Catching Up With Janis Ian

Janis Ian became a teen star when her song about interracial romance became a hit in 1967. Albums, a coming out, and a memoir followed. We caught up with Ian on tour and found her as interesting as ever.



Janis Ian is a woman on the move. The legendary singer/songwriter is in the middle of a U.S. tour when her convoy pulls over somewhere in the Northwest mountains and she takes the opportunity to sit down for a brief interview with The Advocate. We talk about the recent release of the audio book version of her 2008 autobiography, Society’s Child, which spans over half a century of Ian’s artistic career and personal achievements.

The audio book offers nuances that distinguish it from the original. The intense prologue opens with a 15-year-old Ian attempting to maintain composure on stage while an angry mob chants “N*****-lover!” in time to the beat of her iconic hit song "Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking)." Despite the harsh memories, it was a pleasant surprise to hear Ian’s singing accompanied by the sounds of her guitar integrated into the reading. It was like sitting in her living room, listening to her tell her story; the tone of her voice attuned to the emotion of the dramatic experience.

Ian is a great storyteller. It’s what she does best. Her words rarely stumble and her voice is like a sturdy oak. To witness her vulnerability slip in through the cracks of what is a mostly assertive demeanor is enchanting. How did she manage to hold her own as an adolescent wading through the messy waters of the corporate recording industry?

During a break from one of her first recording sessions, a producer explained to Ian that if she changed one key word in “Society’s Child” — the word black — a number one record would be guaranteed.  “I made the choice not to change it. It became a success despite that, or maybe because of it, who knows. And I’m glad I made the choice I did.” That incident wouldn’t be the last time Ian stuck to her guns when it came to writing her truth.

Tags: Books