Happy Joan Jett Day!

Joan Jett IS rock'n'roll. I know that much is true. As true as death and taxes. August 1st, 2013 is Joan Jett day in California. She is being honored with the Elmer Valentine award at the Sunset Strip Music Festival for her contribution to the history of the Sunset Strip and rock history (her career got its start there when she co-founded The Runaways with Sandy West). It's only fitting that I pay tribute to the woman who made it okay for all of us rock chicks to do just that: rock.

Photo by M.Fasano

We often worship our idols from afar. They rock out on stage at a concert or we stare at them as they come through as images on our screen via MTV, MuchMusic, VH1, etc, and we are passive onlookers. Voyeurs. Dreamers. When they're on an emotional high during a performance, they lift us up with them. For that moment, we dream that we too can look out into a sea of people, chanting our name or screaming for a guitar pick, and smile. Once the concert is done, we go back to our regular lives, our band t-shirts tucked safely away under our freshly starched shirts, ready to be set free again when the moment arises. But sometimes, we get to catch a glimpse of the real person we see on stage or on our tv/smartphone/tablet screens.An opportunity to shake hands, make eye contact while in the best front row concert seats of your life, or even clumsily bumping into them at the local (or not-so-local) Starbucks. These are the things that dreams are made of.

Joan Jett had a dream. She wanted to make all of us "kids" in the crowd happy - to have us feel that magic of dreaming like we do. Connection. Love. Euphoria. Good old fashioned rock'n'roll. She worked really, really, REALLY hard, and her dream came true. As a result, so did ours as fans. So did mine. Let me explain how.

My first post for this blog was about the first time I heard "I Love Rock'n'Roll" on the radio. I was a little girl, maybe 5 years old. I've been a fan of Joan Jett's a really long time. I've admired her resolve, swagger, musicianship, and those sneakers from afar for years. Every time she came to town, I had commitments that I couldn't abdicate from: exams, weddings, and more exams. I was disappointed each time, and each time I would declare "next time, no matter what, I'm going to go see her." Time passed, life got busy, and Joan Jett kept touring. I came across a concert listing for Casino Rama in Orillia, Ontario - about an hour and a half drive from where I live - and I decided that this is finally it. Nothing is going to get between me and that concert. Front row. I would settle for nothing less. There is no other way to see a legend live in concert.

I bought tickets second hand and was thrilled. I was going to take the day off work, so any unforeseen circumstances could be avoided.

That wasn't enough for me. You see, I play the guitar too. I'm female. I'm a tomboy. Joan Jett and Lita Ford are the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place. I'm 34 years old, and to me, I needed to partake in this pilgrimage not only as a fan, but as a human being. I needed to say "Thank you" to this woman, and I had no idea how I was going to meet her, but I was going to make this happen.

I wrote a letter. Those old fashioned things that you put into an envelope and mail, expecting that the contents will get to the intended recipient. Some letters require a reply, others do not. I figured I'd pour my heart out and write Joan Jett a "thank you", that way even if I didn't get to meet her, in my heart I know I got it out. I sent my letter, but I also made a few more connections, sent some e-mails, etc. A few days passed and I got an e-mail from one of my contacts. I was going to meet Joan Jett. I sat there in front of my computer and I froze. I was going to get to say "thank you" in person. My opportunity, my dream as one of Joan "kids" going crazy in the arena, it was all going to happen.

The anxiety I felt leading up to March 1, 2013 is somewhat perplexing. I was excited, but I was nervous. I wasn't nervous because I was scared or because I didn't know what I wanted to say - I was nervous because I didn't want to fall apart in those few fleeting seconds that you often get at backstage meet and greets. No crying, no speechless face.....I wanted to show her in some way the strength that she had channeled into little girls like me for decades. I wanted to tell her that she's the reason I play guitar, and that the vision of that now famous white Melody Maker gave me comfort and hope through some dark times. We don't want our heroes to disappoint us. What if she totally blew me off and simply said "hey" and didn't want fans around? What if she saw me as just another crazy fan? She's been doing this for so long, maybe she's tired of hearing us say "thank you".

I was escorted backstage and told to wait at the end of the line. As we all walked into the room, I saw Joan standing there smiling and exchanging pleasantries with fans as they waited their turn to take one of the most significant pictures of their lives with a rock icon.  I felt her energy as soon as I stepped into the room. Some people have that effect on others, and Ms.Jett certainly does on me. In fact, my husband, who is not the crazy fan I am, felt it as well.

It was finally my turn. To my surprise, she had read my letter. What we said to each other is private and I don't feel the need to write it here, but I will say that sometimes, our idols are not everything we think they are. We are disappointed or let down. But sometimes, we meet those heroes we look up to and they're everything and more we've built them up to be. Joan Jett is definitely one of the heroes that lives up to her legendary status in the world of rock and roll. She was kind, warm, and REAL. She has spent decades doing things her own way. She doesn't HAVE to meet fans before every show - but she does. For FREE. No $300 VIP meet and greet package necessary here. She is proof that true rock'n'roll can't be bought.  I was fortunate enough to meet her again this past June, this time with my daughter, who has become quite the fan herself. Once again, Joan Jett was gracious, genuine, and oozed a humility that too few of her peers do.

Tomorrow night she'll be honored with an award. In true Joan Jett fashion, she'll perform with her band, The Blackhearts, after the presentation: the first honoree to do so.

So here's to you, Joan Jett. The award they will bestow upon you tomorrow night is not only well deserved, but well earned and long overdue. You lifted us all up there with you Ms.Jett. The tomboys, the girls with guitars, the outcasts, the punks, the rockers, and the "kids" that you send into a crazy frenzy when you take the stage - both with The Runaways and The Blackhearts. Congratulations, and thank you again for making this kids' dream come true. "Love like this just can't be bought."

Photo by M.Fasano