Janis Ian keeps a sign above her workspace at home, a North Star that guides her after more than five decades as a revered songwriter who dares to say what no one else will.

“Do not be held hostage by your legacy.”

When you’ve written, starting at age 14, some of pop music’s most evergreen songs — “Society’s Child,” “At Seventeen,” “Jesse,” and “Stars,” among them — it’s no wonder she’d need a reminder to shake free of our expectations.

Now, at 70, Ian is embracing a new milestone: the art of the farewell. Set for release on January 21, 2022 on her own Rude Girl Records, The Light at the End of the Line is Ian’s latest and last solo studio album to bookend a kaleidoscopic catalog that began with her 1967 self-titled debut.

Ian says, “It takes a certain amount of maturity to realize that you don’t have to keep proving you can write. I’ve already created a body of work I’m proud of, and I’m old enough to realize that it’s the light at the end of the line that matters. And I’m not calling this retiring. It’s rewiring.”

As her first album of new material in 15 years, The Light at the End of the Line also sets the stage for what Ian imagines is her final North American tour in 2022.

Janis IanPeter Cunningham

Let’s be frank: It’s a bittersweet moment for fans who have stuck with her from the very beginning. At once familiar and poignant, these 12 new songs present Ian in miniature. They’re intimate portraits of getting older but wiser (“I’m Still Standing”), of knowing when to stand up and not take any more shit (“Resist”), of celebrating life’s fleeting beauty (“Swannanoa”), of exalting in your true identity (“Perfect Little Girl”), of paying homage to a lifelong hero and her demons (“Nina,” as in Simone).

Her original idea was to name the tour “The End of the Line” and write a song around it, but that felt too bleak. Instead, she says, “I wanted to write about the result of all these years. As part of that, I’ll change it to ‘The Light at the End of the Line’ and write a more adult version of ‘Stars’ to go with it.” From 1973, “Stars” was often called Ian’s “comeback song” and was covered by Nina Simone, Cher, Mel Tormé, and a host of other artists who felt the song spoke to their own lives. “As I wrote ‘The Light at the End of the Line,’ I realized that it’s really a love song. I didn’t understand that so many years of meeting my audience after shows, of corresponding with them, had created this very real relationship that few artists are privileged to have.”

There’s a moment on every Janis Ian album that parts your hair, upends your ideas about her comfort zone. Her latest is full of surprises. She strikes a triumphant tone on the opening “I’m Still Standing”:

See these lines on my face?
They’re a map of where I’ve been
And the deeper they are traced,
the deeper life has settled in
How do we survive living out our lives?

It took Ian nearly three years to whip “Resist” into shape with help from longtime production collaborator Randy Leago. It was worth the wait. A call to arms, it’s a curveball of cacophonous sounds — wailing electric guitars, clanging percussion, feral saxophone — that culminates with Ian rapping about how women are torn down and stripped of their agency.

“Her music is serious but still full of beauty,” says Leago, who co-produced the song and played throughout the album. “I’ve worked with wonderful singers and songwriters and instrumentalists — and Janis is all of that. The sheer honesty of her work is really what shines through.”

Indeed, The Light at the End of the Line feels like a victory lap for an artist who has nothing to lose, and nothing left to prove. You hear that in the risks Ian took in both her lyrics and the inspired production choices.

Ian, who’s fond of saying she doesn’t sing the notes but rather the space between the notes, is at her most primal as a vocalist here. Every note, every cadence, every beat is in the perfect place. She sounds unvarnished yet luminous, as expressive as when she was that young woman delivering “Stars” on late-night TV as if she were beaming in from a cosmic plane. (Google her 1974 live performance on “The Old Grey Whistle Test.”)

Enlisting bassist Viktor Krauss and an all-star cast of supporting musicians (Vince Gill, Diane Schuur, Sam Bush), Ian sends us out on a hopeful note with “Better Times Will Come.” A crash course in American roots music, the joyous coda veers from Appalachian hoedown to New Orleans second-line parade to serious rock shredding.

If The Light at the End of the Line ends up being Ian’s swan song, it’s as graceful an exit as fans could want.

“I love this album,” she says. “There is an element of, ‘This is the absolute best I can do over the span of 58 years as a writer. This is what I’ve learned. And I realized that this album has an arc, and I’ve never really done anything like that before.”

As Ian reflects on a career with its share of hits and misses, it’s startling to realize how urgent and out of time her most fearless work remains. We’re still having the same conversations around race and racism that Ian ignited in 1966’s “Society’s Child,” her teenage ode to a white woman who brings home a black boyfriend. It was so incendiary that it got banned from radio and led to death threats and public ridicule that scarred its songwriter until she finally untangled the trauma in therapy.

In the age of social media, 1975’s “At Seventeen” (from her landmark album Between the Lines) is perhaps more resonant than ever as a meditation on feeling isolated and ostracized.

“It’s a piece of luck when you can hit on a universal theme like ‘At Seventeen,’” she says. “It’s what you strive for as a writer. I’m astonished that the song has lived this long, but I’m also horrified that it, and ‘Society’s Child,’ are both still so relevant. I would have hoped that by now so many things would be better.”

