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Janis Ian discusses her career

BROADCAST: 1970 | DURATION: 00:46:58


Janis Ian discusses her career, life, and her songs. The songs she talks about are "Society's Child", "Janey's Blues", "Honey D'Ya Think", "There Are Times", "Shady Acres", and "Lonely One". Janis Ian also discusses society, race relations, and responsibility. Includes Studs Terkel reading Janis Ian's poem "Poem One". Includes Janis Ian reading her poem.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel "I can't see you any more, baby. I won't see you any more, baby." Those lines, I suppose, mean just about everything. What life's about today. Janis Ian is our guest. The song is one that I'm sure is familiar to many listeners. "Society's Child" and singer, the composer Janis Ian our guest this morning, she's performing tonight at Orchestra Hall and in the past I noticed during several of her concerts the audience was described as the 'then" as well as the "now" generation, because Janis Ian does not sing for any one generation, now she sings for me and I'm 55. She's 16. Janis, "Society's Child". This is perhaps one of the most, was the most censored, I think, of all records.

Janis Ian Well, it's a dirty song.

Studs Terkel Why was it considered a dirty song?

Janis Ian 'Cause it talks about Blacks and whites. You know, like a checkerboard, and people don't like hearing that. They don't like hearing it because it scares them, you know.

Studs Terkel And yet it's a simple song, it's a simple song that a young girl sings, and you hear the word, "you stick to your own kind," the teacher--the teacher, though, teaches equality. That's one of your lines, too,

Janis Ian Right. Right. Self-made preachers.

Studs Terkel You know, Janis Ian has written scores of songs, and as you hear the album, there's a new second album of hers called "For All the Seasons of Your Mind". You sense there's a poet at work here, a poet, a singer. How did that all come about, I suppose the question you're often asked, Janis, you're 16, you're from New York, and you went to a school where very advanced quote unquote, you know, kids do go. You know. How did this all come about? You, your song, your--

Janis Ian You know that song, "Hair of Spun Gold", on the first album, and that was the first one that I'd written and I sent it in to this magazine "Broadside", [good?] magazine.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Janis Ian Good magazine, good people. And they called up, and they said--that was when I was living in New Jersey--and they said, "Hey, how'd you like to come into New York and sing at the Village Gate at a hoot? And I said, "Okay." I went bounding over to New York and had a lot of fun, and then we moved to New York and I wrote "Society's Child" just when we moved to New York and all of a sudden these things started happening.

Studs Terkel These things that started to happen, you were 14, you were about 12 or 13 when you wrote that "Hair of Spun Gold".

Janis Ian Thirteen, yeah. Twelve, 13.

Studs Terkel And you were 14 going on a fast 15 when you wrote "Society's Child".

Janis Ian Yeah.

Studs Terkel How--where--how--and how come? That's what I mean. Where was the--the question often asked, where was that window that opened and?

Janis Ian I don't know. I don't know. You know, I really don't know. I don't even know how they get written, they just get written. It's like doing a radio show. You don't know why you said that, you said that it fit. It's like a hunch.

Studs Terkel Did the song come to you as a whole, did it come a lyric at a time, or did the whole idea--

Janis Ian No, the whole thing always comes at once.

Studs Terkel The whole thing came to you. You know, some of those lines I know--I assume the audience has heard this song on "The Midnight Special", I know that Ray and Norm play it very often here on this special. Some of those lines, could you read some of those lines? The one about--at the end this girl, how do you figure this girl out? Do you finally give in?

Janis Ian You know, the whole thing is so like--there's no age specified, there's nothing that you could tag on an age, and, like, if she's 13 or 14 or something it's okay. It's not okay, because society but, I wouldn't punish her too much because it probably isn't real love, and for all I know, she was doing it just because she wanted to see what it was like going out with a Negro. But for somebody who's older and for somebody who feels that it's real love, it's no good. She's copping out. She's giving in and she's giving in in the wrong way. She's not giving in saying, "Well, I'm beat, I'm not strong enough," she's saying, "Well, it's their fault. None of it's my fault."

Studs Terkel This seems to be a recurring theme in all of Janis Ian's songs, too, there are a great deal of humor in a lot of her songs. We'll hear some of those, and but you also use the word "responsibility" a lot, that a person can't cop out and blame society all the time. That seems to be a theme throughout, isn't it.

Janis Ian Well, it is. You know, it's like the hippies, the whole thing--or the great unwashed, the Beat generation where they say, "Well, we didn't make this world. Why should we live in it? Why should we do anything for it? You know, it's your fault," and you can't say that. Because what are you going to do when your kids turn around to you and say that? You've got to accept--you know, you've got certain responsibilities, like I've got certain responsibilities to the audience. You know, if I get up there it's my responsibility to sing something that they can understand and that I can make clear. And it's the same thing in society. It's your responsibility to make things clear, to make things understandable.

Studs Terkel And yet you're not judging the hippies. I mean, I know you're not condemning them.

Janis Ian No, I don't want to condemn them. No.

Studs Terkel But at the same time you're saying there is a little sense of cop-out here, isn't

Janis Ian There's a, right. There's a lot of hypocrisy in the whole scene.

Studs Terkel We come back to this next song from your new album, deals with this very theme, "Honey, D'Ya Think?", but before that, "Society's Child" ends with the lyric somewhere not that, not the last line, which is "I'm not going to see you, I can't see you anymore," she says to the boy--

Janis Ian And then says, "I don't want to."

Studs Terkel "I don't want to." Yeah, but there's a line before that, "One of these days I'm gonna stop listening," isn't there?

Janis Ian Right.

Studs Terkel So in a way you're implying that maybe this girl--I don't know. I don't want to put my thoughts into your thoughts.

