I should probably be ashamed to be 41 years old and just now discovering Janis Ian…
The song “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian is one of those songs that you’ll heard on an adult contemporary radio station from time to time. Or perhaps you’ll hear it in an informercial for a singer/songwriter music club. Seems to me that’s where I often caught snippets of old songs I had never been exposed to because of my age. Janis Ian’s plaintive song about growing up looking “weird” no doubt resonates with a lot of people, especially girls. I know if I had listened to this song as a teenager, it probably would have had a profound effect on me. I wasn’t particularly strange looking as a teen, but people thought I was odd. I was terminally dateless until I was 28 years old and I met my husband.
Janis Ian sings “At Seventeen” live in 1976.
Right before she sings in the above video, Janis Ian explains that she was “weird looking” as a teen and this song was born out of that experience. I can only imagine how teens of the mid 70s reacted to this song about the ultimate teen angst. How many young women sang along to this in the privacy of their bedrooms or while driving alone in their cars?
I was inspired to listen to more of Janis Ian’s music after really listening to “At Seventeen” for the first time. Naturally, I discovered her song “Society’s Child”, which also demonstrated Ian’s remarkable ability to say so much with her song lyrics.
Janis Ian sings “Society’s Child”
“Society’s Child” is a song about interracial romance, which back in the 60s was very taboo. Janis Ian wrote it in 1965, when she was just 14. When it was released to the masses, a lot of radio stations refused to play it because it was too controversial Ian has said that she got a lot of hate mail for that song and one radio station in Atlanta that played it was actually burned down. It’s amazing to me that 1965 was just seven years before I was born and I grew up watching The Jeffersons and seeing Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker playing Tom and Helen Willis. As a child, I don’t think I realized how racially divided the world was… and still is. I recently read about a Cheerios commercial that got a lot of heat because it features a biracial couple and their child. This is still an issue even 48 years after Janis Ian wrote her song and yet Janis Ian was brave enough to bring up that subject in 1965.
Really? This is controversial in 2013?
I just purchased Janis Ian’s Grammy winning album Between The Lines and I feel pretty sure I will spend time getting to know it as intimately as I know other favorite albums by artists of Ian’s era. Maybe I was born in the wrong decade.
Janis Ian sings the gorgeous ballad, “Tea and Sympathy”.
Ian has done a lot with her talents, writing music, singing, being a columnist for the LGBT magazine The Advocate, and writing science fiction novels. She really seems like someone who has done a lot of good, using her gifts to make the world a better place. I’m delighted to meet her, even though it’s happening long after it should have.