Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Janis Ian • Between The Lines

Janis Ian
Janis Ian Janis Ian Photo by Peter Cunningham, With Bruce Springsteen & Billy Joel
Top & bottom left: Janis Ian. Bottom right: Janis with Bruce Springsteen & Billy Joel. Photo by Peter Cunningham.

With a voice so beautiful, with such depth, it is hard not to recognize the voice of Janis Eddy Fink. Her parents, Victor and Pearl Fink, run a summer camp for kids in upstate New York. When not at camp, Victor was a music teacher. This means Ian was exposed to a lot of music, including female pioneers like Odetta and Joan Baez. By the time Janis was thirteen, she had written a song that would be her first release, "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)." The topic of the song was quite advanced for the time, for it dealt with the societal struggle of an interracial relationship. While it was first released in 1965, it as a new released in 1967 that saw the song go to #14 on the Billboard single chart. This put her in the company of some pretty impressive artists, at a very young age. For some time Ian was labeled a one-hit-wonder, as the songs that followed failed to catch on with the public. With the release of a new album in 1975, that all changed. Between The Lines began with the release of the first single, "When The Party's Over."

The song was a minor hit, going to #20 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. It certainly showcased the grown-up Ian, now a woman, not a young teen. There was a depth to her voice that was unmistakable, and an international feel to the music. However, it was the second single off the album that would forever banish the thought of one-hit-wonder. After a debut that had a teenager singing about topics beyond her, "At Seventeen" showed a gown-up taking a look back at the teen years with a different focus. Give a listen to the icon "At Seventeen."

In the song, Ian combines her folk mentality with the simplicity of Pop, and just a touch of Jazz to create a song that was hard to forget. Of course, the honesty of the lyric, with a view of the years when most felt the odd-man-out, the ugly kid being bullied by others. While not a single off the album, I remember thinking "Tea & Sympathy" had a beauty that was hard to ignore. And there was such an honesty in her delivery, the aching in her voice while talking about love lost was palpable.

And while the third single off the album did not match the success of "At Seventeen," it scored well on the Adult Contemporary chart. It is surprising, since "In The Winter" had a brooding, dark feel. But I have to tell you, I remember hearing this song and really loving it. This is "In The Winter."

In 1983, Ian divorced her husband of five years, a relationship that was both physically and emotionally abusive. A few years later, Ian met the real love of her live, and in 1993, came out publicly as an out and proud lesbian, in a strong relationship with Patricia Snyder. For many, this added a new layer of understanding of her huge hit, "At Seventeen." For more about Janis Ian, visit her official website. You can purchase Between The Lines as a download on iTunes or order the physical CD on Amazon.


  1. I love Janis Ian. Do you know there is an anthology of scifi short stories (by different authors) all based on her songs?

    1. Writer, I do love Janis Ian, and only recently discovered her SyFy writings!



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