian. Her father was an insurance salesman, and the family moved around a lot. She lived in Pittsburgh; Erie, Pa.; and Rockville, Md., before winding up in Southern California.
When she was 15, Jett joined the Runaways, the all-girl band that also produced Lita Ford, who has gone on to a successful career playing to teen-age boys' fantasies as a heavy-metal siren. They broke up in 1978.
"I was very scared and depressed," Jett remembers. "I was 18, and the only band I'd ever been in had broken up. It was like, 'See, we told you your band was a joke, and it really was.' People probably weren't thinking that, but I thought they were. People thought girls weren't supposed to be in rock 'n' roll bands."
In 1979, though, Jett met Kenny Laguna (a former member of the bubble-gum group 1910 Fruitgum Company), who began to manage her career. "We became great friends. I was like, 'Nobody's nice to me, why is this guy doing this?' But he believed in me."