joan jett documentary bad reputation

3 Tough Lessons From Joan Jett’s Documentary “Bad Reputation”

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If you haven’t seen Joan Jett’s documentary “Bad Reputation” yet, you may want to put it on your “to-do” list pronto. GenXers and Baby Boomers will especially get lost in the throwback fashion, cultural references, and the rollercoaster rock ’n roll tale of our favorite Blackheart.

Not only is Joan a rock goddess, she broke through gender barriers in an industry owned and managed by men during the late 1970s and ‘80s (honestly, things haven’t changed a whole lot). Since then, she’s continued to write music, tour the globe, and accept her 2015 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The documentary “Bad Reputation” (a Kevin Kerslake film) premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. It highlights not just the bumps and bruises along the way, but also Jett’s achievements that would influence a generation of women and men who succeeded her. Super fans like Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Debbie Harry of Blondie, Ian McKaye of Fugazi, and Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill all sing Joan’s well-deserved praises. I’m no celebrity, but this Midwestern girl remembers dancing around the house with hairbrush mic in hand wailing “I love rock ’n roll!” and looking up to Joan Jett as a role model for what any girl could accomplish.


I walked out of the movie feeling nostalgic, teary-eyed, and emboldened. There’s a lot Joan taught me in that 1:45-minute film that hit pretty close to home. Here’s what I took away from Joan Jett’s School of Hard Knocks…


Life Lesson #1 – Don’t take “No” for an answer

“Girls don’t play rock ’n’ roll,” said Joan’s first guitar teacher when she told him her dream. She walked out with the electric guitar her parents bought her for Christmas and never went back to that teacher. Even as a young teen, Joan knew what she wanted and telling her “No” wasn’t going to stop her. “Tell me I can’t do something, and you know I’m going to be doing it,” she defiantly states.

It didn’t stop with the guitar teacher. Her all-female band “The Runaways” endured ridicule that was sometimes so severe it ended up in blood and bruises thanks to audiences whipping objects at them— like batteries and beer bottles. Record companies didn’t take the band seriously and a lot of doors were slammed in their faces as a result. But Joan didn’t take “no” for an answer. She persevered even after The Runaways disbanded.

Not all of us has such clarity on a life purpose or passion (for some it’s more about the journey), but any time you want something, don’t let anyone stop you.

Life Lesson #2 – Commit 100%

Once Joan’s solo career started taking off, she was interviewed on a TV talk show. It went something like this:

“Do you want to get married?”
“Do you want to have children?”

The female host looked stunned. Joan went on to explain that she was 100% committed to creating music and that living in these other roles wouldn’t allow her to do that. It was semi-scandalous to openly admit those non-traditional sentiments at the time, but Joan knew the only way she could succeed in rock (especially as a woman) is if she had zero distractions.

Joan’s signature style visually reenforced her goals, lifestyle, and dedication. When she visited London for the first time, Joan fell into the punk scene which resonated with her rebellious nature. She brought that black-on-black-on-black aesthetic back with her and continues to sport it at age 60. In fact, the press dubbed her the “Godmother of Punk.” Stage pants’ seam rips wide open at the crotch before a show? No problem— grab a roll of duct tape and start “mending” the punk way.

If you saw Joan at an airport and didn’t know who she was, you’d still know she’s a rocker.

Life Lesson #3 – If you want something done, you have to do it yourself

Joan and her team were rejected by 23 record labels; one label proactively told DJ’s not to play her songs! Joan decided it was time to take matters into her own hands. Blackheart Records became the first indie record label owned by a woman in 1980. It was funded by her producer/songwriting partner Kenny Laguna’s daughter’s college savings. By 1982, the title track of “I Love Rock ’n Roll” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. After 35 years of creating music together, he and Jett are still touring the world, writing and recording new music.

Make no mistake, doing it yourself doesn’t mean doing it alone. Joan went to great lengths in building a team that shared and supported her vision. This goes for any goal you have in life. Whether it’s studying computer science, or changing your wardrobe for that dream job, or forming a rock band, seek people who have the talent and desire to help you. What might be the right answer for someone else, may not be the right answer for you (remember those 23 rejections).



“I’ve had a blessed career,” Joan says. “I consider myself so lucky to have been able to do things my own way.” Sorry to disagree with you, Joan, but that wasn’t luck. It was pure purpose-driven tenacity. And we LOVE you for it.

Over 40? Think it’s too late to make a change or chase your dream? You’re never too old to write new rules and create your own opportunities to get where you want to go. Rock on!


joan jett on stage

3 Tough Lessons From Joan Jett’s Documentary “Bad Reputation” (cover photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

About The Author

Thea Wood mona lisa


Thea Wood is the co-publisher of and a certified image consultant from Austin, TX.  She is a TEDx speaker and wrote the new e-book The Intentional Makeover  and co-authored the book Socially Smart & Savvy. Thea shares styling advice at, helping women create a signature style that says who they are and where they’re going.

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