Thursday, March 25, 2010

Music Box: Joan Jett and The Runaways

Michael and I caught the "Runaways" movie over the weekend. It's pretty much what you'd expect -- it's not great, but if you're a fan then you'll get a kick out of it and if you're not, you can skip it. I was initially apprehensive about the casting of Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie, but then warmed up to the idea when I saw promotional stills. In the end, my first instinct was right. While Kristen Stewart all but became Joan Jett (even Joan said she mistook recordings the "Twilight" star made of old Runaways songs as the originals, and she had the look and swagger down to a T), I just didn't buy Dakota as a jailbait sex kitten.

Sure, I'm gay. But the real Cherie Currie just oozed sexuality and looked like trouble, while Dakota seemed nervous and awkward. Still, it wasn't enough to take away from the overall effect of the film, which rightly paints the girls as rock 'n' roll trailblazers. If for no other reason, you should see if for Keir O'Donnell's flawless Rodney Bingenheimer (I nearly died laughing!). Plus Elvis granddaughter, Riley Keough, plays Curie's jealous sister, Marie. (If you want to see the definitive film about The Runaways, watch "EDGEPLAY," ex-bassist Vicki Blue's moving documentary about the band from 2004.) The band's eponymous debut has been on in heavy rotation around my apartment this week and it still amazes me how good it is. In addition to their classic signature song, "Cherry Bomb," other standouts include "American Nights," "Thunder," "Rock & Roll" and the epic "Dead End Justice," which makes the Shangri-Las sound like debutantes. The best thing to come out of the film, however, is how it has forced me to revisit my sincere but casual relationship with Joan Jett.

After getting swept away in the "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" craze of 1982 with all the other ninth graders at Rhodes Junior High ("Crimson and Clover" was actually my fave, and the only thing better than Joan was "Our Lips Are Sealed," "Don't You Want Me, Baby" and "Tainted Love"!), I went back and discovered Joan's debut album (I think I taped my friend Mark's record on his bitching stereo on Pappstein!), the first side of which -- "Bad Reputation," "Make Believe," "You Don't Know What You've Got," "You Don't Own Me," and "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)" -- was arguably perfect (and what about Side 2's "Jezebel" and "Let Me Go"?).

Although I was sexually obsessed with the hubby in Squeeze's "Black Coffee in Bed" video (who must have been a big-time '80s model), Joan's Cream cover still left me mesmerized. The following year Joan released "Album," which included what is perhaps my favorite tunes of hers, "The French Song." Though the first two singles -- "Everyday People" and "Fake Friends" -- were modest hits, the album was an inevitable letdown after the huge success of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," and Joan's moment was fading fast. Like many other people, I kind of forgot about her until she had a huge hit five years later with "I Hate Myself for Loving You." And even that wasn't enough to renew my interest behind her singles.

It was only a few years ago when my friend Mark bought me the remastered and expanded "Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth" that I first began to realize I might be missing out on something. While the album had no hits, songs like "I Love You Love Me Love," "I Need Someone" and "Love Like Mine" were all should-have-been smashes. (Her "Fit to Be Tied" greatest hits disc was good for introducing me to a handful of other missed opportunities, but in the end was a poor substitute for checking out the other albums.) In the end, though, it was seeing "The Runaways" on the big screen that really set my Joansession in movement, culminating in my downloading a handful of albums over the weekend (but still desperately seeking "Notorious," her hard-to-come-by 1991 album that featured Paul Westerberg of the Replacements, which I remember being quite good from what I heard).

I used to think Joan's career had been undermined by her reliance on cover songs. But looking back on it now, I sort of think the opposite. For one thing, it's sort of an unfair statement. While it's true that her signature song was a cover, her other classics, like "Cherry Bomb" (itself a cover -- of her own band!), "Bad Reputation," "The French Song" and "I Hate Myself for Loving You" were all originals, as were the majority of songs on her dozen or so albums. More importantly, though, Joan is the rare artist who can cover a song and make it all hers, often surpassing the original (a rare thing, indeed). In my mind, her "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" and "Crimson and Clover" are the definitive versions, as is her take on Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner." (And I'd watch your back, John Fogerty: have you heard Joan sing "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?"?) Joan's albums play like a night at the local bar with your favorite house band: they give you a few of their old ones, they give you a few of their new ones, and then they give you a few the whole room can sing along to. And in the end, everyone goes home happy, which I'm pretty sure is all little Joan Larkin ever wanted to do.


Joe said...

Ok, this isn't about Joan Jett, although I do agree she kicks ass. I was totally blown away when you mentioned the husband from Squeeze's "Black Coffee in Bed" video. I remember him and thought he was so hot too! I gotta watch the video now! Thanks for the hot flashback Kenneth! :)

Scott said...

Great post..Joan Jett was, is and always will be the best!!

Monkey said...

I liked the movie too. I thought they both looked great, but I clearly liked Fanning more than you did, and Stewart less. I thought Stewart mugged through the whole movie, as she is wont to do.