Janis Ian gets even better with age
BY TERRY LONCARIC March 6, 2013 5:32PM
Janis Ian performs at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie on March 14.
Janis Ian; Livingston Taylor
♦ 8 p.m. March 14
♦ North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd., Skokie
♦ Tickets, $36-$50
♦ (847) 673-6300;
Janis Ian still feels impassioned to tell a good story, sing a poetic folk song and fine-tune all of her skills as a performer.
At 61, Ian, who performs March 14 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, has clearly not rested on her laurels. Livingston Taylor (James Taylor’s brother) shares the bill.
After many years of suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome, the Nashville resident has learned to pace herself. Ian has taken the time to write new songs, complete her autobiography, “Society’s Child,” and continue cultivating the relationship with Pat, her longtime partner, who is a criminal attorney.
“You get older,” Ian remarked. “It’s like the rest of your life. You learn to get done what you need to get done and do what you love to do. I think I’m a lot more comfortable on stage now. It’s a great time for me in my life. I have a body of work behind me.”
Ian has always written songs that were gritty and honest. She broke into the music scene at age 14, releasing “Society’s Child,” a song about an interracial relationship. A native of New York, Ian gave a poetic voice to female angst in her confessional hit, “At 17.”
Ian said she grew up listening to Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the ’60s.
“It was a great time to be an artist,” she said. “If Earl Scruggs wanted to share an instrument or show you a riff, he would. The business was still small enough; people would lend one another a helping hand.”
Through the decades, Ian has continued to reinvent herself. For a while, she took time off just to write the introspective tracks for “Breaking Silence,” a collection of brave, beautiful ballads about “coming out,” falling in love and finding peace in your life.
“Certainly the difference between when I started at 14, and now is, when you get older, you have perspective. I don’t waste as much space, as I used to, in my songwriting. I’m not as self-indulgent. I make better choices,” Ian said.
And she is taking the time to enjoy every milestone in her life. After releasing her memoir, she produced a recorded track of her book that earned her a Grammy this year for best spoken word album. Ian beat some formidable competition, including Michelle Obama, Rachel Maddow, Bill Clinton and Ellen DeGeneres.
“It’s amazing to be in that company,” Ian said. “It was even more surprising, actually shocking, to win the Grammy. I think I’ve been true to my fans, and I’ve tried to live up to high standards, which is hard to do.”
Ian still sings “At 17” with the fervor of an artist who is discovering new layers of meaning in the iconic anthem of adolescent cruelty.
“Everybody who hears that song feels like it belongs to them,” Ian said. “Any time you write something that is universal, it’s going to rise to the top and endure. How can you get tired of singing something that means so much to so many people?”
Ian admits there are many things she would still like to do, including writing a novel, performing at Carnegie Hall and visiting China.
“I think it’s great when you can do anything that’s artistic,” she said. “If you get older, you should have a richer inner life. If you don’t, what’s the point?”
Terry Loncaric is a local free-lance writer.