By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Janis Ian
Janis Ian offers a history of baby boomers (the generation born between 1946 and 1964) in her autobiography “Janis Ian”. In the beginning of Ian’s book, one feels unease with a narrator that slyly slips the appellation of “genius” into a description of herself. One certainly can be a genius but it is déclassé to infer it about oneself.
If one gets past the “genius” appellation, Ian has written a terrific memoir of her time. Ian tells her life story with such candor and believability that by the end of her narration, fellow baby boomers will have relived parts of their lives.
“Society’s Child” is the break through song of a generation, written by 13-year-old Janis Ian. It capsulized white anxiety about discrimination and growing up in a segregated nation of double standards.
The ideas of equality and equal opportunity are written into the American Constitution but are lived differently in real life. Ian compressed anxiety of a generation, about discrimination and inter-racial marriage, into a three-minute song that scared the pants off conservative America and lit up, if not enlightened, a nation.
Every person that lived in that time thinks of something that occurred in their life that told them everything Ian said in “Society’s Child” was true; e.g. one may remember a social studies classroom or European friend that asks why a beautiful Black, Hispanic, or Asian American, is not invited to the high school’ prom by a handsome young white boy.
Janis Ian, a 13-year-old, knew how to succinctly describe what most Americans knew but failed to do anything about. Ian’s “Society’s Child” is a skyrocket to fame. Some of the fame is recollected as booing fans, while the majority seems to say, “good for you; it’s about time”.
It seems soon after “Society’s Child” Ian disappears. Ian’s autobiography shows that “Society’s Child” was not a one-hit wonder but a beginning of an up and down career that began with a bang, morphed into a personal crisis, and grew into a fulfilled life.
Ian’s rise to fame appears to have lasted through most of her high school years but, to many boomers, she disappeared. In Ian’s story, she disappears from her loving family, a father, mother, and brother because of fame’s demands.
In one of her infrequent returns home, she finds her mother and father are divorcing. And, as in most divorces, when children are young, children blame themselves for their parent’s divorce. Initially, Ian explains to her brother that it was not his fault but her fault, because she did not offer more financial support. As Ian’s story unfolds, the fault is more clearly seen as a lonely wife that wanders away from a philandering husband.
As the fame from “Society’s Child” wanes, Ian realizes she has missed a big part of her life. She realizes she is not really a good song writer in spite of the incredible success of “Society’s Child”. She decides to re-educate herself. This is where Janis Ian separates herself from average human beings. This is where genius begins to assert itself.
Ian shows self-centeredness in many parts of her life but an audiobook’ listener begins to see that inner consciousness is what makes Ian’s later work as ground breaking and enlightening as “Society’s Child”. Her life’s journey is on display in her music and that journey is the same journey taken by most human beings. The journey begins with educating yourself about you. No lies; only the truth.
Listening to “Stars” and “At Seventeen” is “everyman’s; every women’s” journey to adulthood. Ian’s genius is in writing a song about herself that means something personal to everyone.
YOUTUBE:WILL YOU DANCE-http://youtu.be/ZIutULYBLNI
Ian began her autobiography by indirectly bragging about being a genius but she ends by proving it. Being a genius did not protect her from human emotion, frailty, or fallibility which is eminently clear in her life story.