Still Breaking Silence: Checking in with Janis Ian on Music, Politics, Recording with Dolly Parton, and the Joys of Married Life

By Stockwell, Anne | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), May 11, 2004 | Go to article overview

Still Breaking Silence: Checking in with Janis Ian on Music, Politics, Recording with Dolly Parton, and the Joys of Married Life


Stockwell, Anne, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Many musicians are gifted; Janis Ian is brilliant. Her resume is nearly as long as her life. In 1967, when she had her first hit, "Society's Child," America was almost as shocked by the youth of the teen singer-songwriter as by the audacity of her "lament for a budding black-white romance stifled by hidebound parents.

Ian's creativity has been boiling ever since. More than 20 intricate and challenging records later--among them 1975's Between the Lines, which yielded her multiple-Grammy-winning hit "At Seventeen"--Ian came out as a lesbian. She moved to Nashville, fell in love, released her landmark 1993 album Breaking Silence, and deepened her command of her art. In recent years, while the music industry dithered over downloads, Ian embraced the Interact. Currently her site offers free MP3s as well as detailed accounts of duetting with Dolly Parton and writing with the late Woody Guthrie on her latest CD, Billie's Bones. Ian is now touring the United States. She e-mailed us from the road.

What's it like living in Nashville at a political time like this? We saw what happened to the Dixie Chicks when they expressed their views.

I'm not sure anything much happened at the end of the day except a great deal of free publicity, frankly; album sales continued, airplay continued (with the exception of that really stupid move by Clear Channel). I think that anytime you express an opinion that goes counter to a portion of the political beliefs of any country, you're bound to get flak. With "Society's Child," people were fired for playing it, a radio station was burned to the ground, children were grounded for listening to it. Nothing nearly so violent occured with this.

In terms of Nashville, it's like any other city; people have opinions, they make them heard, they tend to congregate with others of like minds. I think the diversity of opinion here is much more representative of the country as a whole than, say, New York or Los Angeles.

Your online account of recording Billie's Bones is a fascinating journey. How did you decide to do this, and what surprised you along the way?

I had a few queries from fans wanting to know why I was taking a full year off from touring "just to edit a book, put together a live CD, and record a new CD. …

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