Legendary singer/songwriter Janis Ian is a nine-time Grammy Award Nominee. She is best known for "At Seventeen," a song that brought her five Grammy nominations (the most any solo female artist had ever garnered) in 1975, and now, it's reaching its third generation of listeners. She is also the writer of "Jesse," a song recorded by many artists, but few remember Janis wrote it. "Stars" is another one of Janis' big songs which has been recorded by such artists as Mel Torme and Cher.
Janis Ian was born April 7, 1951, and started playing the piano at age two. Far from being a child prodigy on that instrument, she hated scales and studying, and switched to guitar at age ten. ("I figured out that while you couldn't carry a piano, you could carry a guitar, and that was it"). Janis' first song was written at twelve and recorded on her first album for Verve-Folkways in 1965, which also featured her first hit, "Society’s Child." The song ignited controversy from coast to coast, resulting in the burning of a radio station, the firing of disc jockeys who played it, and a generation hungering for the truth finally having a female songwriter to stand beside Bob Dylan.
At the age of eighteen, Janis took a break, retiring to Philadelphia for three years "to find out if I had it in me to be a good songwriter, or if I should just go to school and become a veterinarian." Janis returned to singing in 1973 with the stunning "Stars" album, and went on to cover the decade with number one records worldwide. Her follow-up to "Between the Lines," titled "Aftertones," was #1 in Japan for an astonishing six months, a record still unbroken by a female artist. "Night Rains," featuring the Giorgio Moroder collaboration "Fly Too High," managed to go platinum throughout Europe, Africa, and Australia.
In 1983, after ten unbroken years of making records and touring, Ian took an unprecedented nine year hiatus from the visible music world, studying acting with the legendary Stella Adler and "in general, learning how to be a person." During that period, she married and divorced, suffered two emergency surgeries, lost all her savings and home to an unscrupulous business manager, and moved to Nashville, TN in 1988 "penniless, in debt, and hungry to write." She returned to the music business with 1992's "Breaking Silence," which immediately garnered her ninth Grammy nomination.
"It was good to start young," says Janis. "It was good to learn, early on, that what matters is the music. I got most of my big mistakes over with before I was twenty-one. When people say 'Didn't you miss having a teenage life?' I just say 'I only know the life I lived. I was a teenager, working. A hundred years ago, no one would have thought anything of it. At least I got to do something I loved! I could have been working in a factory, or a day job where every day is the same thing, day in and day out. Instead, I got to deal with everything from doing coke with Jimi Hendrix to death threats. I lived an entire life in my teen years, and I don't regret a second of it."
2008 saw a double-whammy: "Society's Child: My Autobiography," released in North America by Tarcher/Penguin, received stellar reviews; O Magazine called it "Hugely readable" and recommended it as one of 27 "must-reads." Mojo Magazine gave it a four star review, and Booklist a starred review that ended with "painfully candid, and hard to put down." The accompanying double CD-set, "Best of Janis Ian: The Autobiography Collection," contains 31 tracks, and is the first "best of" Janis has ever released in North America. From start to finish, it unearths such gems as Janis' very first demo recording ("Hair of Spun Gold," sung into her father's tape recorder when she was thirteen years old), and features all the classics, completely re-mastered from the original sources, as well as never-before-heard bonus tracks.
Janis is not an artist for the faint of heart, for timid souls who prefer Britney Spears auto-tuned vocals to the voice of real experience. Both the book and the CD set offer an outspoken look behind the scenes, not just of her life, but of the music industry as well. Her story of an agonizing "showcase" for Clive Davis makes you appreciate your own day job. The harrowing years she spent watching her ex-husband decline, from loving partner to threatening her life, are as truthful and straightforward as they are painful to read. And don't forget the good! The end of "Society's Child" is particularly poignant, as Janis finally meets the love of her life, Patricia. The two were married in Toronto in 2003 and have been together for over twenty years.
Now Janis is once again going back on tour with a stop a New York stop at Queens Theatre on April 21 at 2pm and 8pm! Come hear the songs of your youth or introduce this legend to the next generation. Click here for tickets!
For more on Janis be sure to visit http://www.janisian.com!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a singer/songwriter? I grew up in a family filled with music. My parents listened to jazz, folk, classical all the time, so it was a natural thing that, when my father began subscribing to Broadside Magazine, I take note of the songwriters.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Gosh. Everyone. David Bowie. Levon Helm. Joe Henry. Bonnie Raitt. The list goes on...
3. What excites you about your upcoming concert at Queens Theatre on April 21? I've been a performing artist since the age of 14, in 1965 -- and I've never, to my memory, done a solo show in Queens! Plus, you're near Flushing, right? My best friend, Janey Street, is from Flushing. We used to meet "under the clock" all the time, then go get egg creams.
4. What will you bring to this concert that you haven't brought to previous concerts? A map of Queens...
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing your concert? The desire to make me president?
6. One of your many hit songs include "At Seventeen." Looking back, what did it meant to you to be nominated for 5 Grammy Awards? Now you have 9 Grammy nominations. What does an honor like this mean to you now? It was, and is, a huge thing to be nominated for that many at once. At the time, only four other females had that distinction - Aretha Franklin was one of them. Heady company. And it was recognition from my peers, which, after the hard times of "Society's Child", meant a great deal.
It means the same thing now - peer recognition. One of the absolute highlights of my life was seeing Ella Fitzgerald stand up to lead my standing ovation. I'll never forget it!
7. You started the Pearl Foundation, named after your mother. What made you want to start this foundation and what personal satisfaction have you received from it? My mother went back to school in her 40's, with my financial assistance. Despite having multiple sclerosis, over the course of fourteen years she managed to earn a college degree. It meant more to her than anything in her life but her children. I put her through college, I helped put my brother through college, I put my partner through college, so I've seen first-hand the enormous generational changes education brings. I was raised to believe in giving back. This is my way to do that.
8. In addition to your music and foundation, you are also a successful author from writing your autobiography to science fiction. What made you want to start writing? Writing prose, you mean? My friend Mike Resnick signed me up for an anthology, and I suddenly had a deadline...
9. What did you learn about yourself from writing your autobiography, "Society's Child"? What was like to go back through your catalog of music for the accompanying "Best of Janis Ian" album? I learned that writing is writing, be it songs, articles, fiction, or an autobiography- I love writing, period.
Going back through my old catalogue was enlightening, and sometimes painful! There was work I'd forgotten, work that made me sit back and think "Wow. That's pretty good!" There was other work I'd forgotten that should remain forgotten.
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? Slow down.
11. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? My partner, Pat!
12. Favorite way to spend your day off? Laying by the water, reading, then cooking lobster for dinner.
13. Favorite skin care product? Water.
14. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Eternal health.