Janis Ian But usually she does and usually she says that and she'll still be saying it when she's 55.

Studs Terkel So there it is, so at 55 where we may have a suburban housewife, possibly youngish, attractive grandmother, 55, who once upon a time, who will be saying to her grandchild or daughter--

Janis Ian "Sure, I went through that phase."

Studs Terkel And so we come to a song called--this is a very powerful one, a very strong one indeed. "Honey, D'Ya Think?" Suppose you tell us a little about this.

Janis Ian Well, it's a song about what we call Long Islanders, which is people who--

Studs Terkel Long Islanders.

Janis Ian Yeah, but it's got to be Long Island.

Studs Terkel Yeah, well, here it's Glencoe, Highland Park. But go ahead.

Janis Ian And they come in from Long Island and places like Long Island, the suburbs of New York, and they come in and down to the Village and they do things like, they leave home at 18 and they say, "Well, I'm going to live the true spiritual creative life of the artist." So they move into an all-Negro housing project and they walk around without shoes. And they think of themselves as great martyrs because here I'm living with the Negroes. You know, I'm a martyr. And usually you can tell them because if they go to a party they'll always try and talk very hard to all the Negroes at the party and ignore the whites. They're phony liberals, you know, they're like a lot of liberals, they're very phony and they don't really believe any of it, they're just doing it, or they think they believe it, but they do it wrong. You know, they're too liberal. They're liberal on the other side. They're almost as right-wing as the right-wingers in their own way, and they live in a tenement and in the slums and they still get their allowances. You know.

Studs Terkel Well, these are pretty hard-hitting and powerful words, and fabricated misery is the word you use about these people.

Janis Ian Blues is more than just a fabricated misery.

Studs Terkel You know, I had a friend, Big Bill Broonzy, he's an old country blues singer, he used to say, "Blues is nothing but a good man feeling bad."

Janis Ian Yeah.

Studs Terkel More than fabricated misery. You're talking about people who pretend. Perhaps they mean well. Again--

Janis Ian Yeah, they mean well. Right. But it's just another part of the game.

Studs Terkel You know what some of the young Negro kids say, then why don't you civilize your own community? [unintelligible] But there's something else about Janis Ian our guest here that's quite remarkable, not just the lyrics he writes and the manner of the singing, but the instrumentation, too. The organ there, you yourself are involved so much with instrumentation, you have marvelous accompanists, but you are directly involved, you shifted to organ here too, didn't you?

Janis Ian Yeah. Well, I couldn't play that piano part that Butler was playing. I just couldn't do that.

Studs Terkel So what--originally it was piano with you. A little autobiographical from you before we come back to--

Janis Ian It was piano and then it turned into guitar and French horn. And from there I just picked up on everything I could get my hands on.

Studs Terkel And as far as your parents are concerned, I know your parent, your father is a teacher of music and your mother--you've lived in a home which music I take it was always a part of the

Janis Ian Yeah, it was the main thing.

Studs Terkel And you had a certain kind of freewheeling quality that was there.

Janis Ian Well, it's just there. If you want to make music, go out and make music. It's good for

Studs Terkel And so you made it.

Janis Ian Right.

Studs Terkel And among the singers you liked there were a number--first a comment about this song that's so strong. As you say, those who use the word and use the book, and--isn't there a line in here but you didn't have time to give a quarter for the blind guy on the street.? Was that in here, too?

Janis Ian You want to be a Negro, try to prove that you have soul but it's all gone? You want to be a martyr and you moan about your problems--oh no, wrong line.

Studs Terkel No, the line I'm thinking of

Janis Ian "But you couldn't spare a quarter for a blind man on the corner."

Studs Terkel And this is something that a lot of guys talk about, because in the abstract the person is so much for others.

Janis Ian Right.

Studs Terkel Quote unquote less advantaged in the abstract but for the specific, the individual, no time. Like the

Janis Ian blind Right. Right. It's very good if you're standing there on TV and you're saying, "I believe in racial equality," and it's another thing if you're walking down the street.

Studs Terkel You are something, Janis. You know, Pete Seeger, who I know you like, and who did--

Janis Ian Friend.

Studs Terkel Pete made a comment the other day, a wistful one a couple of weeks ago--

Janis Ian Was he up here?

Studs Terkel No, yeah, this was a couple of weeks ago when he was [unintelligible] this generation, yours, is the most far and away the most honest he says, the most honest that perhaps this country, this society has ever known. And you might say that in the songs of Janis Ian you find this. Why the power is there because you know, you and I know what she says is true. And there was a singer who died a number of years ago who was my favorite, was my greatest of all jazz artists, singers, Billie Holiday. And I was delighted to find out in reading about you like Billie Holiday.

Janis Ian I love Billie Holiday. She's incredible.

Studs Terkel What is it about her that you like?

Janis Ian Well, we were talking about it before, you know, when she sings it's not an act, it's her. You know, she--I never saw her on stage, you know. But even from the records you can feel it, that it's all her and that she's singing just for you. And she wants you to understand how she feels. It's like Nina Simone, Nina Simone does a song that says, "If I can only make you feel what it would mean to me just to be free just for one day," and it's like that. You know, she makes you feel what she's feeling.

Studs Terkel Someone said of Lady Day, of Billie Holiday, just that she reveals herself, not just to perform, the artist, that is, it is she in every song. No matter what the song is, no matter how banal lyrics some of the songs, she makes it hers. And I'm taking a wild shot, I know you like this, "God Bless the Child".

Janis Ian Yeah. Good song.

