Here’s an exclusive excerpt of the current MAGNET cover story. To read the whole thing, order a copy of the issue here.
Interview by Joan Jett
Photo by Christian Lantry
I met Laura Jane Grace when Against Me! and the Blackhearts were playing the Warped Tour in 2006. This was before Laura’s transition began on a physical level—but on a mental level, the groundwork was being laid. I found her story to be very brave and raw: a story of Laura’s life, trials and tribulations, which shows the common ground of the experience of youth, music and the obstacles of transitioning. Her memoir, Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, is a courageous look at her work in progress, finding her true self. —Joan Jett
Joan Jett: Hello!
Laura Jane Grace: Hey, Joan!
Jett: Hey. How are you doing?
Grace: Good, I’m really good. Are you in L.A.? I just got to L.A. yesterday.
Jett: Really? Yeah, we got to L.A. around four this morning.
Grace: Oh, awesome, are you playing?
Jett: Yeah, we’re playing tomorrow night at the Forum.
Grace: Oh, no way.
Jett: Yeah, we’re in the middle of a tour with Cheap Trick and Heart. It’s about three months. It’s been going really well. Big crowds, you know; there are a lot of hits from those two bands, especially. What are you doing?
Grace: I’m just doing photo stuff with the band. I’d love to come out and see that show if I can.
Jett: Yeah, I think it would be totally great if you guys came to the show.
Grace: Yeah, we’re just out here doing photo stuff. We’re on tour in, like, two weeks.
Jett: I’m almost done with your book! I wanted to finish it before we spoke. It’s one of those reads where you just wanna find out what happens! Right now, I’m just starting chapter 10. You’re a wild motherfucker, man! [Laughs]
Grace: [Laughs] I’m terrified of the idea of people reading my book. I mean, you’re, like, my friend, and I’m terrified of the idea of people reading what is basically my diary, you know?
Jett: Right! But I don’t think it’s anything to be scared of, really; it’s just kind of a window into all the stuff you were going through. I think it’s very brave, actually, very brave. I really do see a lot of my own self in that kind of stuff—you know, the partying and just, you know, all the craziness of rock ’n’ roll, punk rock, the whole dream.
Jett: And how similar it can be to reality and how different your perception of it is. Does that make any sense?
Grace: Oh, completely, yeah. You know, like there’s all those moments where you find yourself thinking, like, “Woah, I’m doing that thing I imagined myself doing when I was younger.” And this is actually it, and it’s happening. And comparing what you thought it would be like to what it’s actually like is pretty stark.
Jett: Yeah, definitely. So … what are we supposed to talk about? Oh, I wanted to ask you something specific. You know how that North Carolina law went into effect? Of course, you do. We were gonna not play North Carolina, and then we started hearing from a lot of gay/trans fans saying, “Why are you punishing us for what those assholes did?” And so, I started thinking about it, and I thought, “You know what? Why not just go in there? Stick it up their asses, and give the money to organizations that help prevent discrimination, you know, across the board.” To me, that’s the way I want to fight ’em. Those politicians, who want to keep this stuff; we want to put it right in their face in some sense. I just want that government to take notice.
Grace: I agree 100 percent. That’s the reality of it, too. The people who make shitty laws like that and who are discriminatory—they have money. We need to fight against things like that. Unfortunately, the opposition needs to be funded, too. That’s just the way it is.
Jett: It is the way it is. So that’s why I think it’s a good way to fight it. Take the money that we make at the gig and just put it right back in the community. Say we’re real, we mean it, we want to play here, we don’t need these kind of politicians to go and screw up your state. I think that most North Carolinians aren’t at the heart of this. I don’t think they’re so hateful. If they explore their own lives, they’ll find people in their own families who, on some level, are in these communities—gay, lesbian, trans, whatever. They all know people who they care about that are in these communities, and we aren’t going anywhere, so they’ve gotta get used to it.
Grace: This relates: I know that one of the things that MAGNET wanted us to talk about was when we first met at the Warped Tour. And the Warped Tour has this similar thing to that. I know maybe not as much back then when we did it, but nowadays there’s, like, military recruiters at the Warped Tour. I heard something about them having a pro-life booth at the Warped Tour. A lot of bands have that argument—I’m against those things, but I’m doing the Warped Tour or doing whatever tour, so I can be there as a sign of opposition to that. Stuff like that though, the military recruiters and all that—when do you think the advent of all that was? Like, do you remember that in the ’80s/’90s, or was it strictly like the 2000s that that started happening?
