Janis Ian

photo by Gerard Viveiros

As the years and decades move on, there sometimes is the perception today's newest pop stars are getting younger and younger. Almost inevitably it's accompanied by stories of bad behaviour by these pop princes and princesses. But there have always been young singing stars. It's just that times were more innocent then. Someone with a unique perspective on this phenomenon is Janis Ian who who wrote 'Society's Child' at the age of 14 with the song becoming a national hit in 1967. Handling the national attention at that time was a lot easier than it seems to be today. 

"There were only five of us who were that young and performing," Janis relates from her Nashville home. "I had lunch with Donny Osmond years ago and he pointed that out to me. There was Donny and myself, Stevie Wonder, Brenda Lee and Michael Jackson. And at that point only Stevie and I were writing." 

At that time there weren't the seemingly endless avenues for exposure there is today what with social media. 

"We used to hope that someday regular radio and TV would use our music because it was so rare. If you're young now you're exposed to a whole different world." 

Being a part of the folk community also played a part in how Janis handled the increased attention. 

"There was much less serious drug involvement," she says. "People smoked pot which nowadays seems so benign. There was a very low tolerance, and still is, in that community for "acting up". You don't hear about folk singers being dragged out of clubs for having fights or walking down the street drunk and decking somebody. You just don't hear about that in the folk world. I think I was lucky to come out of that world." 

Janis has released well over 20 albums throughout her storied career, not counting over a dozen compilation albums. Her latest and most likely last album is The Light At The End Of The Line

"I would say it's going to be my final solo studio album. I loved working, for instance, with Chick Corea, Shirley Bassey, Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton so I don't want to say I will never record again but in terms of my own recordings, this is pretty much it." 

Since it's to be her final solo album Janis wanted it to be the best she's ever recorded. 

"I've spent my whole life trying to live up to songs like 'Jesse' and 'At Seventeen' and my goal was to create an album of songs that would be as good as those songs." 

Strangely enough, Janis can thank the COVID-19 pandemic for giving her the time to accomplish that. 

"It gave me time at home, to look at my body of work and decide what to do with it." 

The opening track on The Light At The End Of The Line is 'I'm Still Standing', which can be taken as a manifesto of Janis' continued talent as a singer-songwriter. 

"As you get older, if you're an artist who started as young as I did, you have a couple of choices to make," she explains. " You can become a nostalgia act, and there's nothing wrong with that. The other alternative is to try and do better than you did before with the advantage of all of those intervening years. I'm a little too curious about the world to only do my older material. When I finished writing 'Resist' and 'I'm Still Standing' I felt I still had something to say that would be relevant." 

Janis has proof she's still got it because 35-40% of album pre-sales were to those 21 years of age and younger. And although 'I'm Still Standing' was written from the point of view of an older person, Janis has seen it resonate with younger performers. 

"To watch this 19 or 20 year old burst into tears and say, 'That's my life!' was really astonishing to me." Janis relates. "I had looked at the song as something I wrote in my 60s, looking back, and yet she felt it was very relevant to her." 

The ultimate goal of any songwriter is to connect with an audience by tapping into a universal truth. 

"You hope you are connecting and transcending gender, race and nationality. To find you have actually managed to hit that mark, it's a joy and it's quite frankly a relief at that point!" 

The title song of Janis' new album is somewhat unusual in that it thanks her audience for the support they've shown over the decades of her career. 

"My tour manager and I had joked 3 or 4 years ago that if I was going to do a last tour we should call it 'The End Of The Line'. I thought that was really depressing so I thought about the light at the end of the line and it had so many layers of meaning to me." 

In the process of writing the song a very important aspect came into view. 

"I realized one of the things I wanted to do, as clichéd and Pollyanna-ish as it sounds, is I wanted to thank my fans. I have people who have stuck by me from the time I was 14 and made my first record and still stick by me. I have fans who came to me through hearing 'At Seventeen' in the movie 'Mean Girls'. I have fans who bring their 7 year old kids to see an acoustic guitarist. I think I'm extraordinarily lucky that at the age of 70 I get to work when I want and where I want. So there was a 'thank you' due and make it clear they were an important part of my life. It's hard to write a song that says exactly what you want it to say and that song for me really wraps it up." 

For more on Janis Ian and The Light At The End Of The Line, go to janisian.com.