One of America's best singer-songwriters is coming our way. David Whetstone caught a word with Janis Ian.
JANIS Ian has perfect recall of how her most famous song began to germinate.
“I was at my mom’s house,
sitting at the kitchen table with a guitar on my knee and I was reading the New York Times.
“There was this story about a debutante and it was as if this solved everything for her. I was up and running. The song took about three months to write.”
It was called At Seventeen. It was – and is – a beautiful song and it duly soared to the top of the American charts in 1975 and also won a Grammy that year.
Ian was in her early 20s at the time but she was no stranger to the music world.
The first song on her newly released Best of... album is Hair of Spun Gold which she wrote at the age of 12 and later recorded for her first album, released in 1967 and simply called Janis Ian.
At 13 she wrote and sang her first single, Society’s Child, about an inter-racial romance. It became her breakthrough hit although some American radio stations refused it airtime.
At 60, the highly intelligent and principled singer-songwriter stands by the sentiments expressed by her younger self.
She is, she says, “pretty cool” about performing the early songs. “A lot of my songs are pretty personal but I think that’s one of the reasons people like playing them and singing them.”
Ian was brought up mostly in New Jersey by her left-wing parents. Born Janis Eddy Fink, the fact that she legally changed her name – taking her brother’s middle name as her new surname – denotes a certain independence of spirit.
Her song God & The FBI is said to allude to those times when her parents were under surveillance due to the paranoia engendered by the Cold War.
It is one of a handful of the numbers on the Best of... double CD that she had to record specially for the album.
“I couldn’t get the company that originally recorded it to agree to it,” she says simply.
That was a bit mean, I suggest.
“I thought so. A bit silly.”