Hendrix and Janis Joplin warned her off drugs, she sang for James Brown and Salvador Dalí offered to paint her. Janis Ian’s confessional folk-pop is still sensational – so why is she retiring from recording?
‘I learned the truth at 17 / That love was meant for beauty queens / And high school girls with clear-eyed smiles / Who married young and then retired.” Janis Ian’s At Seventeen is an indelible portrait of life from the perspective of a socially awkward unattractive teen, inspired by a newspaper article that the singer-songwriter read about a young woman who thought her life would be perfect. “I learned the truth at 18,” the girl told the journalist. Ian changed her age and spent three months working on the intimate and confessional lyrics.
“You couldn’t write a song like that without having gone through it,” Ian says, video-calling from her home in New Jersey. Now 70, her hair is short and white, no longer the dark curls she sported on her album covers during the 60s and 70s. “The first time I sang At Seventeen in public I did it with my eyes closed. I felt like I was naked and I was sure the audience was going to be laughing.”