Who doesn’t love rock n’ roll? We all know the words or maybe just the chorus to I Love Rock N Roll by Joan Jett. When you talk about rock and roll and women in rock and roll, Joan Jett’s name almost always comes up. She made her mark on the scene and left a lasting influential legacy. In 2015 she was finally inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Long overdue but so well deserved.
In the new documentary Bad Reputation, Director Kevin Kerslake takes us on a journey, to look back at Jett’s remarkable career, her effect on the music of her era, and her activism. In her youth Jett was already a woman who wanted to play the guitar and make some noise. At the time, it was a male dominated industry, but she broke barriers and blazed her way through, album after album.
Named after the song, Bad Reputation is a defining look at how Jett changed a genre. Here, Kerslake talks about the icon and how she continues to have an impact today.
Your body of work includes some great music videos and Bad Reputation is a fine music documentary. Why Joan Jett?
I think Joan blazed such a path in the rock world. I think everything that was in her way and everything that stood in her way, was a cinematic opportunity to tell the perseverance, the talent and the never say die ethos that drives Joan.
There’s a lot to her story. How easily did it all come together for you?
Joan comes from a three-chord universe. I still think that the driving force of a perfectly crafted pop song, that mandate was always in the room with how you’re going to approach her life. I think if you broke up the A to Z narrative of her life and started shuffling the alphabet around and playing with time, the chronology of time is so powerful and being on that journey with her through those different eras was a pretty simple decision. I think it was obvious and I think we had to heed the call and extract as much drama out of those various stages of her life so they had maximum impact. I think that the feminist story that is in her universe, her story ends up being quite powerful as an example of somebody who really just stuck to her guns and stuck to what she wanted to do which is really the strongest message that anyone can express. It doesn’t mean you have to hang everything on a political slogan. I think ultimately we should just be able to do what we want to do as long as you don’t hurt anything.
The story and what she was put on the planet to do, there is rock and roll in her DNA and she just wanted to plug in and play music. It was pretty rare, if not unheard of for teenage girls to want to plug in, play a guitar and make some noise. That was in an era when women only existed in an acoustic universe. The fact that she heard that somewhere in her own psyche and chased it her whole life was the nugget that we kept chasing.
Her story is inspiring, but she’s also a very private person. What was that like to collaborate with her?
She loves the film, but there was some nervousness before that and how was she going to take it? With Joan, it’s what you see is what you get. Even though she’s private and guarded, I still feel there’s always an honesty about her behavior and how she conducts her life. Even when you see her with fans and out in the world, she’s genuinely interested in other people’s lives as they are in hers. Also, just having that community of fans and also a lot of that sure shares its DNA with her activism in the world in terms of wanting to make the world a better place.
Every time we interviewed Joan we got different shades of that but it always felt like we were getting the same Joan. There is a consistency to who she is from the beginning in terms of forming the band The Blackhearts and the Runaways. For her, it was about being around a group of people and getting off on the music and being together.
How much footage did you have access to?
Throughout the course of their careers musicians have had film crews film them for different periods of time. Blackheart had a certain amount of archival material so that was a good starting point. Once you expand beyond that and you reach out to people who have shot stuff on their own, even anonymous sources and tracking down who that is. Maybe the fact that Joan has such a huge fan base and such a long career, there’s obviously going to be a lot of material that hadn’t fallen within the Blackheart umbrella, so that was a pretty exhaustive search. There are a lot of people who are just die-hard fans that have their own fan clubs or videos that they’ve taken. There were databases we could launch into to find out who did shoot them. Anytime you go into that historical search, you get your work cut out for you. I think even if you find stuff, the quality of it in terms of resolution and the ownership of it, you need to make sure that’s all buttoned up and you’re not trespassing on anyone’s territory and that’s like the clerical work in a way.
She started in the early 70’s and that’s many eras.
You have a great reel of interviewees from Miley Cyrus to Kristen Stewart. How did you choose which subjects you wanted to include?
When you tell people that you’re doing a Joan Jett doc, her appeal spans so many generations. There are 4-year-old girls and there are women who are in their 80s who are all big fans. We wanted to do something that really heeded that set. You wanted voices from all generations. Joan has had a direct impact on those people. With Billie Joe Armstrong, when he saw her as a young kid, he said he wanted to be the male version of Joan. Miley is the next generation down and Joan had that same impact. We wanted to tap people who Joan had that impact on, but also to speak with authority just because they are in a position where they have a sense of history and that historical scope of her career and what her impact is on, not just rock, and pop culture, but also activism, feminism and those things. We were really lucky that the people she did have that impact on ended up being giants in their own world.
Bad Reputation is on release