Studs Terkel As Janis says, good song, and yet, "God Bless the Child", and you think written a generation ago for Billie Holiday you might say it was almost the shape of things to come. In a way in Billie Holiday whose life was a ragged, rough and tragic one. Yet the beauty of her was always there. And "God Bless the Child" you might say is the mother of many of Janis Ian's songs though wholly different about the young person speaking about something, not anti the other generation,

Janis Ian But just talking.

Studs Terkel Yeah. Billie Holiday. [content removed, see catalog record] "God Bless the Child". Talking about it here with Janis Ian. Your thoughts about this and "God bless the child who's got his own, who's got his own. Mama may have, Papa may have, but bless the child"--

Janis Ian "God bless the child who's got his own."

Studs Terkel "Rich relations say don't take too much."

Janis Ian "Throw crusts of bread and such, you can have all you want, but don't take too much."

Studs Terkel Somehow that seems to just be the prologue to your song "Janey's Blues", doesn't it? "Janey's Blues": How would you describe it?

Janis Ian "Janey's Blues" is about a family of people who play games with one another. They're constantly playing games, you know. The mother and the father want to get divorced but they're staying together for the kid, and actually they're not really because they don't care that much about the kid, they're using her as an excuse to stay together.

Studs Terkel You see this from your, I suppose you would--you yourself probably have seen this among parents or friends of yours, haven't

Janis Ian Yes, I have, haven't I? Yeah, I have.

Studs Terkel It's funny how you hit a certain truth. A lot of it comes from your own observations. I suppose we have to talk about this. Janis Ian, you know, again the audience, you know many at this moment, many housewives are listening.

Janis Ian She's a 33-year-old midget who's pretending to be 16.

Studs Terkel A 33-year-old midget pretending to be 16. And Janey--well, I think we should hear "Janey's Blues". This is from the first album of Janis Ian, the one that has "Society's Child". The second album is called "For all the Seasons of Your Mind". Most of this two-installment program will be from the second album. Here's Jane--I think "Janey's Blues", rather than talk about it, the lyrics speak for themselves, don't they?

Janis Ian Right. And then the tag at the end.

Studs Terkel At the very end. At the very end, perhaps even there's an organ here. Are you at the organ?

Janis Ian No, that's Butler again.

Studs Terkel Is there any--and she's running, isn't she?

Janis Ian Yeah, she's trying to get out, but she can't. You know, there's no way for her to get out. Like, I get letters from people who say, "Take me to New York with you. You know, I'll sweep the streets. I'll do anything." And they can't do it.

Studs Terkel It's a question of saying they want to do it, what, they just can't make the move. Is that it?

Janis Ian Yeah, they can't, you know. And when they do, usually they do it wrong and it just creates a lot of bitter feeling all around.

Studs Terkel From "God Bless the Child" to "Janey's Blues". It's a natural, an old horse player a friend of mine would say, "What a natural parlay this is." What were Janey's last words there? Janis Ian our guest, her song, her work, her singing "Janey" and of course at the end she's running with a guitar and New York. What were her last lines though, before the run began?

Janis Ian You know, there are certain "hatin' sets them free and loving only wants to see Janey taking sides. She's got a bluesy feeling in her eye, and what can I do but sigh."

Studs Terkel And here you have her mother and her father and this myth, this legend, that they probably believe this themselves, it's for her good they're together and it's the battles and whatever it is, she says destroying her.

Janis Ian Yeah.

Studs Terkel So she's running. What's going to happen to Janey?

Janis Ian She'll probably wind up very screwed up. And maybe do the same thing with her own kids, which is the frightening thing, because she can't get out.

Studs Terkel In listening to Janis Ian talk and hear her sing these songs and the concert, by the way this is for all generations, is tonight at Orchestra Hall, and it's an experience, quite obviously, seeing Janis Ian in action as well as hearing her, and perhaps the audience, too, would be exciting to watch, just as everything is part of everything. The music too, not just the lyrics 'cause even with the organ and what you described as a nylon string guitar here, that too, the sound also is part of it too, isn't it?

Janis Ian Well, it's the whole sound, the of everything put together and then siphoning off which is good and which is bad and which fits. You know, the whole thing in music is to have everything fit together.

Studs Terkel And in contrast to this in this second album, you know, a song "For All Seasons of My Mind", you have "Evening Star", and here you're at the piano now.

Janis Ian Yeah. Yeah, we used to call it my Lawrence Welk song, because it's kind of very drippy and very sentimental, which is the way it should be, 'cause it's like a love song to an audience.

Studs Terkel You're not afraid of that. I'm glad you mentioned that. Now let's talk about this, this is interesting. There's a cool, you hear the phrase "cool" used a great deal, is now almost a passe word. The fear of showing some emotion and the word "sentimental" is used a great deal as a term of put-down.

Janis Ian Well, see, that's when it's corny, when it's not sincere. If it's really sincere, then it's okay. You know.

Studs Terkel Then it's sentiment.

Janis Ian Right. It's like some people get up and cry onstage and they turn their tears on and off. They're like a water faucet. And some people get up onstage and never cry and then all of a sudden they cry. And that's real.

Studs Terkel And Billie Holiday who, perhaps never cried on the stage, does something to

Janis Ian Oh, she cries, though.

Studs Terkel I mean, that's just the point. I mean not outward.

Janis Ian Right.

Studs Terkel Actors cry.

Janis Ian Right. It's the real inside.

Studs Terkel So it's the, you know, that laughing on the outside crying on the inside idea.

Janis Ian I wrote a song about that. I wrote a blues.

Studs Terkel Did you?

Janis Ian I was, I decided I want to write a blues and I wrote a blues about two people I know, and says that they're laughing on the outside looking in at you and crying on the inside looking out at you. Which is what she did.