Jett: What, seeing the military recruiters there? It probably did start … the beginning of the 2000s. I’m not sure if I remember seeing that in the mid-’90s. I just remember that I’ve been seeing them around for a long time. We were in eastern Europe in the ’90s, and my military take on this might be a little different. Because after the Runaways broke up, I was in a really bad place—way fucked up, partying way too much. My dream had just been destroyed; I felt like a whole city was laughing at me, saying, “Told you it wouldn’t work, told you it wouldn’t work.” And at that time, I kind of stood out—it was before everybody was dressing punk rock and it was sort of ubiquitous, the way it is now, you know, there’s a lot more kids out there. But I just felt really … I didn’t know what to do. It was at that point: “I don’t think I want to kill myself, but I’m sad enough that I want to think about that,” I don’t know, I guess at one point I thought, “Maybe, I’ll join the military.” It’ll give me a couple of years to figure out what the hell I want to do; I’ll get some kind of training. I was kind of thinking along those lines, seriously, for about two weeks. And then I met Kenny Laguna, who became my songwriting partner first and then my manager because nobody would manage me. And then producer. And so, when I look at the military, I see a lot of those people being me—I could be there. And it’s, like, a lot of people join the military not to fight wars but to do exactly what I was looking to do. Figure out a direction. Figure out what you want to be in life. I didn’t know if I was at the end of my teenage dream of becoming a rock star and I had to look for something different or if I could continue to play music. But at that point, I couldn’t, and I needed to figure out what to do. So I feel differently about the military in a sense that people are here—god forbid there ever is a war on our land or anything—to protect us. And given that there only is about one percent of people serving, that’s not very large. There’s not many people who really feel the need to give back at all. It’s an interesting angle, too—you see different countries where service is mandatory. I kind of think that’s a good idea.
Grace: I get that, too. I understand that conflict being, like, “No, I’m against militarization and I’m against war.” But at the same time, I grew up in a military family. I know the benefits that my family has from seeing the world and traveling at a young age. It is people like that. I have family members, too, who joined up for those reasons that you’re talking about, who probably would have killed themselves if they didn’t have that direction to go in. It was a positive thing in their life, for whatever reason, and it didn’t have anything to do with them wanting to start wars. It’s a tough conflict—it’s tough when it comes to recruiters being at a festival, but I don’t know, it’s one of those things, you know?
Jett: I guess they just go where the young people are, you know? That’s what it boils down to. I don’t have any kind of visceral reaction as far as going, “Oh my god, they gotta get the fuck outta here!” I just normally go, “Oh, you know, somebody might be interested, it might save somebody’s life today.” Who am I to judge? That’s when I start getting into that—who am I to proclaim that I know more?
Grace: Did you feel more like that when you were younger, or did it take you awhile to get to that place?
Jett: Oh no, it took me awhile! That’s why it’s so hard to grow up in our lifestyle. It’s hard to grow up; it’s a difficult thing if you make it, not just physically. It’s the mental aspect of it—you know, your brain is made to think, and that’s what it does. What we do is we get caught up in the thought. I read a lot of books trying to get myself away from my ego and away from all of those mind games. You know, if you’re in a car and you’re driving across town and all the sudden you think, “How did I get here? I wasn’t even paying any attention, and now I’m here.” That’s called the working mind. And the thinking mind is the mind that’s going, “Am I going too fast? Was I supposed to make a left?” All that bullshit that screws us up instead of us just being in the moment. I know that just sounds like the same old prose that people give about things, but you know that I find that growing up mentally has been … I like it!
Grace: Sometimes, you need those sharp edges to be grounded a little bit. That makes you a better person, when you have those experiences that kind of test those things.
Jett: Yeah, I mean, I can get very explosive. I recognize myself in you and parts of the book, and you know—quick to anger, ready for a fight. And I don’t want to be like that anymore. I want to be able to have some level of control over angry thoughts—there’s too much anger in the world now. I don’t want to contribute to that. That part of growing older and being able to say, “Take a breath, walk away, don’t talk now because you know you’re gonna say some stupid shit.” It’s stuff you don’t mean that’s very hurtful. That’s where you’ll go, you’ll go for the heart, and you don’t wanna do that. It’s becoming bad karma. If it’s somebody I don’t want to deal with, I just leave it, as opposed to trying to get them back or whatever. I don’t know if I’m making sense.
Grace: No, totally. That’s what’s fucked up is, in response to whatever your conditions are. For me, I was quick to anger and quick to fighting and everything like that because I always got my ass kicked. So, like, I had to become that way in order to survive through certain situations. But you get to the point where, because of the hassle that is caused by trouble like that, you have to unlearn those reflexes once you become an adult. Which is fucked up, because it wasn’t your fault to begin with!