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15.12.2014
As a lightning bolt of illumination splits the sky, a thunderclap of enlightenment follows. Somewhere around 1999 or the early 2000s I went with a group of co-workers to an early show at the now-defunct, sorely-missed Manhattan nightclub, The Bottom Line. In an effort to pin down the exact date of the show, I checked the "Timelinea€? on the Bottom Line website that lists the performers for each show. Although he couldna€™t answer my question (a€?There were so many appearances!a€?), he was eager to weigh in with his own recollections and praise. Later, her father graduated from Rutgers University and began teaching in the New Jersey public school system. At nine years old, Janis heard Odetta for the first time on a Harry Belafonte television show.
In junior high, shea€™d go to Greenwich Village, meeting with others from camp, to stand around the fountain in Washington Square Park and sing. Her father subscribed to Broadside Magazine which published songs by people like Bob Dylan and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Her recording career got its rocket-propelled start after she wrote a€?Societya€™s Child (Baby, Ia€™ve Been Thinking)a€? based on her observation of an interracial couple.
The psychological battering from pressure to constantly write, tour and record, and the disintegration of her family took its toll. While we cannot be sure that poem was written exactly during that time, it seems to capture her frame of mind. She played a tough weeklong gig in California, but realized that the weather and atmosphere was what she needed.
The album Stars (1974) was followed by her biggest success, Between the Lines (1975) which contained the song a€?At Seventeen,a€? another revealing tract that cut so deep, she was initially afraid to play it to audiences. In 1982, feeling depleted, Janis walked away from a multi-million-dollar record deal with Columbia which had three more albums contracted.
In 1986, her new publisher MCA suggested that Janis work with Nashville writers to improve the marketability of her songs. The years of being a workaholic caught up with her and she became ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
As she finally regained the upper ground in her battle with CFS, Patricia Snyder came into her life, bringing her physical and emotional comfort.
The initial album coming out of this period, Breaking Silence, would be her first in ten years.
The book describes in detail the relationships Janis has had, over the years, with both men and women. Janis had been approached by the gay-oriented magazine, The Advocate to write a monthly column for them. After her moma€™s death, to honor her, Janis established Pearla€™s Foundation, a scholarship fund to help people in their efforts to seek higher education, Her mother had forged ahead and graduated from Goddard College, in spite of her illness, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Janisa€™s most recent albums, God and the FBI (2000), Billiea€™s Bones (2004) and Folk is the New Black (2006) show that her writing is still razor-sharp. Those of us who have been fortunate to stand face to face with Janis will never forget the steady gaze behind which sits one of the formidable minds of our generation. I was shocked to discover how little I actually knew about Janis Ian.A  It wasna€™t until I picked up a copy of her autobiography, Societya€™s Child, that I understood the full depth of Janisa€™s connection to folk music.
The FBI would shape her early life.A  Her family was already being scrutinized before she was born. The book describes in detail the relationships Janis has had, over the years, with both men and women.A  What was horrific about most of Janisa€™s earlier relationships was the amount of betrayal her partners displayed. Lured by a bill that included Tom Paxton and Janis Ian, we knew we were in for an evening of top-notch folk music. She took center stage and began playing fingerstyle guitar with an almost impossibly pristine sound. I know that earlier in my life -- through my 20s possibly into my 50s, I viewed her as a pop artist with a social conscience. A precocious toddler, Janis writes that her father used to say, a€?Janis started talking at seven months and never stopped.a€? At two-and-a-half years old, she persuaded her father, also a master music teacher, to give her piano lessons. The FBI would contact each school administration every two years when hea€™d be up for tenure. With her fathera€™s guitar perched on her lap in the back of the family station wagon, she played it for them.
Janis made a lead sheet like those in the magazine, added the melody, chords and lyrics, put her name and phone number on the page and submitted a€?Hair of Spun Gold.a€? Two months later, her father got a call from the editors.