Studs Terkel This is what Billie did. In contrast to the sentimental, but this one is a simple--I don't find this song by the way sen--I find this a very simple straight--

Janis Ian It is, but it's also, you know, it might be--it depends on who's doing it, because I do it straight.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Janis Ian I'd like to see Nina Simone do this.

Studs Terkel So we hear something very simple called "Evening Star". [content removed, see catalog record] I think it's interesting about this, this is you might say Janis Ian dares, because this is a borderline song in a sense. It's a borderline song that could go as you say over into the sentimental, but depends how it's done, too.

Janis Ian Right.

Studs Terkel There's another thing, Janis Ian our guest. This is what we used to call a two o'clock in the morning song. And if you wanted to, you could be a top mentioned by all the columnists nightclub star. You could do it tomorrow morning. Right now.

Janis Ian This is what I always wanted to do. Wow.

Studs Terkel The fact is there's a versatility here, too. Janis Ian that covers pretty much you might say all aspects of song, popular song, whatever that phrase may mean in our society. Here's an example to remind you of certain singers who were quite good, indeed of another time, who at the piano or had an accompanist, sang at a certain place where the guys would come with their--the dames who were not their wives would come there and listen to it. You know. And then "Hey, she's good. Play our favorite. Play ours." And you would do that and it was yours. It could be almost anything. Talking about Janis Ian the poet. On the back of this album, her new album "For All the Seasons of Your Mind", in which is "Honey, D'Ya Think?" That powerful one, the song "For All the Seasons of Your Mind", the title one, "Queen Merka and Me" we'll hear in a moment, this love song "Evening Star". It's a poem she has written, and I was astonished that she hadn't made a song of this. She hadn't made a song of this. But what did you tell me now? I'm going to read this. But why wouldn't

Janis Ian Well, I was seeing that sometimes, like, a poem is more striking just as a poem, because when you see a poem you can read it and you can go over it and you can say, "Hey, that means something." I don't know, sometime I might write a poem and if I thought it was really good put music to it and speak it. I don't know, but that should remain as a poem.

Studs Terkel Because it's there in black and white--

Janis Ian Right.

Studs Terkel When you read it, whereas there is something for which music is right, that may not be perfect as you see

Janis Ian There is some things for which poems are right, and some things for music.

Studs Terkel It's a poem by Janis Ian, the back of this album, "For All the Seasons of Your Mind", it's called "Poem One" and it goes like this: "I saw him satirizing standing there with that crazy black hair flapping in the breeze talking to himself. I thought, 'How very strange,' until I found that it wasn't strange because no one else would listen. And so I volunteered. I knew him well. The gestures of independence, a shake of his head, a shout, and jump up in the air. I saw him try to shake his head, but they cut his hair. I saw him try to shout, but he had to whisper. I saw him try to leap, but they'd bound him to the earth and he twisted in the air reaching out for love and freedom, but there's no way to reach out when you've begun to forget how you can jump, shake your head, or talk above a whisper. They let him loose and he remembered letting his hair grow, yelling, leaping to the sky. But he was caught again. They caged him like an animal and when they released him, he ran wild, went away to a secret place. Sometimes I think I see him standing in the doorway smiling our secret smile. But I dare not go to him. Instead I will jump. I will shout. I will reach. And I will love forever with his crazy black hair flapping in the breeze." Well, you asked me why I like this poem.

Janis Ian No, I know why you like it now. It's okay.

Studs Terkel Okay. Yeah, I don't think we have to explain this really, because maybe this is what it's all about. Maybe this is what it's all about. And why some called the establishment say, "There they are, those dangerous kids, those dangerous people."

Janis Ian It's like what the poem's about, it's, like, you'll catch hold of something and all of a sudden you look around it's not there anymore. And so you try to take whatever you caught hold of and bring it into yourself and do what you can with it, because you know it's still there, but you've got to do it yourself.

Studs Terkel Yeah, but yet we live in a kind of world where, when you want to shout and you want to talk about, we'll say "Shh! Now cut it out, you're dangerous, you see," so in a way you said someone in a piece that you--you're not really a threat. Oh, by the way, somewhere they were saying you're attacking the older generation. You deny this. So why don't you put this myth to rest?

Janis Ian I'm not attacking anybody except hypocrites, you know. If the older generation is hypocritical I'm going to attack them. But you know people have got to understand that I'm not--what did I say? I'm not out to crucify anybody or to spare them.

Unidentified Man Nor to spare them.

Janis Ian Nor to spare them.

Studs Terkel It doesn't matter what the age, that's the point. Well, the fact is you are a threat, you see. You're a threat to what

Janis Ian Yeah, I've felt that, too.

Studs Terkel You're a threat to what--you are a threat to the people who keep this guy down, you see. That's the point, you see. They put him down. You know? They bound him to the earth, but he reached out, this kid. And so it's for all them in a way. Perhaps one of the reasons why Janis Ian reaches all generations. They want to--who is Queen Merka?

Janis Ian Merka's a friend of mine and it's one of those songs where the words are very incongruous when you hear the melody. It's a very happy melody like a carnival, which is what, like, New York is like. Like, you wake up in the morning, get up at six o'clock and you'll be listening and all of a sudden you'll start hearing the buses and then you'll start hearing the birds and then all of a sudden the people come in.

Studs Terkel And the ash cans.

Janis Ian Right. And the garbage collectors and all. And it's like that, but the words aren't, you know, the words are about the symphony, about the people and what they're doing. They're not happy. You know, the people are happy, but most people wouldn't consider them happy words.

Studs Terkel And so there's a carnival idea you see. There's another thing about you, Janis. You like to laugh a lot, you get a kick out of a lot of things.

