Joan Jett had a huge Saturday night at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – from Miley Cyrus offering an introduction that recalled the first time she wanted to have sex with Jett to Dave Grohl joining the Blackhearts for “Cherry Bomb.” In her acceptance speech, Jett movingly recalled the earliest days of the Runaways, paid tribute to Kenny Laguna (her longtime manager, collaborator and producer) and spoke about what rock & roll means to her. “I was going to try and not cry,” she said. “But that’s going to be tough. . . . I come from a place where rock & roll means something. It means more than music, more than fashion, more than a good pose. It’s a language of a subculture that makes eternal teenagers out of all who follow it. It’s a subculture of rebellion, integrity, frustration, alienation and the glue that set several generations free of unnatural societal and self-suppression.” Moments after stepping offstage, a still-emotional Jett reflected on the night.
There was a lot of buildup to this moment. What did it feel like to finally get onstage and accept the award?
It was very nerve-wracking ahead of time, you know? I think we were all very moved. I was. And especially getting a standing ovation, I wasn’t expecting that. That kind of threw me a little bit, in a nice way.
You said you finally felt “acceptance” with this award. What did you mean by that?
Just people were acknowledging that you did something good or the fact that you’ve had success for a certain amount of years. That felt good, because for so many years, we didn’t get that. Whether it was with the Runaways or the Blackhearts, it was, ‘You’re no good, you can’t play, you’re this or that.’ Well, the people can’t be wrong. I’m out with the people in the clubs and the bars and the big venues and they love it. So maybe you guys were wrong!
You also used the platform to talk about using music for social justice, mentioning Pussy Riot. Why was mentioning that important to you?
I think people have to understand that rock & roll is not just rock & roll. It’s more than that. It can be a message sender. It is something that is powerful and strong. And it is something that can be used to fight – people have injustices, and you can declare them and fight for it. I think rock & roll is a brash sort of medium, so you’re allowed to say what you want and what you mean. And I think it’s true, where there is political agitation, you’ve got Pussy Riot and whoever else will come because rock & roll allows that – to acknowledge the deepest things you want to say to people and say it.
Did you have a favorite moment of the weekend, things you would have never imagined when you were a kid?
Oh my God. Just seeing all the stars here, it’s really cool to see Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. I remember getting Paul’s [self-titled solo] album and listening to it in my bedroom, and then all of a sudden I’m onstage with him. And it’s very surreal. And amazing. That shows that you can make your dreams come true. When I was a kid in my bedroom saying, “I want to do this, I want to be that,” and then you can actually do it, you know? It’s a great thing.