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[whitespace] Two-Chord Terror

Joan Jett brings her power-pop show to Santa Cruz May 6

By Gina Arnold

JOAN JETT is a real conundrum. On the one hand, she's a seminal punk-rock icon, a groundbreaking female rocker who has inspired and influenced countless musicians of the same gender, and a woman who, to her credit, proclaims her favorite bands to be Fugazi and L7.

On the other hand, she is the instigator of much sappy power-pop, the front person for a tacky band, the wearer of Spandex jumpsuits and the willing puppet of a manager so venal that if you call up her website (www.joanjett.com), you will find yourself reading all about him, instead of her.

Jett's career, though extremely long, has few really credible high points, unless you count her current stint as the character Columbia in the revival of The Rocky Horror Show on Broadway.

At the moment, Jett seems like the answer to an '80s trivia question, as dated as shoulder pads, red-and-black striped T-shirts and Flock of Seagulls hairdos. And yet she is no Debbie Gibson. Although her biggest hits came at the start of the MTV era, her career dips well into the 1970s and stretches forward into the '90s.

During the Ford Administration, she was a founding member of the all-girl band the Runaways, an act that is currently being revived in the form of the Donnas, who do the trashy-teenage jail-bait act to perfection and are lauded for it.

And in the '90s, Jett's solo career, if not exactly burning hot, was slightly hipper than it had been previously: she worked with both the Replacements' Paul Westerberg and Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna.

I guess Jett is like a female Billy Idol--that is, a cartoonish figure whose lengthy presence in pop world has made him a permanent symbol of, well, something or other. Like Billy Idol, she's not known for either her musicianship or her songwriting. Both her hits, "I Love Rock & Roll" and "Crimson and Clover," were penned by others.

Thanks to her association with various mentors (first Kim Fowley, now Mr. Laguna), she's a real modern-day Trilby, hardworking, ambitious and somehow directionless, dabbling now in acting, now in singing, now in punk rock, but always staying slightly in our sights, by hook or by crook.

But ... but ... but--all that aside, there is something innately likable about Jett's persona that Idol will never have. And her live show, it must be said, is always a lot of fun. Perhaps that's why I've never met a rock star who didn't adore her, in spite of her mediocre guitar-playing, her silly jumpsuit, her two-chord rock "anthems" that sound so ... New Jersey.

All these things are irrelevant in the hearts and minds of a whole generation of musicians who persist in seeing her as a real rock original--the first pretty girl to eschew mere lead singer-pinup status in favor of playing gritty rhythm guitar--a groundbreaking female loner in what used to be an all-male world.

Respect, as Fugazi likes to say, is due. After all, it's not like after her came a deluge of others: sadly, she is still one of the few female leaders of a male rock band, and perhaps the only one with roots. If you want to jump on the '80s-revival bandwagon, here might be a good place to start.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts perform Sunday (May 6) at 8pm at the Rio Theater, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15.

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Web extra to the May 2-9, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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