Janis Ian I like laughing. Yeah.

Studs Terkel So it's that, it's a question of getting a kick out of life. At the same time you're saying there's also you're part of it, too.

Janis Ian Right, right. Right. Right!

Studs Terkel So we'll, let's hear of Queen Merka. Old Queen Merka. How old is old Queen Merka? Seventeen?

Janis Ian Twenty-two.

Studs Terkel Oh, twen--oh, an old lady, oh.

Janis Ian Oh, she's ancient. Boy.

Studs Terkel "Queen Merka and Me". [content removed, see catalog record] Janis Ian, how come you know so much?

Janis Ian I don't.

Studs Terkel Now here you got a picture of a marvelous--there's a carousel.

Janis Ian Well, it's pictures.

Studs Terkel It's kind of a sad funny. It's

Janis Ian Yeah. It's a clown.

Studs Terkel It's a clown.

Janis Ian It's like

Studs Terkel Yeah, it is clown. It's a clown show here. You've got the little girl, the Queen of Eng--what does she say

Janis Ian She says that for her lover she has an

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Janis Ian Yeah, I just learned that word and I figured I'd work it in somewhere.

Studs Terkel And that dirty old man?

Janis Ian Smiles with his dentures.

Studs Terkel And then suddenly he sees a clown show. Yeah, that's beautiful. It is, so this came to you, I suppose how a song comes to you is a rather silly question. It comes to you.

Janis Ian It just comes. Yeah.

Studs Terkel And--

Janis Ian But this one was weird, because I'd never written a song like that. I was waiting for somebody and I was looking around at the people, and all of a sudden I started trying to think of what each one might be like, you know, and correlating them with people I knew who might be like that and just writing about it.

Studs Terkel And out of this come what might be called kind of a tapestry.

Janis Ian Yeah.

Studs Terkel A clown tapestry. The city, any city--

Janis Ian Pictures.

Studs Terkel The fact that you call yourself, don't you, you like the phrase of "people etcher"?

Janis Ian People

Studs Terkel A people sketcher.

Janis Ian Yeah.

Studs Terkel Yeah, it's in a way, in every one of these songs we do have a certain kind of person,

Janis Ian Yeah. He's always a person.

Studs Terkel Yeah. So it comes from a specific. That's interesting. It does come from a specific.

Janis Ian Yeah, well, there's always a focal point. You know. Like, exactly where it comes from.

Studs Terkel You know, I read one of your poems on the back of the album "For All the Seasons of Your Mind", and there's one called "Poem Number Two" that you might take a whack at reading. It's your own, anyway.

Janis Ian Yeah. Yeah, it's about, like, all sorts of people who die not necessarily physically, you know, but just die because they always do the wrong thing at the wrong time. So this: "Cock Robin is dead who wore a cloak of green throughout Sherwood Forest and stole the HUAC dream. Cock Robin is dead who probably wore his heart on his shoulder and through the crazy splendor of a wounded night raining he ran on his cycle through the forest just to see how far was too far. Cock Robin is dead whose madonna wife asked him, "Why do you laugh?" and was answered "It's you who are laughing at your reflection on me." Yeah he's quite dead in a black and silver chariot riding through a lonely road with the night outside. He of amethysts and thyme. Cock Robin was a quiet fighter and a hard one to beat. "Mmmmm," cried the mourner, he of the sister with pale goddess eyes shone in the night like a chariot of fire. Cock Robin is dead who wore a cloak of green throughout Sherwood Forest and stole the American dream for a democratic one. Okay, but don't cry yet, because the crucifix is just now being hung, and Cock Robin is dead."

Studs Terkel I take it you knew, I should say, know a number of Cock Robins.

Janis Ian Yeah, they're all over the place. Really incredible.

Studs Terkel You're saying dead, but not necessarily physically.

Janis Ian No. Any kind of dead. You know, somebody who's so beaten down that they just can't get up anymore.

Studs Terkel And yet you know inside them, inside

Janis Ian It's still there.

Studs Terkel Is that something whatever it is that running around, going how far is far?

Janis Ian Yeah, how far is too far.

Studs Terkel How far is too far. You're almost, I don't know--again I read into what you wrote and what you say, that in almost everybody there is that spirit, that one way or another has been bombed or is dead inside.

Janis Ian Yeah.

Studs Terkel In a way it's also hopeful too, even though it isn't. It's hopeful, too.

Janis Ian Yeah, because you know that it's there and that there's still a chance. You can still bring it out.

Studs Terkel Which comes to a song which says, it's funny how everything is related. "There Are Times". "There Are Times".

Janis Ian "There Are Times" is like that. "There Are Times" is a hopeless song. It's just you know, I'm tired. I can't do it anymore and I'd like to, but I can't. And you can have it, 'cause, 'cause I don't want it. I never really wanted it in the beginning, you know. But you still get up to try again.

Studs Terkel You're knocked out, you're walloped, you're kicked around, you're through. I'm talking now of a man, whoever it is. But he still gets up, eh?

Janis Ian Right. He's still, you know, he might complain about it, and go home and have a good cry. But he still gets up.

Studs Terkel He still gets up. In a way, Janis, again labels are no good, labels don't mean, 'cause you took care of liberals pretty well with that song. "Hey, Honey, D'ya Think?" So, labels: What you're saying again this, you're kind of positive deep down in you, or am I reading too much here?

Janis Ian No, you're not. No, I am positive, you know. It's going to happen sooner or later.

Studs Terkel "There Are Times". [content removed, see catalog record] And so we come to that, what might be called the "O. Henry" punchline at the very end there. "Please, please help me" after all-- She's

Janis Ian She's falling, but you know, but is saying "Please help me, just give me another hand."

