Society’s Child

“I don’t think I knew where I was going when I started it, but then when I hit the second line, “Faces clean and shining, black as night,” it was obvious where the song was going. I was living in East Orange at the time, I was 14, 13. It was an all-black neighborhood, I think there were five white kids in the school. So I was seeing it from both ends, I was seeing it from the end of a lot of the civil rights stuff going on on television and on the radio, of white parents being incensed when their daughters would date black men, and I was seeing it around me when black parents were worried about their daughters or sons dating white girls or boys. You know, I don’t think I made a conscious decision to have the girl cop out in the end, it just seemed like that would be the logical thing at my age, because how can you buck school and society and your parents? You’d make yourself an outcast forever. My parents were the complete opposite of the parents in that song. They wouldn’t have cared if I’d married a Martian, so long as I was happy.”Janis Ian (179)

At Seventeen

“Oh that’s me. That’s one of the few. That’s absolutely me. I don’t think you can write a song like that – if it’s not your personal experience.”Janis Ian (180)


“Well, the song ‘Stars’ is about the phenomenon of people like Judy Garland. A certain kind of audience likes to see you go down in flames. With one hand bravely waving. And some people look at it the way I look at it; which is, if you’re going to be a star, you either transcend the phenomenon or you don’t. That might sound condescending to anyone who is not a star, but you do transcend it, like you transcend adolescence. You rise above it, emotionally and intellectually. If you can’t do that, then you go down. And a song like ‘Stars’, to me, anyway, if anything, is more a banging on the door than giving up.”Janis Ian (700)

His Hands

“[‘His Hands’ deals with the phenomenon of wife-beating from a position of personal experience – Ed.] There’s a real difference between somebody getting mad and throwing something, and somebody who rages. I had never met anybody who raged before my ex-husband, and I remember the first time he raged, I thought, This is really weird – I had no previous experience of it, and therefore no defense against it.”Janis Ian (701)

Breaking Silence

“[‘Breaking Silence’ offers an unflinching account of the effect of child abuse – Ed.] People tend, because of ‘At Seventeen’, and because I’m pretty non-judgmental, to tell me things they don’t tell other people and I was hearing that so much from people, it just infuriated me. I was one of the lucky ones who was never molested by anybody. A guy tried once, and I told him my father would kill him. But I have an ex-lover who was very badly molested, for years and years, and just dealing with picking up the pieces from that – I’d still like to kill her father. I’m at the point now where I come from the cut-off-their-hands-and-feet-and-let-them-fend-for-themselves school. It’s real weird to sing it, because when I hit the line ‘Fathers who are lovers to the daughters that they own’, you can see certain men in the audience look away, and certain women flinch.”Janis Ian (701)