Everyday People

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.

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