For Jo

West Preston, November 2018

Mornington, January 2019

My family scattered our sister Jo’s ashes on a bend in the Blackwood River near Nannup in the south west of WA. This is where other family members’ ashes reside.

On the back verandah of our place in West Preston Vicki and I readied ourselves for the moment. We had sat a picture of Jo, alongside her favourite beer, on a chair. At the proposed time of the scattering of ashes I would play Bad Reputation, a song by Joan Jett.

When Bad Reputation played I was transfixed. It was my sister’s song to be sure. But there was something much, much more going on. The song was alive with possibilities and it spoke to me, to my core. My hands trembled, my eyes danced.

We played it again. Again, I had the same visceral reaction. I was gobsmacked. And in the same instance, humbled and embarrassed. I felt an intense love for Jo. Not the obvious filial love, not the sweet sad beautiful love for one so treasured departed too soon. This intense love I felt was for Jo as music enthusiast and pioneer and it filled my heart to bursting. It was as if I had heard Bad Reputation for the first time. As it directly related to my sister. As it stands as a song. And it is, my friends, a ripper.

I immediately texted a number of close friends with the following: “We are raising a glass to my sister and playing Bad Reputation. I said to Vicki, I can’t believe it took Jo to die for me to hear how great a song it is. And it’s Jo”.

Damien, who was literally at a bottle shop buying a six-pack came straight over and joined us in our celebration of my sister. A close friend Polly, replied to my text, “Taylor Swift used it as her concert introduction song and I thought exactly the same thing”. In an instance, a song connected friends and family to what Jo stood for.

Bad Reputation is a quintessential rock song. It has a 1950s wrapped in 1960s wrapped in 1970s sound and brashness to it. On its release in 1980 esteemed music critic Robert Christgau, in his review of the album, said Joan Jett comes on “tuffer than any gurl in history”. That is what my sister Jo heard all those years ago. That is what Jo strived to be. In the end she ran out of juice but to her last days she believed, with all her heart that:

A girl can do what she wants to do/And that’s what I’m gonna do/An’ I don’t give a damn ‘bout my bad reputation.

By sheer coincidence in January 2019 Joan Jett and the Blackhearts played the Mornington Racecourse, as part of the Red Hot Summer concert series. Most of the other acts were ho-hum (except for The Living End, they were something else). Then Joan came on and blew the day away.

Somewhere early in her set the bleeding obvious hit me like a hammer. Joan Jett is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! She’s has been touring since the late 1970s! And she is having more fun than anyone at this gig, man. Great tunes, great energy, great presence.

Bad Reputation is her pinnacle. Yeah, you try climbing even half way to there.

We had attended the concert in respect for my sister Jo. Joan cemented the deal.

So there I was, dancing in the mosh-pit, drenched in the moment, singing my lungs out to a feminist mantra from 1980. A song that attracted Jo like a magnet all those decades ago. It took me, oh, I don’t know, another 38 years to be brought to my senses with its raw electric currents. At Mornington Racecourse the palpable, visceral surge from the stage, the performer and the song made me wistful for my sister and delirious for the power of rock and roll.

Parts of this story were first published on The Footy Almanac and Australian Rules websites, under the title of Finding The Joy.

Stereo Story # 492

Rick is a regular reader at Stereo Stories In Concert and a popular contributor to our partner site The Footy Almanac.