Fifty-three years ago today Joan Jett was born into a June Cleaver world. Muscle-flexing ‘40s role model Rosie the Riveter had been sent back home from the factory, and new icons of femininity, like Doris Day, twirled in poodle skirts or, like Marilyn Monroe, shimmied in bathing suits.
Thankfully for Joan, by the time puberty began agitating her bones, sending her exploring the world, there were new idols to aspire to. Joan has told me in interviews that her first two inspirations were Liza Minnelli in Cabaret, and Suzi Quatro (it’s a point also made in Bad Reputation, the just-released, drippily written, but still interesting unauthorized biography of Jett). Both sheroes defied the hyper femininity of the Eisenhower Era, toying with tomboy masculinity — and exuding a sexy toughness to those of us who like our women on top. Quatro sang the Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man” exuberantly, no postmodern need for irony. Liza was mesmerizing, transcendent. Eventually Joan would adopt Liza’s black tomboy cut and Suzi’s leather jacket — and become an adrogynous style icon of her own.
Cabaret continues to inspire musical misfits. Today I interviewed Amanda Palmer, whose multitude of multitasking achievements includes her recent starring role as the Emcee in productions of Cabaret in Boston. I’m a latecomer convert to Palmer’s burlesque ferocity, and have been hooked not just because one of her bands has the incredible name Evelyn Evelyn. (Actually, it’s one of my least favorite things she does.) Amanda has taken control of her career in a way that even Jett, long an independent artist, could marvel at. That’s what I call progress.
So happy birthday Joan, and Amanda, pleased to meet you.