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.



Ian on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson


Years later, Ian wrote for The Advocate, as the resident iconoclast and was still getting herself into trouble. “I wrote one article called ‘Lesbian Chic: A Contradiction in Terms’ and it came out when my partner and I were on vacation in Provincetown and Lea DeLaria had to defend me against a group of enraged lesbians.” Ian often leaves a trail of controversy in her wake. But it doesn’t seem intentional; it’s just in her nature. Ian isn’t pretentious in her disagreement; she just tells it like she sees it and lets what may come, come. 

Ian’s personal relationships with both men and women also stirred up controversies for the folk singer, mainly in her earlier years. After her first marriage to a man ended in 1983, Ian came out as a lesbian a decade later. Or so everyone thought. “I was actually outed in 1977 in The Village Voice, but nobody picked up on it which was fortunate, because I would have no career otherwise.”

Since then, Ian's been happily married to her female partner since 2003 and has contributed to LGBT communities just by being herself — the same way she contributed to the civil rights and women’s liberation movements with her music in the 1960s. “I would hope that just being out and talking about my partner for the past 25 years in public has some kind of effect [on people].”

And the fight continues, according to Ian, who still raises awareness of gender inequality. “There’s still no female head of a record label, there’s still no female head of a major publishing company, and hasn’t been and won’t be in the foreseeable future. So, things have changed, but not enough.”

What can we look forward to seeing next from the renaissance woman? A children’s book based on one of her latest songs, "The Tiny Mouse." Nothing too controversial there, though she is working on a new album expected for a 2014 release, so maybe we shouldn’t speak too soon.

The digital version of Society's Child: My Autobiography is available now.

Tags: Books