Studs Terkel Who's she asking?

Janis Ian Anybody. Anybody

Studs Terkel Anybody. Yeah. You say she, could be he of course.

Janis Ian Right. She could be anybody. She could be he, could

Studs Terkel Yeah, but that "please help me" because the reason I ask is because there's a remarkable something happened to me at least listening to this album last night. And by the way, Friday, tonight, at Orchestra Hall Janis Ian our guest performs, but in listening to this and another song, the last one of the album, "Insanity Comes to the Structured Mind".

Janis Ian "Insanity Comes Quietly to the

Studs Terkel "Comes Quietly to the Structured Mind" about this girl who feels she's just about come to the end of her string. She too, that ends, too, with the same line.

Janis Ian Yeah, that was Shadow, my producer.

Studs Terkel Who's what?

Janis Ian Shadow my producer, who took the end of "There Are Times" and inserted it.

Studs Terkel Why did he do that?

Janis Ian Well, it's the same thing in the song. You know, the girl is falling but suicide is like a last escape. But most people who commit suicide, they make a phone call before or something, you know they don't really want to commit suicide and, this, the same thing, you know she's falling and she straightens out her room. She takes her time, you know, hoping that somebody will come. She straightens out her room. She changes her clothes, combs her hair, washes her face and if she's fine, all of a sudden she wants one last chance.

Studs Terkel It's as though she's hoping somebody is going to stop her.

Janis Ian Right. But, like, the narrator of the song, he hears it, but you get the line "Nobody hears it at all." And nobody really does because nobody's willing to reach out and give her a hand.

Studs Terkel In a way, you know I'm thinking of the Ballad [sic] of Billie Joe, you know.

Janis Ian Yeah.

Studs Terkel In a way that fact that no attention was paid to the kid who did jump off the--

Janis Ian Right.

Studs Terkel Tallahatchee Bridge.

Janis Ian "Pass the butter [sic], please."

Studs Terkel Yeah, "Pass the butter [sic], please," and yet the narrator is saying, what, nobody heard her.

Janis Ian Right. Not even the narrator.

Studs Terkel Not even the narrator himself. He's a bystander.

Janis Ian Right. He's standing there and he says, "I went ahead and made my bed."

Studs Terkel So here we have the girl on the ledge. There have been a number of great pieces of reportage written about this, the boy on the ledge, the girl on the ledge, you know. In San Antonio a couple of years ago, you know several years ago, there was a kid about to jump, you know? And it was on television. And the audience is watching. And the priest or the

Janis Ian And everybody's standing there saying, "Jump! Jump!"

Studs Terkel Yeah. And at home the guy was on TV. That is, the father of the house. The TV viewer. He's got his TV chicken dinner. He's got the beer can, and he's watching, and the kid didn't jump, he was saved, and I think the guy at home was disappointed.

Janis Ian Yeah. It's like that, you know, like the crowd says "Jump! Jump!" and you can't jump anymore.

Studs Terkel But this girl doesn't want to, really, that's the point. As you point out, she was hoping somebody would say "Live."

Janis Ian Right. But nobody does, because everybody is much more interested in something out of the norm happening.

Studs Terkel And so we have--as someone described Janis Ian, it may have been Bob Shelton, a very excellent critic, Robert Shelton of "The New York Times", who's been a great friend to the young singers and to all that is happening, is saying, I think it was Bob Shelton who said that Janis Ian is "not an indicter or condemner of a thing, but a commentator," not a [unintelligible] but a common, you're really commentating on the scene.

Janis Ian Yeah.

Studs Terkel And she said, "Please help me," and everything was straight, she was neat. Everything about her was

Janis Ian Right. She was so clean and she took her time, and she almost left a note, you know, but she didn't. She should have left one, but she didn't because there was nothing to say.

Studs Terkel "Insanity Comes Quietly"--

Janis Ian "To the Structured Mind". [content removed, see

Studs Terkel "Good Night, Sweetheart". That was Russ Columbo--

Janis Ian And Arnie Butler.

Studs Terkel And Arnie Butler, following Janis Ian's song "Insanity Comes Quietly to the Structured Mind", the very end you had "Good Night, Sweetheart", it occurred to me the reason I added this, Janis, was Russ Columbo and Bing Crosby and all represent all that the old-timers say, "Where have all the good ballads gone? What's

Janis Ian "Where have

Studs Terkel "What's happened to all the good songs" suddenly it hit me as listening to this, that your song, everything you sing is a threat, is a threat to banality, banality that is so evil.

Janis Ian Right. It's a threat to people who sit around and wait for the big bands to come back.

Studs Terkel And they wait for the June moon, spoon, everything that's so removed from life, from real, as the good songs. And so we come to the key. And so that little touch at the end. And that girl is really saying what, in a sense what all the kids are saying in a sense is help me. Not that they're helpless, but they really are looking for something, aren't

Janis Ian Right. They're looking for it. I'm looking for it. Everybody's looking for it.

Studs Terkel And it isn't forthcoming from those who condemn the very young who are looking for it.

Janis Ian No it doesn't appear to be forthcoming from anywhere.

Studs Terkel Let's talk about this song for a moment because this is similar history now undergoing to "Society's Child", a song for which you became known originally. "Society's Child" because it dealt with the idea of interracial dates, young people going together, Black and white, was banned on many stations and one reason or other was given. They all said it's a great song, but, and now this particular song dealing with a girl thinking about ending her life is also banned, because it's what, too morbid a theme.

Janis Ian Yeah, it's Christmas time, you know.

