Janis Ian’s soundtrack and Grammy-winning audiobook.
Janis Ian is doing a farewell tour. The soundtrack in my head includes Janis Ian’s At Seventeen and Society’s Child. She was one of the singer-songwriters embraced by the hip kids, and I remember her music of the early 70s.
She won the Grammy in 2013 for her spoken autobiography, Society’s Child, and it is darn good listening. She sings one of her songs to begin each chapter. Recent audiobooks can combine mixed media in an aural delight, and I don’t know how I missed her book the first time around.
Janis Ian is an age peer and was a wunderkind, with a song that charted when she was fifteen. Her autobiography reveals how unprepared she was, emotionally, for the fame that smacked her at that early age. By sixteen she was living on her own, and mixing with the big names –Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix — and excused from the grown-up activity when the hard drugs came out.
Prodigious early accomplishment does not mean one is emotionally equipped to manage it well.
I also didn’t realize what a roller coaster ride she rode with hits, tours, a life of snarling protestors (the inter-racial dating relationship of Society’s Child), and how she was exploited based on her early fame. Her autobiography is the first detailed read I have had of life on the road, and how the cycle of producing the record, releasing records, and touring for a year is a merry-go-round divorced from living a life in a home in a place.
I looked up the dates for my city on her farewell tour to buy tickets, but she’s already sold out here.
Her older adult pictures — out lesbian, short gray hair, colorful glasses — match age peers, but don’t match my memories of the 15-year-old. How could they?
Something is reassuring reading the story of an icon who is just another human with mistakes and regrets and reinvention and eventual satisfaction in a settled life with a partner and a career as a songwriter, science fiction writer, writer of autobiography, columnist.
Her most profitable success was as a songwriter. She also discusses how in mid-life she needed to learn her craft, and if she were to make a living as a songwriter, needed to combine her “purity” with commercial appeal. No shame in that — and also a lesson for us would-be writers, that learning craft is essential no matter native talent nor age, or previous success.
Remember when we were against selling out? And now we’ve transitioned to idolizing money-maximizing entrepreneurs? No wonder we boomers have some mixed values, and some head-snapping to balance our younger selves with our retired selves.
Maybe you can still get tickets to the tour, where you are. It might be a bridge from past to present.