Lita Ford on Karaoke, Tattoos, and Staying True to Your Crotch
The Verizon Amphitheater in Irvine, where Lita Ford is playing on the “Rock of Ages” tour with Def Leppard and Poison, is basically a small village of beer and food stands located just off of a hidden toll road you have to pass through twice to get there. When my friend and I arrive, absolutely nobody has any idea where I’m supposed to be, and the parking lots have names like Eagle and VIP, and everyone has walkie-talkies that blare off that I’m supposed to be in one place or another. At one point, I get stuck at the Eagle gate with an awesome dude from Wounded Warriors who says he’s waiting for the Def Leppard drummer’s wife to come get him, because he’s an old buddy of theirs, and the Def Leppard dude conducts PTSD workshops for veterans. That guy was awesome, and he told me if I ever wanted to get in contact with him that I should phone up Wounded Warriors and “ask for Burn Victim guy.”
So I’m passed around from gate to gate until the manager of the whole amphitheater takes pity on me and drives me backstage in her little golf cart. The backstage crew fills up a bunch of Poison’s roller coolers with bottled water and Heinekens, and the lady sitting by a vacant neck-massage contraption can’t stop talking about how hot it is and where the fans are blowing. When we finally get into Lita’s dressing room, she’s still getting ready, blow-drying her hair in the bathroom. Her manager, Bobby, and his assistant, Andrew, are possibly the most pleasant people in the entertainment business, and Lita takes one look at my friend’s Canon and says, “You wanna get in the bathroom with me?!” I’m a little jealous, because my photographer friend is French, knows nothing about American rock music, and keeps saying, “Is Laura Ford, yeah?,” and yet she gets to hang out and have girl time with the queen of 80s metal, but whatevs. Instead, I just loiter outside the bathroom, eavesdropping their conversation.
The first thing I catch that strikes me is Lita saying something about her having a girlfriend who likes to take pictures of her in her panties in the bathroom, and I’m all like Joey Lawrence about it—fucking whoa. But then I’m like, maybe she’s just saying “girlfriend” like how my mom says she’s going to the scrapbooking convention with her “girlfriends.” But even then, I’m like, you gotta be pretty comfortable with your sexuality to be OK with a girlfriend wanting to take pictures of you in your panties in the bathroom, and then I think of the 2009 interviews Lita did that got some gay folks fuming mad and pointing the homophobic finger when she said that Joan Jett’s fans are gay, and her fans are straight. BUT it should be noted that back in 2009, she was also still with her now-ex-husband, who honestly looks like a giant douche and whose Google image searchness produces a flattering photo of him manhandling Lita and grabbing her breast onstage. She ditched the dipshit last year, because he was violent and controlling, and I’ll just go on the record saying that she’s totally allowed to flip-flop from not knowing stuff about gay people to wanting to know stuff about gay people, because that means she’s HUMAN.
Anyway, we sit down for the interview, and she says, “The last party I went to was Gene Kirkland the photographer’s fiftieth birthday party, and it was on a Saturday night.” SCORE! But she didn’t get laid. When I ask her what her favorite karaoke song is, she stalls, says, “Probably ‘Tush’ by ZZ Top, because it’s easy to sing…I’m not real big on karaoke to tell you the truth. I have never sang karaoke, but I like watching.” Me, too, Lita. Me, too. But not like that. At this point, it becomes difficult to hear, because Def Leppard is giving a sound check that literally shakes the floors. When they stop for a couple minutes, and we finally have silence, she kind of drifts off for a second, pulls her knees up to her chest like an adolescent and says, “I wish they would play again. I love it when they play.” When I first walked into the interview, I couldn’t help but wonder why Lita would want to go on tour again. My French friend was sure it was money problems from the messy divorce, but after watching her geek out over Def Leppard like my Aunt Barbara used to do every time “Pour Some Sugar on Me” played outside the TCBY, I think it’s pretty clear she’s an earnest person who really loves playing a guitar when her husband isn’t groping her tits in public. Isn’t that what any woman wants?
