Ever have those moments when you realize Mom was right and you shouldn't have ever questioned her judgment in the first place?
Imagine it's the mid-'90s and you're trying to run for president of the Alternative Nation. You've got your Doc Martens, you only read zines that were stapled by hand and your listening habits consist primarily of Riot Grrrl records like Bikini Kill and lo-fi tape compilations from Shrimper Records. Your mom pops her head in your bedroom one day while you're rockin' out: "You should check out Janis Ian. I think you'd really like her."
"That's hippie shit, Mom," you reply.
Fast-forward a decade and change. You're working in an office crunching revenue numbers for imaginary property, having more or less abandoned the "us vs. them" mentality that fueled your punk-rock adolescence. You wander into your buddy's office and hear a really cool psychedelic pop song that hits all the right buttons in your jaded, music-cramped brain.
"Who are you listening to?" you ask.
The sound of your hand slapping against your forehead reverberates through the fluorescent light-soaked halls of your staid corporate penitentiary like a fart in the Abbey Road echo chamber and you realize that Mom was right all along.
This is why I would like to recommend Janis Ian for canonization in the hipster folk pantheon. Sure, songs like "At Seventeen" will endure as long as there are smart girls who don't get invited to high school make-out parties, but this is an artist who should be synonymous with rebellious over-read youth the same way Sublime are the patron saints of dorm-room beer bashes. Ian's discography should be on the Introduction to Indie-Folk syllabus alongside peers like Nick Drake and Vashti Bunyan. If the Incredible String Band can experience a renewed critical vitality, so can Ian. Hell, as far as great albums go, she's got 'em beat by at least a 3-to-1 ratio.
Over her 40-plus years of cuttin' sides, Ian has amassed a huge number of hipster points but they just haven't been cashed in. Consider the following. Her first single, "Society's Child," pissed off a huge portion of America for openly discussing interracial romance. She was on one of the most adventurous labels of the '60s, Verve/Forecast Records, the same label as The Velvet Underground, The Mothers of Invention and—for those who like to let it all hang out—The Hombres. And while she may have had more popular success at the time, four decades later her albums of that era are just as engaging and avant-garde as those of her peers. And they're tough as shit to find on a good, undestroyed vinyl copy, which I'm pretty sure at least triples the cool credits.
Her mid-'70s output—where I'm pretty sure I got my "hippie shit" characterization from—doesn't follow in the same psyched-out baroque vein, veering more toward understated country-jazz territory that obviously isn't going to click with a cranky teenage Crass fan but hits home with a worse-for-the-wear almost-thirtysomething. If you've been digging the Bon Iver, Beach House or She and Him records from last year, you need to cart your ass to Grimey's or The Groove and pick up Stars, Between the Lines and Aftertones. To top it off, her new albums are self-released, totally DIY affairs—which is indie as fuck and brings the whole thing full circle, hence the petition for canonization.
Janis Ian is the original rebel girl songwriter and should be recognized as such. If you don't believe me you should ask your mom. Mom always knows best.
I'm too sexy for my human, as I do my little turn on the manwalk.
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