Studs Terkel Oh, I see. It's banned for now because it's the time

Janis Ian Everyone wants to be happy and gay.

Studs Terkel I see. And, so, years ago there was a song called "Gloomy Sunday", years ago, Billie Holiday sings too, by the way.

Janis Ian Yeah, it sounds

Studs Terkel That was also banned. Because people don't want to hear about these things.

Janis Ian Yeah, they want it to be nice and happy and groovy and smiling and everything.

Studs Terkel And so--

Janis Ian You know, sometimes it is. Sometimes it's not.

Studs Terkel And so you do your own comment. Just as Russ Columbo here was commenting unintentionally just on the very thing you do when--you're kidding here, "And I Did Ma", I think it's a perfect case in point. Here you had some fun.

Janis Ian You want to hear a funny story about that song. I was up at City College doing a concert in New York and I was singing, I sang "And I Did Ma", and I explained to the audience that this was one of the songs that I'd written because a lot of people thought that everything I wrote had a lot of meaning in it, you know, deep hidden psychological meanings, and I was explaining that this was a song just for kicks. And after the concert was over, after I've said that, some girl came up and asked was it about a lesbian, because she couldn't believe that I'd write anything that didn't have a deep double meaning.

Studs Terkel So look for them even--the fact that you're getting kicks out of it and you're doing it for the fun itself didn't occur to them.

Janis Ian Right.

Studs Terkel As you did here. This is a combination of everything, isn't it? This is a takeoff on, I saw Swiss yodelers here, what'd you have in mind when you did this?

Janis Ian This is country and western and Swiss yodelers.

Studs Terkel Swiss yodeling and that, maybe a touch of Lawrence Welk.

Janis Ian Oh, bubbles. Boy.

Studs Terkel Well, just a--and I did, Ma. You break up during this

Janis Ian Yeah, that's--yeah. The drummer fell off his stool.

Studs Terkel Oh. [content removed, see catalog record] Shades of the Grand Ole Opry.

Janis Ian Oh, I wish the big bands

Studs Terkel WLS Barn Dance. Lulabelle and Scotty, that's who it reminded me of, Lulabelle and Scotty. And, so, throughout with Janis Ian, there's also a double dimension at work here. Was getting a kick out of things in the middle of everything.

Janis Ian I laughed. I laughed. Occasionally.

Studs Terkel You broke up there, too, in one spot.

Janis Ian Yes.

Studs Terkel But also banality is still, the theme we're hitting here now is banality, whether "Good Night, Sweetheart"--

Janis Ian Well, you know, it's three chords and it's like two words.

Studs Terkel Come to "Shady Acres". I say banal because, have you noticed this, did we talk about this during the program, our two programs about the very old and the very young somehow have a--

Janis Ian Right. A link.

Studs Terkel Sort of understanding, it's the people in the middle who are rocking them.

Janis Ian Yeah. Rotten people in the middle.

Studs Terkel In the middle. "Shady Acres". It sounds like the name of a what, a sanitarium, an old people's home? "Shady Acres".

Janis Ian Yeah, that's what it is. In fact, there's a funeral home in California in Los Angeles called Forest Lawn. It's not a funeral home, it's a graveyard.

Studs Terkel It's a great cemetery. A great cemetery.

Janis Ian Oh, it's fantastic. It's really beautiful.

Studs Terkel It has more visitors, as many visitors as

Janis Ian They have all these beautiful reproductions of David and they stick fig leaves on them. It's really incredible.

Studs Terkel So "Shady Acres", and here all of a sudden you're taking a whack, you're defending older people who are being pushed around in a way. At least it seemed that way to me. We'll hear it. Anything you want to say about it?

Janis Ian No, it's just--it was written for Forest Lawn Cemetery, and now they're using it in their ads.

Studs Terkel Using what in their ads?

Janis Ian "Shady Acres".

Studs Terkel Really? "Shady Acres" is your word, it's the word you used. And they're using it in their ads.

Janis Ian Yeah.

Studs Terkel Here then, an ad for Forest Lawn Cemetery. [content removed, see catalog record] And thus it seems the generations repeat themselves, that little flash ahead that you had at the very end, that treatment, you know, this song had so much bite to it, and satire. And almost here again, a recurring theme in Janis Ian's songs, it seems to me, Janis, that you're saying the myth, the fantasy, people are--for their good. We do it because we love them, for their good. You're having this so often, isn't it, their parents of Janey, in "Janey's Blues", that's good, and here they're going to send the old people away for their good. And what are some of those lines that are so potent there, the, they were--the tax deduct--what preceded that again?

Janis Ian Because they're respectable and tax deductible. It's like Dylan has a line now: "Yes, you're very well thought of, and you give all your money to tax deductible charity organizations.

Studs Terkel You hit pretty hard, don't you? For one so young.

Janis Ian Oh, well, sir, you hit pretty hard for one so

Studs Terkel Janis Ian. You mention Bob Dylan, which leads to an interesting song, the "New Christ Cardiac Hero". This is a fascinating one, because I guess everybody looks for someone at a certain time. Not Bob Dylan, obviously he's quite brilliant and you know has a [law?], a reservoir of tremendous talents and yet I don't mean to mention him, but just his name seemed to lead into this next song.

Janis Ian Yeah. You know, a lot of people wonder what it's about. I wrote it for Elvis Presley, because, like, Presley's a new Christ cardiac hero. Presley's not a new Christ cardiac hero, he's the other person in this song and he's always behind the times and never really doing anything new and singing the same songs, making the same movies year after year. And all of a sudden, you know, somebody like the Beatles come along, a new Christ cardiac hero, but Presley doesn't jump on with them. You know, he prefers to stay where it's safe.

