Trailblazing musician Joan Jett recently reflected on the trajectory of her career and the musicians who inspired her, especially when she was trying to break into rock.
During a discussion on Can-Am’s Outliers Panel Featuring Joan Jett and SAINt JHN, Jett addressed a question about her inspirations. She said her family was her earliest supporter. But she then shared that David Bowie and rocker Suzi Quatro were her inspirations in music, referring to them as mavericks of their time.
Women weren’t supposed to be rockers before Joan Jett
Jett spoke aspirationally of her parents. “As a young kid, I don’t know that I had any inspirations as a young girl,” she said. “I just know my parents told me when I was five that I could be anything I wanted to be in life. And I believed them.”
“So I went from wanting to be things like an astronaut or an archeologist and just sort of bounced around,” she continued. “And I guess I wasn’t until I was a little bit older but … you know, I mean, like musical influences. I don’t know that I had one sort of overall hero.”
But she was inspired by a few iconic musicians who were emerging in the 1970s. “Growing up, people like David Bowie,” she continued. “People that took chances. Because I felt the things I wanted to do were not what people would expect girls to do. I knew that. And just instinctively by what I was seeing around me and how women were basically being treated or thought, OK, you’re going to do this or you’re going to do that.”
“It’s like, no, I’m going to be in a rock and roll band and play guitar and sing and, you know,” she asserted. “And wanting to do it. But it was someone like David Bowie that gave me the idea. Not him specifically, but the people who were out there taking chances and being who they wanted to be.”
She went into self-exploration wondering, “Who am I? I wasn’t even sure. But I know I wanted to do this thing and be a musician. Be a rock and roll musician, because girls can play acoustic guitar, but electric guitar and rock and roll, no. And I knew is even as a kid, what they meant was girls were playing cello in my school, playing Beethoven and Bach.”
Joan Jett knew a woman in rock would make people uncomfortable
Jett was determined to smash stereotypes in music and would not let society tell her what music should pursue. “So you can’t tell me they can’t learn guitar or drums,” she remarked. “They were saying is rock and roll by its nature, it’s sexual. Teenage girls singing and playing rock and roll, they’re going to be singing about sex coming from their point of view.”
“And that makes people uncomfortable,” she added. “Especially the time I’m talking about the mid-70s or early 70s when I was starting to do that. So, you know, you needed the support wherever you could find it. So I looked to musicians like Bowie. And there was another person, a woman named Suzi Quatro, who played bass and was rock and roll singer from America but lived in London.”
“At the time, there was a whole scene of a British glitter music, early 70s British glitter music,” she said, adding that a lot of musicians were pushing the envelope at the time.
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