Ian’s lyrics as politically relevant as ever
Janis Ian has never shied away from political themes in her songwriting. After all, she “came out” with her 1993 CD “Breaking Silence,” announcing her sexual orientation to the world and earning a Grammy nomination for the effort along the way.When she was a 14-year-old songwriter in 1962, her first hit song, “Society’s Child,” was banned by radio stations as “subversive” because of its message about interracial marriage and American hypocrisy. As the civil rights movement gained momentum, the song went No. 1.Even the Grammy-winning “At Seventeen,” with its lyrics, “And those of us with ravaged faces, lacking in the social graces, desperately remained at home, inventing lovers on the phone …,” became an anthem for disaffected teenagers in the early 1970s by challenging the stereotypes of what constitutes beauty. Ian says her latest CD, “god & the fbi,” wasn’t intended to have any more political edge than her earlier work. But the title track, even though it’s about her activist father’s own run-ins with the FBI and political surveillance in the 1950s, carries a theme that seems as relevant in the post-9/11 era of Big Brother profiling as it would have been during the McCarthy era.Goes one verse of the song:Stay flat don’t rat, what’s a proletariatStalin was a democrat, Washington is where it’s atEvery politician is a sewer of ambitionHide me, hide you, better hide the baby tooWe demand an interviewHow long have you been a JewWe can make you testifyFreedom is no alibi”It’s interesting how songs do that,” Ian said in a telephone interview from her home in Nashville, Tenn., referring to a timely theme in a song that was written about something that happened almost a half century ago.”A lot of times I write a song and don’t really know where it came from. I’m just writing to write. But that song really came from what my father went through,” she said. “I thought I’d turn it into something funny or laughable.”I don’t think the album has any more of a political edge, though,” said Ian, who will perform tonight in Basalt. “I do think it’s a little freer.”Ian’s local concert is part of a Colorado swing that includes stops in Denver and Fort Collins on May 11 and 12 respectively.”We’ve been trying to put together a Colorado tour for several years,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.”Her newer songs, such as favorites “On the Other Side” and “Days Like These,” from “god & the fbi,” make up a good portion of her live concerts these days. But there has been a resurgence in the popularity of her earlier works.”So many people ask for `Society’s Child’ in the shows, so I figure there must be some relevance,” she said. “My fans are pretty vocal about that stuff. It seems to go through phases, and if I hear a song request enough, it goes back in the set.”My concerts are pretty much a blend of the older stuff and the newer stuff. The fun thing about a live audience is that it’s very immediate. If you make a mistake, you go on and hope you do it better the next time,” she said.In the style of other folk musicians who’ve played concerts locally, such as Richie Havens and Christine Lavin, Ian said she also likes the personal touch of staying after the show to meet with fans. “I encourage people to bring their CDs and I’ll autograph them,” she said.”I tell some funny stories, and the shows are a lot less down these days,” said Ian. “I’m at an age when I’m a lot less interested in being depressed. That’s lost its attraction.”In the category of other things that musicians do, Ian also recently narrated the 40-minute film, “Hatching the Past: Dinosaur Eggs and Babies,” to be used in a traveling museum exhibit that just opened in the Midwest and will be making its way to such notable destinations as the Harvard Museum of Natural History.”My partner collects fossils, and in hunting for a present on some websites I found some fans of mine who asked if I’d narrate the film. It was fun, a lot of big words,” said Ian. “Everybody’s got outside interests. Occasionally something will present itself that’s not only interesting, but just big fun.”DETAILSWHOJanis IanWHATIn concertWHEN8 p.m., doors open at 7:30 p.m.WHEREBasalt Middle School auditoriumHOW MUCHTickets $22 in advance at Sounds Easy in Carbondale, Glenwood Music and the Watersweeper & the Dwarf in Glenwood Springs, Basalt Bistro, Great Divide Music in Aspen, and Harrelson Music in Rifle; by credit card by calling 963-1303; or $26 at the door.
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