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Joan Jett's Bad Reputation Gets Her Booked

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Bad Reputation: The Unauthorized Biography of Joan Jett By Dave Thompson Backbeat Books, 300 pp., $19.99.

From her days as a Runaway (the band, not the teen social problem), to massive MTV stardom, to leaner years and her elevation as a godmother of riot grrls/girls who rock, Joan Jett's career has been nothing if not interesting.

And on the heels of The Runaways movie (which she executive-produced and co-starred vampire lover Kristen Stewart as a convincing Jett) comes this first bio on the former Joan Marie Larkin.

Thompson's book is a solid if not overly detailed encapsulation of Jett's life and travels familiar ground -- much of the Runaways' incredible-but-true story is recounted already in the movie and singer Cherie Currie's Neon Angel memoir, the basis of the film.

Of more interest is the author's take on Jett's struggle to be taken seriously in the early '80s as a solo artist in an era where most women still didn't really rock as hard as Jett did (and yes, Chrissie Hynde fans, I recognize her contribution).

And it's always an interesting fact that 23 different companies rejected Jett's debut record before she and manager Kenny Laguna decided to release the damn thing on her own -- the same guys shitting themselves as they watched "I Love Rock and Roll" sit at the No. 1 slot on the charts for seven weeks in a row, with several more hits to follow of both originals and surprising covers.

The book's greatest weakness, though, comes in the form of Thompson's hagiographic writing that borders (and often crosses the border) into absurdity: "Joan Jett has literally created the soundtrack of our lives." Really?

He's a huge fan -- and says that up front -- but the constant barrage of worshipful prose hurts his credibility as a biographer: Only Jett is an honest artist with pure music who follows her passion; the rest are poseurs and trend-followers. She blows every other act off the stage every time, pulls no punches, gives no quarter and -- despite every obstacle -- perseveres. It's a bit much.

Still, Bad Reputation will be a welcome read for Jett's fans whether they've followed her career throughout its various (and still unfolding) phases, or remember her most as an icon of the '80s, stirring young hormones of both genders while flashing that black bikini in the video for "Do You Wanna Touch Me?"

Thank god for YouTube!

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