Janis Ian looks forward and back
By Ed Condran, Correspondent
Oct 17, 2008
Not everyone can write songs and books. But after penning her
autobiography, "Society's Child" last year, Janis Ian discovered that
she was adept at crafting words in a lyrical and literary style.
"Writing the book came pretty easily to me," Ian says, calling from
her Nashville home. "I enjoy writing, no matter what style it's in."
Ian, 57, completed the tome in less than a year. It was a bit of a
challenge for her because the forward-thinking tunesmith isn't used
to looking back.
"It was an interesting exercise since I've always been about: What
happens next? What's the next project?" Ian says. "But I found it
really fascinating going back."
The folkie was surprised by how she felt about what she once
considered precious. "When I took the long view of my life, I was
surprised how unimportant it all was," Ian says. "A lot of things
that I thought mattered didn't matter at all."
Ian treasures her fans, but some of her fondest memories are about
responses she received from peers.
"I'll always look back happily at Ella Fitzgerald leading the
standing ovation for me at the Grammys," Ian says. "I am also proud
of how supportive Joan Baez and Dave Van Ronk were. Those are some of
my richest memories."
A compilation, "Best of Janis Ian: The Autobiography Collection," is
part of the package. Such hits as "Society's Child," "Jesse" and "At
Seventeen" are included in the two-disc set.
"I was so excited about putting out this album since the songs are
remastered and just sound so great," Ian says. "There's a lot of
negatives about the music industry, but one positive is that you can
make these older songs sound terrific."
Ian will render tracks from her canon on Thursday at the Arts Center
in Carrboro. She'll also talk about the stories in her tome.
"But I'm not going to do a book reading," Ian says. "I'm going to
talk from the book. I'll pass on some of the things I've learned.
There are things I want to pass on, not just about me but about
[interacting with] Stella Adler and Janis Joplin. I think there's
some really interesting stuff in my book."
The soft-spoken Ian isn't sure what she'll work on next. "After I
finish this tour (in November), I'm going to take a little break,"
Ian says. "Who knows what's on the horizon?"
She is fairly certain that this is her last autobiography. "I think
one of these [books] is enough," Ian says. "I'll just go back to
Janis Ian Looks Back At The '60s
By Russell Hall
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Janis Ian will probably always be best known as the child prodigy who
wrote "Society's Child," a Top 10 hit that stirred up controversy
with its theme of interracial romance. As her recently published
autobiography makes clear, however, Ian's life has been rich, varied
and filled with more twists and turns than a Hollywood suspense film.
The book's companion 2-CD set, "Best of Janis Ian: The Autobiography
Collection," traces the arc of her career thus far. The legendary
singer-songwriter will perform at the Handlebar in Greenville on Oct. 24.
Russell Hall: What was the hardest thing about writing your autobiography?
Janis Ian: Just sitting down and starting. Like I do for any
long-term project, I set aside a year for it. I wanted it to be a
great beach read. I wanted it to be more "John Grisham" than "Marcel Proust."
RH: The early part of the book deals with the mid '60s Greenwich
Village folk scene. What was that period like?
JI: What I remember most is how colorful it was. The British Invasion
brought all that Renaissance-style clothing the types of clothes
Brian Jones and the Stones were wearing. There was also an incredible
heady atmosphere of cross-fertilization between all different genres
of music. A bill at the Fillmore East might include the Doors, B.B.
King, Taj Mahal and me. You could see all different types of music
and all different types of writers and performers. It made for an
incredible bloom of astonishing music.
RH: Was it all camaraderie, or was there competition as well?
JI: There was a lot of camaraderie. I don't mean to gloss over
anything, because it was also true that Bob Dylan, for instance, was
publicly using Phil Ochs as a whipping boy. There was also some
backbiting and jealousy after I had success with "Society's Child."
RH: Did the resentment toward you surprise you?
JI: It shocked me. Who would have believed that would come from the
folk community? I think a lot of it stemmed from the fact that I was
young, and that I hadn't paid my dues. That other factor was the
simple fact that I had the nerve to have a hit record. In those days,
if you were a folk singer, you weren't supposed to have a hit record.
The feeling was that if that happened, you lost your street cred. But
what's the ultimate goal? The ultimate goal is to be heard
RH: Two friends who did support you were Janis Joplin and Jimi
Hendrix. What were they like?
JI: I think the public at large saw and sees Janis as a boozing,
brawling, shorter-wired version of Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey. But to
me, she was always extremely vulnerable and shy. The boozing was all
a facade. And that worked great as a facade, but at the same she was
writing to her parents about all she had managed to accomplish, and
they just didn't get it. In the case of Jimi, he was all about music.
He was graceful, and gracious and wonderfully accepting.
RH: Do you think the explosion of creativity that happened in the
'60s could ever happen again?
JI: No. The closest thing I've seen to that was Nashville, circa '84
to '90. But even there, it didn't compare. It's impossible to explain
those times to people who didn't live through them. You can no more
do that than explain what it's like to be in a war to someone who's
never experienced war.