Friday, September 19, 2008

Society's Child: My Autobiography by Janis Ian

Janis Ian has written a wonderful autobiography aptly named for her infamous mega-hit song, "Society's Child". She was only 15 when she recorded the song, and it shocked America with its subject matter of inter-racial dating. I was a teenager then myself (this was mid-1960s) and remember playing the plaintive 45 single over and over on my phonograph player. It was very inspiring to see a teenager rise up that way.

Many people may think of Ian as a one hit wonder. I knew there was more to her than that, such as the song "At Seventeen". But after reading this book, I am more fully clued into her extensive output as a songwriter. For example, the song "Jesse", was written by Janis Ian. I've always loved Joan Baez's version of "Jesse". During many of the decades since she burst onto the music scene, Ian was more popular in Europe than America and I feel like I lost track of her. Yet she was one of the first musicians to migrate to the MP3/Itunes format, and is still a very active songwriter and performer.

What I most like about reading biographies of artists of any kind is seeing how their life influences their art, and what kinds of struggles they go through to be true to their creativity. The genesis of the song, "Society's Child", for instance - all it took was the sight of an interracial couple on a bus for her creative powers to go to work and write the song. As Ian's life went on, she experienced many difficult health, familial and personal crises which became touch points for her songs.

P. S. Due to hurricane Ike, I have been out of touch electronically. This post is written in haste. I enjoyed reading Society's Child by candlelight during the storm, but now the power is back at the library and we've got plenty of catching up to do. (We still don't have power at home, and think we may be without it for at least a few more days.) I am grateful the hurricane left my family and friends relatively unscathed. Some of the other branches of HCPL, particularly the one in Seabrook, were damaged enough that they have not reopened. Stay tuned....

For further info about Janis Ian, see

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