At last year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Joan Jett took on the seemingly impossible task of filling Kurt Cobain’s shoes as the lead singer of Nirvana, and she absolutely destroyed the place with her rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” This year she’ll be able to sing one of her own songs when she’s inducted alongside her longtime backing band the Blackhearts. Rolling Stone spoke to Jett about the importance of the induction, the effect of last year’s performance and what it all means for punk bands.
Congratulations on the big news.
Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.
Tell me how you heard about it.
I was called by my buddy Kenny Laguna, who I work with. We write songs together and he’s my producer and he’s been a Blackheart for a long time. He called up and told me.
Tell me your first reaction.
It’s surreal. I’m sure a big smile came across my face. It’s incredible. I’m very flabbergasted. It’s going to take a few minutes to sink in before I see how I really feel about it.
Did you expect this?
I’ve set myself up to not expect it because it’s easier to go about your life that way, just focusing on your life. If accolades comes, they do and you don’t have to stress out about it. I’ve always been hopeful because I think it’s an incredible acknowledgment. I’m very proud to be with all these great musicians.
Do you see this as part of a broader cultural shift? I feel like you’re finally starting to be embraced as an elder statesmen of rock.
It can be really hard sometimes to assess myself. I’m living it and it’s hard to step back and see the larger picture in terms of what the music industry thinks of me.
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It must be gratifying to be in the company of the Beatles, the Ramones, Bob Dylan…
Definitely. If that means an acceptance of me and what I represent, that’s really awesome.
It’s great that the induction is in Cleveland this year. I feel like that’s a town that has always really supported you.
To me, it all makes sense. Some of my earliest great memories of playing on the road are from there. There were clubs around Ohio known as The Agora. I remember a lot of the Runaways’ early big gigs and successful shows and actually some of our early bootlegs were done in Cleveland. I’ve always had a great respect for the town. I actually filmed a movie in Cleveland in 1986 called Light of Day with Michael J. Fox. Bruce Springsteen wrote the title track. We did a couple months of filming in Cleveland and some live footage, so it’s always been part of my life and career. I think it’s real and it’s fitting that I’d go in there.
You’ve been to a bunch of these ceremonies, right?
Yeah. I remember at one of them, I was sitting next to Lou Reed. We were making faces to each other through the ceremony. And of course, last year I sang with Nirvana.
So you obviously know it’s a pretty emotional experience for whoever is getting inducted.
Absolutely. It’s a culmination of all you’ve dreamed about doing as a musician, reaching people, getting respect from other musicians. It’s incredibly emotional and getting involved in the last year was really stunning and scary and great at the same time. It was an amazing thing to do.
I’ve been going to this thing for years, but watching you front Nirvana may have been the single coolest thing I’ve ever seen at one of the ceremonies.
It was so fun. How could you not do that? It was very scary to be doing that with that legacy, but as a fan and a musician, how can you say no? You just have to go with it and hope everything turns out right.
The Hall of FAME is a culmination of all you’ve dreamed about doing as a musician.
Do you think it helped you get inducted this year? It was such a huge thing and seen by so many people.
I would think it would have to be. I’d have to be crazy to say no. It was so looked at. The guys in Nirvana are so well-respected with their own careers. I think it had to play a big role in how people decided which way to go.
So the Blackhearts are also getting inducted, right?
I guess. You might know more than me.
Do you think the old lineup might reunite and play with you that night? Have you even thought about that yet?
To tell you the truth, I haven’t. There’s also been so many lineups throughout the years that it’s hard to say.
The Hall of Fame is honoring Green Day that same night. I imagine you’re a fan.
Big fan. Big fan. They’ve been incredible friends to me. I’ve worked with Billie Joe in different projects. I recently did a small part in a film with him. I’m so proud of them. It’s going to be a blast and a very fun night.
And I imagine Lou Reed was a big inspiration for you.
Yeah. The Runaways covered Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll” on the first album. We go way back with Lou.
Do you think the Runaways will be inducted at some point in the future?
That would be a dream. It’s easier for me to talk like this as part of a group. I think the Runaways deserve it because of what we created. I think that’s part of the criteria. If we did, it would be an awesome thing. It would speak a lot to the growth of the way that people look at music. I don’t expect that, necessarily, and I don’t not expect that. We’ll just have to wait and see. It would great if even we were nominated.
I can’t think of a better song for the all-star jam than “I Love Rock ‘n Roll.”
I think that would be a lot of fun. It would speak to what a lot of us have dedicated our lives to, this music called rock & roll. I think it would be appropriate. I’ve always kept that song away, but I think in this instance it would be a perfect instance to whip it out and have people do it.
All of this must be very humbling, especially thinking back to your earliest gigs.
My parents would be very proud, for real. They never said to me, “You can’t do that, play in a rock band.” They always humored me, and just them not saying “no” was kind of them saying “yes.” They always supported me and were always big fans. They’d be so proud to see me achieve this amazing goal, which you can’t really set out to achieve. You just have to achieve or not. You just have to be, and if you get it, it’s a great thing. Yes, it’s very humbling and very surreal.
Do you hope this ushers in more punk bands? It would be cool to see X, the Minutemen, Black Flag and others get in.
I think that would be a very good thing for the Hall, just to go by the name of what it is: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That would be really living it.