Speaking of the husband again, Lita speaks of her husband when I ask her if she still likes all her ink. She says, “I do. I do. It’s funny, because at first I didn’t want any tattoos…there’s a story behind it. And my ex-husband wanted me to get his name tattooed on me, and I didn’t want it, so I got this Gillette, and Gillette is my kids, and I figured, you know what, they’re my kids…and they’ll always be my kids, so I was ok with getting this—that wasn’t good enough for him [douche ex-husband].” She goes on, pointing out another shoulder tat he asked her to get, then finally tells the story of the black widow hourglass on her forearm, saying, “Then I got this, which said his name under it, and I didn’t want it. I thought, I really didn’t want this. As a matter of fact, the tattoo artist said, you don’t really want this tattoo, do you, and I said, no I don’t, and he said, what do you want me to do, and I said, just do it. So he put his name on there…That’s where I got the idea for “Branded,” because he [dipshit ex] pretty much branded me.” And then she covered it up with a black widow symbol, because she’s the fucking queen of metal.
We get to talking about powerful ladies like her Runaways sisters by way of talking about gay people. This seems like a big theme here, and I promise I did not direct it this way at all. She says, “I never knew anything about being gay or being straight. I never knew that girls go with girls and guys go with guys. I never knew that until I joined The Runaways, and The Runaways were gay. And after the first couple of days, I realized that the girls were with other girls, and it shocked me. I didn’t know that girls did that. It really took me some figuring out. I actually, I quit the band when I found out The Runaways were gay. I quit, because it freaked me out. I didn’t know how to handle it. I wasn’t prepared for it. So I went home, and I was home for a couple of days, and I started thinking about it, and I started thinking so what. So what. What’s the big deal….I started thinking please call me back, call me back and—cuz I quit—I started thinking oh god, I quit. They’re gonna go out and they’re gonna be rockstars, and they’re gonna tour the world and play big arenas.”
And this is where I jump in and say, “Yeah, those gays are gonna rule the world!” To which she frowns, confused, and says, “I didn’t look at it that way. Not anymore. I didn’t go there, and I started thinking oh please call me back, but two weeks later the phone rang, and it was the girls, and they said, ‘Lita we can’t find anyone to replace you. Please come back.’ And I went yes, I was so happy. I put my amplifier and my guitar on the car, and I never thought about it again.”
Almost ten years ago, I saw Joan Jett play at an Indian casino in mid-Michigan, and I remember thinking her arms are fucking toned and she totally lords over that young guy she recruited to play bass. It’s really easy to see how there could have been a rift between the two lady rockers, because Lita feels like someone stuck her with a pin and now she’s forever oozing emotion out of the hole, while Joan kind of scares the shit out of me, AND I have no idea how anyone could dare doubt her terrifying love for rock and roll. Add onto that Lita’s crazy-long marriage to an asswipe with a shitty green mohawk who brands her and you’ve probably got Joan slowly backing out of the room all Bartleby the Scrivener like, “I’d prefer not to.” (Yeah, I just threw down a Melville reference in this article. Read something, assholes.)
When we near the end of the interview, Lita shows off the leather onesie with the black widow symbol she had made for the show. I say something I never say in real life, “God your waist must be so tiny,” because I’m kind of overwhelmed by the girlish energy Lita exudes, and I’m wearing makeup for the first time in over a year, so this is the equivalent of a slumber party for me. She totally blushes and kind of beams. Then my friend positions Lita by the door and takes a few photos of her. She runs through a series of poses like a pro, sometimes attempting to hide the tats, and I feel like this has to be weird for her, not posing with a slick guitar and not being on top of a car like a hood ornament. She’s a mom of two and she’s one of those sex goddesses you hear about. I watch her make a smoldery-eye look, but she doesn’t look like the woman I met until she poses with me for a photo I tell her is for my personal mementos. She’s a strong and energetic lady, and she strikes me as a person who’s still trying to figure out how to be that in her chosen world when middle-aged assholes in the Poison crowd are calling her “that girl.” She’s a grown-ass woman, and she used to shred with The Runaways, and she co-wrote one of the most wicked Ozzy ballads, and when I ask her what she’d tell some of those young ladies who get the luxury of a whole camp devoted to balancing the gender lines in music, while Lita had to marry that douchebag ex-Nitro singer, she says, “Stay true to what’s in your heart, musically. Whether it comes from your heart or your crotch, it doesn’t really matter. Just stay true to yourself.”
Photos by Cecile Anne Inga