Joan Jett works on her 'bad reputation'

Written by Scott Mervis on .

You can book Joan Jett for your rally, and she'll draw a crowd, but that doesn't mean she's going to deliver protest songs.

"She's not Bob Dylan," her longtime producer and friend Kenny Laguna said in a ballroom at the Hilton before her short set Wednesday night at Point State Park.

"I'm here because I support the cause," she said, "but my job is to entertain."

Jett flew in late Wednesday afternoon for the Clean Energy Jobs Now rally at the Point, which featured pro-labor, pro-environment speeches by local politicians and representatives of groups like the Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO, and 20-minute sets by the Houserockers, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and Kathy Mattea.

Before the show, the veteran rocker, who turned 51 on Tuesday, paced the ballroom, occasionally out the window at the stage across the street. "I don't like to sit down before a show," she said.

Jett, who was born in Philadelphia and lived in Pittsburgh for a year or so when she was 6, said she was drawn to the event because she knows that the current economy has taken its toll on states like Pennsylvania.

"The bottom line is we used to make things in America and we don't anymore. It's just imperative that people need to make a living."

The concept of clean and green jobs, she said, is the wave of the future. "I would hope to God that America wouldn't be a laggard there."

In town on the eve of the G20 summit, Jett observed that the city seemed to be "in lockdown," but also noted "I'm sure I would definitely be aligned with some of the protests. Depending on what specific issue you're talking about I may agree or disagree, but it's absolutely imperative that leaders get together and discuss these issues that are really grave and important to all of our countries. What are they supposed to do? Not talk."

Pittsburgh in G20 mode was nothing compared to some of the battlegrounds she visited to perform for the troops, including Kosovo and Afghanistan. Even though she didn't support the Bush policies in the war, she felt it was important for her to be there to entertain the troops.

"It's really just the very obvious recognition that we're all the same. After my first band The Runaways broke up, I was really in a bad place. I was really lost and very confused, and I considered for a short time joining a branch of the military just to try to get some direction in my life. I didn't have to do that because I met Kenny about five days later and we wrote songs together and the rest is history. But that gave me insight into the fact that it isn't something to be demonized, it's a ncessary aspect of our life that you have a military and I think it's admirable that people are willing to lay down their lives for the country." 

An hour after we talked, Jett headed over to the park and brought a rather sleepy crowd of people to their feet by opening up with "Bad Reputation," and plowing into a short but rousing set of hits that included "I Love Rock and Roll," "Cherry Bomb," "Do You Wanna Touch" and "Crimson and Clover." Folks will be able to find those on a new greatest hits package coming out and in "The Runaways," an upcoming biopic starring Kristen Stewart as Jett back in the days of her all-girl punk band.


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