Janis took guitar lessons with the Reverend Gary Davis, and after the lessons morphed into social occasions, began hanging out with him.
She played regularly after that, which got her noticed and led to a meeting with legendary producer a€?Shadowa€? Morton. Chapters dealing with their separation and divorce and Janisa€™s emotional upheaval are particularly sad. All the Seasons of Your Mind (1967) sold enough to make the national charts, but followup albums, The Secret Life of J.
Harrowing passages describe how a diligent psychotherapist there, Gerry Weiss, pulled her back from near death and personally nursed her back to health. It was provoked partly by a critic referring to her, still a teenager, as a a€?washed-up has-been.a€? It was also partly inspired when she heard Don McLeana€™s a€?Vincenta€? for the first time. She needed to get off the merry-go-round to explore other areas of life, to regenerate her resources. She had talent and wrote deep songs but Nashville writers had the craft to make them more commercial. After she declared her homosexuality, he stood by her and issued an authoritative warning to anyone who might give her trouble: a€?Dona€™t mess with hera€¦a€? He would bolster her confidence in her guitar playing, stressing her individuality. Tragically, her mother, Pearl, had become ill with Multiple Sclerosis and would decline over a 20-year span. She refused, saying a€?I dona€™t write prose,a€? but Pat and an editor provided the idea that Janis would poke holes in the stuffiness of its image and that concept sealed the deal.
Janisa€™s father owned every copy of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction ever printed. Janisa€™s stint as a columnist for Performing Songwriter plumbed her depth of knowledge of the music business. An initial auction of Janisa€™s own personal effects, held on the internet, brought in a total of $66,000. I also became aware of the route by which she developed her sense of social justice, and the emotional, physical and financial hurdles she has overcome.
Her father, then a chicken farmer, was inexplicably picked up by FBI agents after attending a meeting about the price of eggs. Her marriage to her husband descended into physical abuse, psychotic behavior and Janisa€™s near-murder at his hands.
He sounded amused as he recounted the reactions of colleagues when they discovered how well Janis played guitar. My longest-standing memory was (and still is) the way I would get choked up listening to a€?At Seventeen,a€? especially during the ache-filled refrain, a€?a€¦who call to say, come dance with mea€¦a€? Ahh, yesa€¦ Ia€™d had my share of a€?wallflowera€? years and there were more than a few missed dances. It ended a year later because, at three, she was already getting into arguments with him over interpretations and fingering.
In kindergarten she objected to learning her a€?ABCa€™sa€? because she already knew how to read. Theya€™d see interracial and gay couples while being totally ignored by adults -- a completely opposite atmosphere from conservative New Jersey.
She did one more album, Uncle Wonderful (1983) with an Australian publisher, then walked away from the music business. She discovered that her a€?accountanta€? (a bookkeeper without a proper CPA) had embezzled her money and falsely represented her income tax payments. She teamed with accomplished songwriter Kye Fleming both creatively and romantically and found some success and some brief happiness. At the time of the printing of her autobiography, $300,000 had been raised.This preceded, but could have functioned as a road map for eBay. Hunger (1997), completed after a difficult studio experience and filled with glittering gems from start to finish, has become a personal favorite of mine. Janis has finally found happiness in a stable 20-year relationship, a testament to her resilience and intelligence.
Then, Gary insisted that Janis open for him at a Gaslight Cafe gig and the owner reluctantly agreed after Gary threatened to walk out. Shadow disagreed with her a€?Baby, Ia€™ve Been Thinkinga€? title, so when her first record came out, it became a€?Societya€™s Child,a€? with the prior title in parentheses. Although it brought a halt to her relationship with Peter, they remain friends to this day.
The albums Aftertones (1975), Miracle Row (1978), Night Rains (1979), and Restless Eyes (1981) followed. Janis found it liberating to study in areas, such as ballet, where she had no innate ability.


She attended her first Worldcon, the largest gathering of science fiction writers and fans, at the prodding of two of her heroes in the genre, Mike Resnick and Anne McCaffrey. Her article on a€?The ABCs of being the Boss,a€? geared toward musicians, contains a wealth of helpful information for anyone in a supervisory capacity. The agents would hang around, always recognizable in their black suits and ties, even in the heat of August. The albums Aftertones (1975),A  Miracle Row (1978), Night Rains (1979), and Restless Eyes (1981) followed.
After her mom had a talk with the principal, Janis was allowed to read while the rest of the class did their drills.
She practiced, listening to all the records in her parentsa€™ collection, plus some borrowed from family members. A huge success in Japan, she became an iconic star and was (and still is) treated like royalty there.
She also studied acting under Stella Adler, who became a close friend and mentor until Stellaa€™s death in 1992. An avaricious IRS agent appropriately named Granite seemed to take sadistic pleasure in erecting barriers to Janisa€™s attaining any kind of solvency, despite her complete cooperation. After the relationship ended, although Kye, a Nashville native felt awkward, Janis felt that Nashville had become a€?home,a€? and decided to move there permanently. They pushed her to involve a number of other authors to contribute to Stars, a compilation book of short stories based on her songs. Also available is the article Janis wrote for Performing Songwriter, on the free downloading phenomenon, a€?The Internet Debacle.a€? When she reported that downloading actually increased sales, not the opposite, as the record industry had charged, she was called a traitor.
She practiced,A  listening to all the records in her parentsa€™ collection, plus some borrowed from family members. Peter became her love, her rock, an oasis inside of the whirlwind.A  On the music trail, she became friends with stars such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, who tried to protect her from drugs, but the proximity led to some experimentation. She then applied for a scholarship to a prestigious drama program at Loughborough University in England. A local librarian helped Janis a€?retain her sanitya€? by allowing her to take out more books than the usual allotment and picked out more advanced works for her to read. At the Village Gate, she played alongside some of her heroes (sitting between Tom Paxton and Len Chandler) and, after each song, she got a standing ovation. Although she still wrote, and had songs covered by others, she issued no recordings for around 10 years. After sixteen years, the magazine has just ended its publication, but for eight years, Janis imparted her wisdom to the songwriter community.
She started making some of her songs available as free downloads and watched her sales shoot up.
In school, her fellow students at the High School for Performing Music and Art were respectful. We sat there slack-jawed as Janis unleashed a barrage of guitar histrionics that crossed a line -- to borrow a phrase from Star Trek -- where no folkie has ever gone before.
Once a week, past her bedtime, shea€™d secretly listen to a folk show out of Newark at 10pm, a towel stuffed under the door to avoid being heard.
In the first tale, a€?Come Dance With Me,a€? Janis herself makes a thinly veiled appearance. Jealous of her success, they penalized her for absences resulting from performing, even though she got good grades on tests. Janisa€™s own story, a€?Second Person Unmasked,a€? not unsurprisingly deals with a shifting sexuality and the issue of powerlessness. Her first book, "The Girl Code: The Secret Language of Single Women (On Dating, Sex, Shopping and Honor Among Girlfriends)," was released on Valentine's Day 2001 . Asked in a later interview if she had any regrets, she replied, a€?Not for an eighth of a second.a€? She always knew there was no place for a person like her in the American school system.
She has also written for Jane, Esquire, Glamour, and Self magazines and is a regular monthly contributor to Cosmopolitan, Soma, and Gear.
It will examine the lives of several children who escaped from the cult and had to be reintroduced into mainstream society without money, education, or family support.



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