The other Janis

Posted on 14 Jan 2009 at 4:30pm
By RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Lesbian and legendary, folk goddess Janis Ian brings her music to Dallas


MOTHER FOLK | Spend an intimate evening with a Grammy winner. Janis Ian performs new and vintage folk at the Rose Room to raise scholarship funds for the L.E.A.P. educational program.

I SING THEREFORE IAN
The Rose Room inside Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. (VIP reception at 6:30 p.m.). $25–$75. GLBTleap.org.

Janis Ian is busy packing, searching her Nashville home for items she’s worried about forgetting before hitting the road.

"We work a lot," she says.

That may surprise those who scan the pop charts. Ian was at the height of her fame 30 years ago, after her signature single, "At Seventeen," won her the 1975 Grammy Award for best pop vocal performance/female. While she has remained a force in the folk scene, she spent big chunks of the ’80s and ’90s without a record deal.

"It’s really about going where the best project is," she says.

Right now that may be Rude Girl Records, Ian’s own label that has given her a liberty in her songwriting and production. After 40 years, she’s still releasing albums, albeit independently without a big label behind her. Still, last month Sony released The Essential Janis Ian, a two-disc collection spanning her recording career from the ’60s to the present.

She’s paved the way for this new folk movement of the last few years. Many artists today, like Jewel and Jay Brannan, have gone uber-acoustic, stripping down to mere guitars and pianos. Ian says folk music thrives in tougher times. Newer generations may vent their frustrations with today’s politics.

Or sometimes it’s really just about basic music construction. Being a legend in the folk music world, Ian admits to not musing over today’s music all that much.

"It’s probably terrible of me, but I don’t give it a lot of thought. There is some I really like and I do like this resurgence of new folk," she says.

Although Ian spent much of her adult life as an out lesbian, she officially came out at the request of the National Gay Liberation Task Force in 1993 — one of the first in the lesbian music pantheon that includes Melissa Etheridge and K.D. Lang.

"Everyone already knew so I felt that if I did, it would be stupid. After being told that kids were committing suicide over being gay, I had to," she says. And she wouldn’t mind if more artists followed suit.

"Sure I paid a small price. There are some gigs that I didn’t get because of it, but who cares? I think it’s too bad when artists don’t wanna come out. Nothing will change until we’re all out," she says.

Ian comes to town as part of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce’s scholarship fundraiser. The chamber’s new program, Leadership Advocacy and Educational Program (L.E.A.P.) helps provide GLBT youth educational financial aid. Ian stops for a moment.

"It is pretty cool and something that’s very near and dear to my heart. I have my Pearl Foundation that offers scholarships to returning students. Education is a good thing along the way," she says.

She refocuses and it’s back to packing. Hopefully, she won’t forget her guitar. •

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 16, 2009.

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