By Rafer Guzmán
“Bad Reputation,” a documentary about rock icon Joan Jett, covers the hard-knocks career of a headstrong frontwoman who exploded onto the Los Angeles rock scene with the teenage Runaways in the mid-1970s, then transformed herself into an MTV star with the Blackhearts during the 1980s, scoring the hit singles “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Crimson and Clover” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You.”
The film includes early live footage, old television appearances and interviews with Iggy Pop, Deborah Harry, Miley Cyrus, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and others. Jett, who at 60 continues to record albums and play live, emerges as an inspiration to generations of punks, indie rockers and riot grrrls.
“It’s really important to tell people that their dreams aren’t just dreams,” Jett said by phone from a tour stop in Texas. “If I listened to everybody who told me I couldn’t do it, then I wouldn’t be doing it.” The following is a condensed and edited version of the interview.
Q: You’ve been part of glam, punk, New Wave, indie, did you try to change with the times, or did the times change around you?
A: A little bit of both. I did try a few things here and there. Early on I did a rap song 1986’s “Black Leather”). But not really more than that. I’m a rock and roller, that’s what I do.
Q: In the film there’s an old clip of you singing “Do You Wanna Touch Me ” at the Malibu in Lido Beach. The place is packed. Do you remember that show?
A: I remember! The first time we played, it was empty. And the next time we played was after we’d had some support from the radio stations. It was really surprising to us, they had to close the highways coming to the club. It was at that point that we knew something was going on. But we were still selling records out of the trunk of a car.
Q: You became a major star in the 1980s, but you’d already had a whole career with the Runaways. What lessons had you learned?
A: It’s really important to remember that you never do any of this by yourself. It’s not just me, so I can’t take credit when things are great. I have a band, I have people helping me make the records, I have the fans. I think: humility, humility, humility, over and over again.
Q: Your bandmates describe the 1990s as a tough period. Would you agree?
A: Yeah, it was a struggle. We weren’t selling records. We weren’t necessarily selling out gigs. But I never felt that way. No matter what gig we did, I was there 100 percent. I don’t prescribe to the idea that a fair or something isn’t a proper place for a rock and roll band to play. Or a casino. If you’re going to get embarrassed about that stuff, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it at all.
Q: And then, 20 years later, you’re inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
A: Yeah! It just puts a big smile on your face. And the first thing I remember seeing when I came out to accept the award, and I was going to try to keep it together, the first people I see are Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, standing up to give me a standing ovation. And then everybody else stood up! That’s the kind of thing you can’t even put in your dream-maker.
Q: During all the highs and lows in your career, what kept you going?
A: I just don’t see another option. If there comes a time when I need to incorporate other things in my life, I’ll be able to do that. But I’m not there. I’m just driven to keep going. I don’t enjoy the traveling, but the onstage part, the connection part, you look in someone’s eyes, you connect. There’s something that passes between the two of you. It’s magic.
Available Friday on iTunes and Amazon Prime Video