As the crowd cheers, rock icon Joan Jett returns to the stage for her encore.
Sometimes I’m right, but I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my songs
I recognize the song immediately as a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” as Joan Jett’s raspy voice growls over her guitar.
A butcher, a banker, a drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I’m in
The song choice feels like a political statement in the summer of 2016. In the middle of an election cycle dominated by Donald Trump—a Republican talking about monitoring Muslims and building a wall on the Mexico border to keep out “rapists and criminals,” a man who regularly referred to women as “fat” and “ugly,” who brought up penis size in a debate—Joan Jett is onstage singing a song about intolerance and unity.
I am everyday people
If Joan Jett is making a statement, most of my fellow concertgoers are missing it. This is rural Pennsylvania, close to Pittsburgh but still in the middle of nowhere, an area that was historically Democrat but shifted when a Black man ran for office. T-shirts emblazoned with the Confederate flag dot the outdoor arena’s seats. Even so, the Democratic bent has more to do with the working class than social issues, or what is often dismissively called “identity politics.” My grandfather used to say, “Under Republicans, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” but he was a devout Catholic who would’ve had strong opinions on the legalization of gay marriage had he lived to see it. Jett’s own sexuality has been the subject of rumors for decades.
Then it’s the blue ones who can’t accept
The green ones for living with
The black ones tryin’ to be a skinny one
The crowd had just applauded Joan Jett’s story about the beauty of seeing people helping each other during Hurricane Sandy and how important it was to do that, yet I know most of them would look at someone relying on government assistance and say they were just lazy and didn’t want to work, or that a woman was using the system and intentionally had kids so she could get more money.
And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby
Was “Everyday People” a common part of Jett’s set that she’d chosen to include because of the political climate? Most likely, especially considering set lists on big tours like this change very little night to night. Still, I wonder if she ever took the area and demographic into consideration, if on some nights she gauged what response she might get and took the opportunity to speak about the song and what it meant to her and why she choose it, if she felt that maybe Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, wasn’t the place for that.
We gotta live together
Or maybe night after night, she simply got onstage, guitar in hand, and played, choosing to let the song speak for itself.
Janelle Sheetz is a graduate of Pitt-Greensburg’s English Writing program. Most recently, her work was featured in Ms. magazine, The Good Men Project/Change Becomes You, and Atta Girl. She lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, son, and two cats, and can be found on Twitter @LittleJanelle.