Studs Terkel But aren't you also saying that people just latch on to someone, and then when that someone is passe they latch on to someone else--

Janis Ian Right.

Studs Terkel And you're implying "Latch on to yourself"?

Janis Ian Well, they want you to be a God for them and you can't. You know, say that we have no God, each of us is his own.

Studs Terkel Each of us is his own.

Janis Ian Right.

Studs Terkel You know what this like, in the 19th century New England they called the transcendentalists or the new guys, [unintelligible], they said there's a God in every man. Each guy can

Janis Ian be Like

Studs Terkel Like the Quakers. Or like the new theologians, they got a saying that maybe we got to find it in ourselves. In a way you're saying that in this song, aren't you?

Janis Ian That's

Studs Terkel That's what it's about. The "New Christ Cardiac Hero". [content removed, see catalog record] Here again the lines that really tell us what it's all about. Yesterday's preacher or yesterday's god, idol. Yesterday's but today's Bikini Beacher.

Janis Ian Right.

Studs Terkel And, so, we have the kid of the year, the God of the year, the God of the week, and a new one. And Janis Ian, you're saying basically that look for yourself to you as the first.

Janis Ian You don't have to have a God. You don't need one.

Studs Terkel This is a--we've been talking for about two hours now with Janis Ian. There are a couple of more songs I'd like to hear from her albums, both albums and most are from her new one, "For All the Seasons of Your Mind", which is a Verve Folkway album that's in stereo and mono, and it's 3-0-2-4, it's just called "For All the Seasons of Your Mind", Janis Ian, and the first one, which is also Verve Folkways is--

Janis Ian Just "Janis Ian".

Studs Terkel It's just "Janis Ian". But before "Lonely One", there's a song called "Bahimsa".

Janis Ian Yeah. See, that was originally a poem that kind of turned into song, and it's not even a song because it has maybe four notes in it. The whole point of "Bahimsa" was so I could get up on stage and sing it for the people who weren't going to buy the album and let them hear it. You know, but let them hear the words. It's kind of--it's really a poem set to words because you don't really listen to the melody, you just listen to the words.

Studs Terkel These are the words, and these are the words that almost are self-explanatory, the words of today's incredibly obscene headlines in a way, aren't they? About Vietnam. In a way--

Janis Ian About how they send them back in a coffin with a medal on the side.

Studs Terkel And, so, I suppose it self-explains why some of the young guys who are fans of Janis Ian, who like you, these kids feel as they do and do what they do.

Janis Ian Yeah, it's weird.

Studs Terkel Thinking the ones you know I'm sure that many of them I know and I happen to admire very much. Hear "Bahimsa" and perhaps we can, after we hear the words, a comment or two from the lady who wrote it and the lady who sings it. Janis Ian. [content removed, see catalog record] And when the wind from Hiroshima blows ashes into the town, I start thinking Janis, my town, your town. Yeah. Frank Sinatra says of Chicago, "It's my kind of town." Yeah, when the winds of Hiroshima blow ashes into my kind of town, it's beautiful. This of course, obvious, came out of now, didn't

Janis Ian Yeah, that was a now song.

Studs Terkel It's a now song.

Janis Ian I wrote that before I wrote "Society's Child". Wrote that about three months before. It's a really old song.

Studs Terkel You wrote this then more than a year ago or so.

Janis Ian It was--"Society's Child" was two years ago, it was two and a half

Studs Terkel So in the past two years, as we come to the end of this first meeting and I hope the first of many with Janis Ian--

Janis Ian Oh, definitely. Believe me!

Studs Terkel Okay. How many--so in the last two years, the last two years then, pretty fruitful as far as your writing is concerned.

Janis Ian Yeah. The last year especially.

Studs Terkel But how many?

Janis Ian How many good songs?

Studs Terkel Songs. All your songs are pretty good. Some are great. How many songs?

Janis Ian About 60.

Studs Terkel Sixty. And again I ask this, they come out sort of of a piece, is that it?

Janis Ian Right. They just come out.

Studs Terkel Perhaps to end, to remind the audience again. She was here Friday at Orchestra Hall, and she will be returning again for further concerts in Chicago. The two albums of hers available are both Verve. Verve. And it's "For All the Seasons of Your Mind" is the more recent one, but both are--it seems to be essential for anyone who wants to know or feel how the young but how we ourselves feel through a poet who happens to be a singer. Janis Ian. The fact that she's 16 is really a matter of describing her, that's all.

Janis Ian Thank you.

Studs Terkel "Lonely One". If we could end, perhaps we could say goodbye, "Lonely One": How would you explain the last one we'll hear for our get-together?

Janis Ian "Lonely One" is my song. "Lonely One" is one of those songs where you get up on stage and you cry inside. It's about anybody who's ever lonely and who is so lonely that they're scared of people, and that they have to give all the love to the dogs and the cats because they're too scared to give it to people. And they're lonely and they know that they're not really that way. And they become cynical and bitter, but they're not really inside.

Studs Terkel And that deep and something deep inside them is that something.

Janis Ian Yeah.

Studs Terkel That is human.

Janis Ian Like "The New York Times".

Studs Terkel Like "The New York Times".

Janis Ian It's still there.

Studs Terkel Yeah. And likely in a way the cool, those who are outwardly--'cause we meet them a lot, [but that's besides?] the cool. And yet we know that that cool is kind of a front for something--

Janis Ian Inside, you know that they break down. The tough people.

Studs Terkel So here then the last song of Janis Ian for this get-together, the one, the song that I guess concerns all of us. "Lonely One". Thank you very much, Janis.

Janis Ian Thank you.

Studs Terkel And I'll see you again. Definitely. [content removed, see