Janis Ian - At Seventeen (Live, 1976) youtu.be

Ian has taken a circuitous path ever since then, scoring nine Grammy Award nominations and two wins (in 1976 for best pop vocal performance-female for “At Seventeen” and in 2013 for best spoken-word album for “Society’s Child: My Autobiography”).

Along the way, she has been a columnist and a ringleader of a lively online fan community. She’s dabbled in science-fiction writing (squint and you’ll see her pal George R.R. Martin, the “Game of Thrones” mastermind, in photos from her 2003 wedding to her wife, Pat). And for the past several years Ian has been devoted to her philanthropic endeavors, the Pearl Foundation and the Better Times Project.

If there has been any common thread, it’s this: Ian has always been down for the ride. “The journey has always been more interesting to me than wherever I end up,” she says.

Which brings us back to that sign above her desk.

“The idea of not being held hostage by your legacy lets you move forward. You don’t have to be held hostage to those memories,” Ian says. “You have to acknowledge them, but you don’t have to stay there. And I never have.”

This article was supplied courtesy of the artist's press page.

SOUTHWEST TOUR DATES

Regardless of local or venue rules, audience members are required to provide proof of vaccination, or proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of attending the show. You must remain masked at all times while in the theater. You will be refused entry if you cannot produce proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test. You will be told to leave if you remove your mask. This is for your safety, and that of Janis and her crew. Please respect the artist and abide by the rules!

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Full info and more tour dates here.

Photo courtesy of Michael Feinstein.

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Michael Feinstein will commemorate Judy Garland’s life on March 20 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.


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I think it’s fair to say we all want that #fitlife, especially with Spring around the corner — as well as Gaypril on the way. Whether it’s pool season yet or not, everyone would choose to look fit over not looking fit, if they could have it with a snap of their fingers. OK, the vast majority of us would.

If you’ve met me, or have been reading my articles, you know that I live, sleep, eat and breathe fitness; it’s my heart and soul. That being said, I’m here to tell you that the concept of “fitness” is oftentimes tragically misunderstood.

Before you get too aggressive with your goal for pool season, let’s dive a bit deeper into what fitness means on the inside versus what it looks like on the outside, and common misconceptions around this concept.

1. Beware of the cultural pitfalls and misleading information around fitness.

Most of the bodies you see in the media are probably not real, they just look very convincing. As a trainer who also moonlights as a photographer and Photoshop wizard, I’m telling you that it is incredibly easy to alter pictures in materially misleading ways. Once you know the tricks of the trade, the imposters are easily spotted. But that’s not what this is about.

The point is: to the untrained eye, it can be devastatingly defeating to see such impossible standards. It seems as though the cultural pressure to look a certain way, to look perfect, has spread all the way from runway models to fitness novices with the help of smartphone apps.

The truth is that we fitness models look that cut, and that lean for only a couple days at a time. That’s it! In many cases, months or even close to a year of training, dieting and programming all go into looking like that for ONE day. Let that sink in for a second. Day to day, I am less cut, less tan and much flatter muscularly than what you see in some of my pictures. That’s just the nature of the beast. So, when you have a bad day on the scale, in the mirror or in any other scenario, remember that we’re all human and that the most legitimate photos you’re comparing yourself against were from someone’s very best day. That should help to keep things in perspective.

2. Most people want the results, without actually doing the work.

Fitness is not six pack abs, it’s not superficial, it is not temporary and it’s not an isolated phase in your life. Further, fitness is not something you do for someone else, do to spite someone else or even to impress someone else.

Fitness is confidence, toughness, dedication, coordination, power, balance, speed, strength (both literally and figuratively) and persistence in the face of all obstacles. This includes control over your attitude, your mood, your sleep, your schedule, your diet and other aspects of your life. This means getting that workout in when you least feel like it.

It’s not easy, and it’s definitely a grind that has good and bad days. You must show up and keep working on the days you’re tired, stressed, rushed, defeated, doubtful, afraid and so on. The days you actually have to overcome something instead of just checking your workout off your to-do list are the days you have the greatest opportunity to really make progress, push your body and see the most improvement.

3. Fitness is really an internal mindset. The external physique is the fringe benefit.

I’ve said this time and time again, and it might sound strange coming from such an aesthetic-focused trainer, but you are not your body. Your body is a tool, it’s a means to an end, to express your internal mindset, belief system, discipline and dedication to your workout program. Your physique will come and go. Your strength will come and go. Your abilities will wax and wane depending on what you’re training for at the time.

The outside will, and should, be always changing, but the inside is what we’re really after here. Good trainers want to train you to believe in yourself when sh*t gets hard. We want to train you to be resilient in the face of injury, obstacles and other setbacks. We want you to set ambitious goals and shoot for the moon because you can get there with smart programming and relentless will (do yourself a favor and ditch the crash diets and the photo editing software).

So, as you make your spring preparations for swimsuit season, try focusing on developing a sterling, unshakeable internal character and the muscles will come along the way, this I promise you.

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