Your entry to the international music scene came at a
very young age and was highly controversial. Looking
back on this, do you think it helped or hindered
your later career? Also, in your early teens, do you
think you were emotionally prepared for the attention
that it brought you?
I actually don't think it made much difference, in the long
run. The great advantage of starting so young - I had my
first song published at 13, made my first record at 14, had
my first self-written hit at 15 - is that at that age, you have
no concept of mortality. That's very freeing.
As to my early teens, that's such a horrible age for
anyone! I doubt it made much difference; I would have
spent my entire adolescence having angst anyway...
Actually, I was kind of appalled when I was working
on my autobiography and hit those years, to see what a
self-centered little shit I was for most of them...
Your song At Seventeen is already revered as an alltime
classic and rediscovered by each new generation
as the years go by. Do you find that this one song
overshadows much of your subsequent work, at least
in the popular mind, or are you happy to have it as
the defining song by which most people know you?
I love that song, and I never get tired of singing it. I feel
very fortunate in two respects: first, while At 17 is the big
classic in the US, and somewhat in Europe, my big hits in
Australia and Southeast Asia are completely different.
Second, every song I've had a hit record with, be it Jesse
or Society's Child or Fly Too High or Love Is Blind or whatever,
is a song I like, and more important, a song I think
was well-written. In that respect, it never bothers me either.
I have seen a semi-serious review that said that you
'make Leonard Cohen sound like a comedy singer'.
Is there a reason why many of your songs explore the
melancholy side of life and human relationships, or
do you think that this is in fact a misconception?
I would absolutely never have said that, even in fun...
mainly because I think he's a wonderful singer, and I don't
think I'm half the singer I'd like to be.
As to the rest, I think "deep" is probably more accurate
Heck, somebody's got to do it...
There was a break in your output of new work between
the early 1980s and the early 1990s, followed
by your very successful CD 'Breaking Silence'. What
was the reason for this 'silence', or is it something
you would rather not discuss?
Let me tell you, after writing 350 pages worth of my own
life, there's nothing I care about discussing or not discussing!
I took the break because I had fallen into the
grind of make album for 2-3 months, release album and
tour for 6-8 months, try to come up with eleven brilliant
songs in the time between. It was destroying my writing,
and the writing has always come first - before me, before
relationships, before career, comes the writing. I think part
of my job as an artist is to nurture and care for the gifts I
was given, and taking long breaks like those are part of it.
Do you consider that the melancholy that many people
find in your songs is a major part of your own personality
or is it wrong to confuse Janis the artist with
Janis the person?
Honestly, I have no idea. I think probably those people
have never really listened to an entire album, and certainly
not the recent ones, with things like My Autobiography
on them. Or Married In London, up on my website
for free download. I actually am quite funny, when I'm not
living up to my reputation for depression.
It's well known that at a particular point in your life
you decided that your sexuality was gay rather than
'straight' and that you now have a very happy relationship
with a woman partner. Do you think that
your music changed in any way with this change in
your personal life, or would you (like me) consider
that the subject matter of your songs is completely
universal and it would be a mistake to categorise you
as a lesbian or gay singer/songwriter?
I don't think one has anything to do with the other. I also
don't think I "decided" on my gender preference. I've always
thought a person can love either sex, and I have.
Is the community that has grown up around your
website (janisian.com) and its message-board as significant
in your life as it obviously is in the lives of
the other members?
Wow. That's a hard one. I think those members are very
significant to me, as a human and as a performer. We
were online very, very early; I had a website up and running
in one form or another by early 1992. I envisioned it
as a community, so it's really nice that it's become one.
Do you compare yourself to other artists or would
you prefer to be thought of as a completely individual
voice in the music world? What do you feel when you
are bracketed with other singer/songwriters such as
Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Dori Previn, Suzanne
Honestly, I don't really care either way.
What do you think is special about the people who
come to your concerts and buy your CDs? Are there
any unifying characteristics that all Janis Ian fans
They're generally well-read and intelligent. That's my
Would you like to say a few words about The Pearl
Just that all my net merchandising money gets donated
back to it every year. We've managed to raise $300,000
plus so far, which is amazing. And you can find more information at
the Pearl Foundation website.
You have created your own independent recording
company and have in the past been highly critical of
the Recording Industry Association of America
(RIAA). Would you recommend this path to anybody
building a career in the music industry (at least in the
That depends entirely on the kind of career you want. If
you want a global career, with serious money being put
into that career, you can't do it the way I'm doing it right
now. Remember - I manage myself, run my publishing
company and record company, and perform as well. It's
a lot of load, and I wouldn't recommend it to a newbie.
On the other hand, I own every aspect of myself, too,
which is priceless.
You have recently started writing science fiction. Do
you see this as a serious new career move or is it
something you regard more as a hobby or sideline?
The nice thing about writing is that writing is writing, no
matter what the form. If I had more time, I'd stay home
and write prose, whatever the form.
Is there a particular reason why you have chosen this
moment in your life to write your autobiography?
It was a good excuse to stay home for a year, frankly. And
because I was so young, I think I probably have a very
different take on the times than my "contemporaries",
who are always 7-15 years older than me.
What do you feel about the power that many of your
songs exercise over people, often driving them to
tears and reaching down to emotional layers that
nothing else touches? To what do you attribute this
It's a gift. That's all I know. I respect it and I'm grateful for it.