I would call myself a late bloomer but the truth is I’m more like that old house plant you keep alive. It never dies but you wouldn’t call it healthy and vibrant although you do give it props for defying all natural laws.
In 1982 Joan Jett was out of the Runaways and already off making hits. I had one foot out of my hometown and another knee deep in what I call muck. In the 70’s Midwest by 20 years old you should be well on your way to marriage and kids. Most friends already had a small starter house, that is, if they didn’t already die in a drunk driving or overdose accident. I was working as a full time dispensing optician at an Ophthalmologist’s office in one of those hollow, soulless one-story commercial buildings off of Lake Avenue in Fort Wayne, Indiana. A place completely void of cool in an area with blocks and blocks of the same. I wore nurses whites and orthopedic shoes, by day. On my break, sometimes I would run to Taco Bell with my boyfriend and occasionally suck back a beer or two before returning to finish my shift. But most times I’d drive solo forfeiting food to smoke cigarettes and blast my speakers making sure to put on the power booster to elevate the mood. I would drive in giant figure eights so that I could come back in time but long enough that I could feel the wind on my face and escape the debilitating monotony. What I’m describing is a lonely loner, early signs of a deep introvert. But even recluses get bored. In the French Song Joan sings I know what I am, I am what I am. I might not have known what I was but I always knew what I wasn’t. I remember one particular afternoon, coming back from my lunch break, now in my newly purchased used, canary yellow TR7, that unbeknownst to me had cracked cylinder heads and was already showing signs of major distress after only two weeks. I sat silently in that car as it bumped and rattled, unable to turn off, painfully acknowledging that I could no longer live this life either. I couldn’t drive up to this particular building one more week to a job that I felt was pulling me into some unremarkable abyss. I thought about the week before and all the weeks before that. The reason I got this car was because I allowed my boyfriend to total my Celica GT lift-back by slamming into a pole while we were all drunk in the passenger’s seats. That was car wreck number 6 or 7 if I was counting. I was going to be 21, not 18. My nighttime shenanigans were becoming very worrisome to the sober adult me. Unable to get replacement parts locally, that car became a permanent garage fixture and I was afraid of the same fate.
In the following days, the song Cherry Bomb came on the radio as I was dropped off yet again to the gates of doom as I was now carless. The music felt so alive blaring loudly from inside that vehicle. I didn’t want to step out knowing that life was stagnant on the other side of that door. It suddenly occurred how late in the game it was for me. My boyfriend was speaking but I drifted off imagining being where Joan was, this magic place where a girl like me could play guitar and live a completely different type of life. I left my body which I was prone to do, shaking my head, my hair flying around my face. I drank up every last ounce of that song. That moment unleashed some newfound freedom that I had felt rising up recently but finally sprung up like an oil well. That day I formed a real plan to leave town for LA to try to play in bands. I quit that job and babysat for my sister until I saved enough money for a plane ticket. Time was spent getting my GED and recruiting a friend. We left about 3 months later.
In hindsight if I wanted any chance to really fly, I should have left about 3 years before that. I wasted just enough time to pack on enough self doubt and guilt that it was very hard to get off the ground even with all the miles between me and the muck. I drank when I was nervous and that was generally always. It doesn’t help matters to be drunk or timid but i could never decide which was worse. So I always erred on the inebriated side. Had I moved in 1979 I believe I may have become a real musician and possibly stuck to it to this day. I had the self discipline and desire but the few obstacles I ran into were enough to not only deter but stifle me entirely. Unlike all the determined strong folks you read about following their dreams, there are just as many that follow them to something entirely different. It’s a shame too because women artists were just about to pop, so the timing was right in the world for someone with limited talent like me to actually make it. I wanted to be incredible but was convinced early on that I didn’t have what it takes to become great. And the alternative was becoming famous and mediocre. If I was anything I would be legitimate and authentic or nothing at all.
This is the bullshit I tell myself. I had about 5 years of practicing the guitar before I left home. I was getting better but it was already apparent I was not gifted. After more lessons, being in working bands and a few #metoo stories later I just gave up.
But Joan Jett got me out of that office building and onto that plane to California. That in and of itself was giant in my small world. Her voice, guitar, and songs throughout the years pushed me into those band auditions. They landed me in decades of amazing record store job experiences. Her hutsphah kept me in the mix of excitement, meeting songwriters and artists, mingling with creativity. She got me to New York, where I always dreamed of living. Unfortunately some of us are not consistent enough to be and come at the same time. I have enough hangups to fill five tour buses. But Joan continues to motivate and inspire me to push my mole ass further into the world each year and for that I’ll always be grateful.