Joan Jett's 'Pure and Simple' tackles complex social issues

June 12, 1994|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music

Joan Jett has had a hectic week. Just back from Britain, where she spent several days shooting the video for her new single, "Go Home," she's in her New York offices, dividing her time between tour preparation and talking to the press about her 10th album, "Pure and Simple."

Add in the day-to-day responsibilities of running her own record company, the independently distributed Blackheart Records, and it's a wonder Jett has time to think. Yet, far from sounding bedraggled, Jett seems to thrive on the activity.

"Actually, I love it," she says, over the phone. "I love being busy. Really. Maybe it sounds nutty to a lot of people. It's not like it's not tiring -- it's a lot of work, and very strenuous. But it's what I enjoy, and what I've done pretty much for most of my professional life.

"So to go out on the road, and to have an album that I love so much, I'm really excited."

She has good reason to be excited, too. "Pure and Simple" (Warner Bros. 45567, arriving in stores Tuesday) may be the best album of Jett's career, combining the feisty rebellion of "Bad Reputation" with the gut-level pop instincts of "I Love Rock N' Roll." Says Jett, simply, "This is basic, gutsy, primal music."

But it isn't just that the songs are loud and catchy. There's also a distinct ideological edge to the music, as Jett takes on social issues ranging from the politics of prejudice to the joys of staying single.

"It's probably the most political that I've ever gotten," she says. "And it's not very political."

Well, maybe not when compared to the politicized punk rock of Bikini Kill or Fugazi (to name two of Jett's current favorites). But that may be because Jett isn't always comfortable with taking the kind of hectoring tone a more obviously political singer might.

Take "As I Am," for instance. With its accept-me-as-I-am lyric and classic minor-key melody, it will probably strike most listeners as being little more than another song about thwarted love. But as Jett explains it, what prompted that song wasn't heartbreak, but fear and revulsion of a decidedly political variety.

"That was written after the Republican convention," she explains. Jett had been watching the proceedings with songwriter Desmond Child, and they felt "horrified and frightened" by speech after speech filled with vitriol and animosity.

"It was such a hateful thing to watch," she says. "So we had to write an all-inclusive song, as opposed to [one with] an exclusive situation." But rather than drive their point home with a sledgehammer, Jett and Child put the need for tolerance in simple terms: "I'm only flesh and blood/Oh I wish that you could love me as I am."

Other songs, though, are more pointed. "Wonderin'," says Jett, "is about the state of the world, and how sometimes you wonder if anybody else is thinking about it. Even though your logical, rational mind tells you that, obviously, there are good hearts out there, and good people who want all this negative stuff to go away and for people to live in harmony, every once in a while you think to yourself, 'Man, am I the only one who feels that way? Am I the only one noticing all this bad stuff?' So that was a therapeutic outlet, I guess."

Then there's "Spinster," a song that puts a gloriously aggressive spin on the notion of being a happily unmarried woman. "The whole point was, a guy can be 30, 40, 50 years old and not be involved on any level in a relationship, and he's a swinging bachelor, and boy, doesn't he have a great life.

"But a woman -- God! Let her even approach 30 and not have a relationship of some sort, and people are going to start to ask questions. You know: 'What's her problem? She can't stay in a relationship? What is she, crazy? Does she have sexual problems? Why can't she just get married?'

"Well, maybe she doesn't want to get married. Didn't anybody think of that?" So Jett decided to make them think a little.

"In a way, what we were trying to do is take the word 'spinster' back," she says. "Because it didn't always have negative connotations. At one time, it had good connotations. It didn't mean what a bachelor necessarily meant, but it had positive connotations. That's what we want to take back, so you can write 'single' on your resume, or you can write 'spinster.' "

Interestingly, "Spinster" is one of several songs on the album Jett co-wrote with Bikini Kill front-woman Kathleen Hanna. Is Jett a fan of the riot grrrl movement?

"Yeah," she says, and Bikini Kill is one of her favorite bands all around, which was how she ended up working with them in the first place.

"I'd seen them several times in the New York area, and kind of made a comment off-hand, not thinking that anybody really heard it," she says. "You know, that maybe we could work together some time."

They did. "They asked me to produce three songs for them, on the Kill Rock Stars label," she says. "It's not on their album; it's actually a single, a seven-inch. 'Rebel Girl,' 'New Radio' and 'Demirep' were the three songs on it.

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