Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
May 23rd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Fringe Folk

music janisianJanis Ian: still a voice for the marginalized

As the 18th-century writer Jonathan Swift once observed, “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” Gender bias aside, that statement rang especially true in the mid-’60s, when the racial tension of the times voiced itself through a 14-year-old folk singer/songwriter with a genius-level IQ. Sung from the perspective of a white girl being condemned for having a black boyfriend, Janis Ian’s song “Society’s Child” earned its precocious young composer numerous death threats. Strangers spit in her food at restaurants, tripped her at concerts and sent her copious amounts of hate mail, sometimes placing razor blades in the envelopes to make her cut her fingers. One especially enterprising dunce (or perhaps a confederacy of them) even burned down an Atlanta radio station for playing “Society’s Child.”

Ian, now 61, recalls the backlash to that song as “Unfortunate. But on the other hand, [it was] a really marvelous lesson in the power of music. You’re touching somebody, and you’re making somebody stop and think.”

Ever the button-pusher, Ian currently maintains a same-sex marriage in, of all places, Nashville. The vocalist, who used to get so much hate mail from the southern states for “Society’s Child” that her manager refrained from booking her in venues within 50 miles of the Mason-Dixon Line, says she hasn’t caught much flak from the locals for her so-called lifestyle choice. “I think, particularly living in the south, people tend to be more tolerant of eccentricity and differences,” she states. “If you’re not in their face, then they’re not going to worry about it, really.”

While the song “Danger Danger” from Ian’s most recent studio album, 2006’s Folk is the New Black, points out that there’s still plenty of room for cultural growth in the U.S. (“We gonna ban Walt Whitman and Jean Cocteau/All the queers will have to go … Ban all the wetbacks, ban all the fags/Wrap it up tight in the American flag”), the singer says she’s feeling good about the country at the moment. “God knows there’s enough lunatics out there,” she notes. “They always seem to shout louder and shout more often. But I think there’s been a real shift, and hopefully that shift will continue.”

Underscoring Ian’s point, “Society’s Child,” the song that inspired death threats in the ’60s, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001. Slightly less emblematically—though no less impressively—the audio version of Ian’s autobiography “Society’s Child” won the 2013 Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album, beating out works by Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Rachel Maddow and Ellen Degeneres.

As Ian mentions in her autobiography, she’s most in her element when writing sad songs. The proof is in such stingingly honest pieces as “At Seventeen” and “Stars,” the likes of which would make excellent on-hold music for suicide encouragement hotlines. Yet the composer explains that when she expresses her most melancholy moods in song, it’s from a retrospective point of view. “It’s hard to write when you’re sad,” she notes. “You don’t have a lot of energy left over for things.” The singer adds that she’s a generally happy person. “I think my show is pretty happy, outside of the songs, if that makes any sense,” she says with a chuckle.

Ian performs at Kuumbwa Jazz on Sunday, March 31. While older tunes like “At Seventeen” and “Society’s Child” will most definitely be on the set list “because that’s what people are paying for,” the vocalist will also present plenty of new material, including three or four songs from an album yet to be released. “People are welcome to bring old vinyl and stuff like that,” she offers. “I hate to see people disappointed when they realize I’ll sign whatever they bring. I’ll even sign other people’s records if it makes them happy.”  Photo: Peter Cunningham


Janis Ian plays at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 31 at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25. For more information, call 423-7970.

Comments (1)Add Comment
Wonderful performer
written by Krash, March 27, 2013
Just made her show at McCabe's in LA. Absolutely fantastic - felt like I was in my living room. I'd forgotten how many of her songs I knew!

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Gate Openers

Up-and-coming artists like Ryan Bingham are a great reason to show up early to the Santa Cruz American Music Festival

 

Gemini Sun, Pentecost, Shavuot—Enlightenment and Gladness

As the sun enters Gemini on Sunday, sign of speaking, communication, thinking, inter-relations, writing and understanding languages, the feast days of Pentecost & Shavuot (Catholic and Jewish festivals) occur. During Pentecost’s 50 days after Easter, tongues of fire appear above the heads of the disciples, providing them with the ability to understand all languages and all feelings hidden in the minds and hearts of humanity. It’s recorded that Pentecost began with a loud noise, which happened in an upper room (signifying the mind). The Christ (World Teacher) told his disciples (after his ascension) when encountering a man at a well carrying a water pot (signs for Age of Aquarius) to follow him to an upper room. There, the Holy Spirit (Ray 3 of Divine Intelligence) would overshadow them, expand their minds, give them courage and enable them to teach throughout the world, speaking all languages and thus able to minister to the true needs of a “seeking” humanity. Pentecost (50 days, pentagram, Ray 5, Venus, concrete and scientific knowledge, the Ray of Aquarius) sounds dramatic, impressive and scary: The loud noise, a thunderous rush of wind and then “tongues of fire” above the heads of each disciple (men and women). Fire has purpose. It purifies, disintegrates, purges, transforms and liberates (frees) us from the past. This was the Holy Spirit (Ray 3, love and wisdom) being received by the disciples, so they would teach in the world and inform humanity of the Messiah (Christ), who initiated the new age (Pisces) and gave humanity the new law (adding to the 10 Commandments of the Aries Age) to Love (Ray 2) one another. Note: Gemini is also Ray 2. Shavuot is the Jewish Festival of Gladness, the First Fruits Festival celebrating the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses as the Aries Age was initiated. Thus, we have two developmental stages here, Jewish festival of the Old Testament. Pentecost of the New Testament. We have gladness, integrating both.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Off Her Meds

Kristin Wiig runs wild—and transcends her sketch comedy roots—as a truly strange character ‘Welcome to Me’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Flats Bistro

Pizza with an artisan twist comes to Aptos Beach

 

What’s your take on Santa Cruz locals?

Santa Cruz locals are really friendly once you know them. I think a lot of them have a hard time leaving, and I would too. Ryan Carle, Santa Cruz, Biologist

 

Soquel Vineyards

If Soquel Vineyards partners Peter and Paul Bargetto and Jon Morgan were walking down the street wearing their winning wine competition medals, you’d hear them coming from a mile away. This year was particularly rewarding for the Bargettos and Morgan—they won two Double Gold Medals and five Gold Medals at January’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

 

Enlightened Flavors

Squash & Blossom’s artisanal alternative-flour delights, beet kvass from Cafe Ivéta, and the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival