It's what? — April, May, of my senior year in high school. I can see the green grass in fields far away from my podunk town, and I'm ready to go set those fields on fire. I've hated my hometown for 18 years, and I'm about to have the means to split. Zen masters would have a big problem with my mindset: I am not living in the eternal here and now.

Anyway, it's an hour or so after classes let out for the day, and I'm one of a very few people left on campus; I am busy with some extra-curricular activity that was not destined to earn me that room-and-board scholarship to Harvard. I stride out to my car, an uncool Pontiac hatchback, and crank up the ignition and AC at the same time.

The AM/FM tape deck (purchase price: one-fifth the cost of the car) comes on immediately, and a Houston radio station is sending me an anthem that's already a few years old: Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll." I don't even remember caring about the song one way or another before that moment, but my body reacts to it before my mind even processes the name of the tune. I toss the crate in reverse and hit the gas.

At that very moment, an elderly Mexican-American matriarch's car rounds a corner ill-advisedly, and I'm not with it enough to take evasive action. My rear end scrapes in an ugly way down the side of her speeding car.

Nobody was hurt (though an ambulance-chasing lawyer tried, six months later, to convince my insurance company that the old lady was made "unable to fulfill her spousal duties" by the incident) and the damage to both cars was basically cosmetic. If the accident went on my permanent high school record, that document has long since become irrelevant. I soon left that little town — and that rattletrap car — and became the urbane sophisticate who now types these words.

What the hell does all this have to do with Joan Jett? Not much — except that I think she'd be a little proud to hear the story; that her best music gathered up reckless teenaged abandon (even mine, which was largely unintentional) and distilled it into three chords and three potent minutes. Though she started her career as a punk rocker, Jett made her mark with a kind of modified back-to-basics R&R that acknowledged those who'd gone before her. "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," in fact — her biggest hit by a mile — was first cut in the mid- '70s by a band called the Arrows.

She and her Blackhearts recorded through the '80s to varying degrees of success. Somewhere in the early '90s, a lot of new female rockers — the ones who felt Chrissie Hynde was too snooty, one presumes — started citing Jett as an influence, setting the stage for her 1994 comeback of sorts, Pure and Simple. Jett hasn't made an album of new songs since, but she continues to tour. A couple of years back, a friend of mine caught her in Austin, and swore the show was phenomenal. That was in a tiny club, far smaller than the Far West Rodeo — but any singer whose music could make cars crash into each other back in the day should still be able to hold her own, even in this larger venue.

Tuesday, July 23
$13 advance, $16 day-of-show
$26 gold seats, $21 silver seats and minors
Far West Rodeo
3030 N.E. Loop 410

More by John DeFore



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