Janis Ian is coming to the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead, and it’s a big deal for fans and anyone who cares about writing exquisite, intimate songs and performing a master at his craft.
Not only is the legendary singer-songwriter taking part in a “final North American tour” after five decades of writing, producing and performing, but her May 8 concert at the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead is Long’s only date. Island on this tour, and will be the last chance for fans to see the two-time Grammy winner live in a venue on Long Island.
Ian’s best-known hit, “At Seventeen” – a classic ode to teenage angst and the dangers of nostalgia for popularity amid mean girl madness – is just as relevant today in our culture. of super-selfie, obsessed with “like” and intimidating. It was 1975 when he debuted, topping the charts and moving his album Between the lines at the time number one on the Billboard charts. (In 1975, Ian was one of two musical guests – the other Billy Preston – to star in the very first episode of Saturday night live where she performed “At Seventeen”.)
His catalog of over 20 albums is filled with songs ranging from the personal to the political. His latest release The light at the end of the line, which was released in January this year, is his first album of new material in 15 years. Released on his Rude Girl Records label, it’s another sort of “finale” for Ian, who said it was his last solo studio album. Listen to it and you will see that it comes out on a high note.
So yes, Janis Ian, the iconic folk legend, is stepping back from the road. And she means it, even when asked if this latest farewell tour is akin to Cher’s latest farewell tour, in that she says it, but somewhere along the way, she changes opinion and is back on stage for another “final tour”.
“You know, I love Cher but she really ruined everything for all of us,” Ian replies, with his dry, wry tone. “No, I’m done, I’m done. I’m doing Europe and UK next year and Ireland and maybe Scandinavia, but I’m done. I have a few things I want to do in terms of teaching, and maybe I’ll combine it with live performances, but it won’t be a tour…I’m done. I’m 71, you know.
Ian has certainly earned the right to step back from the touring routine. By most accounts a child prodigy, she became proficient on many instruments at a young age and has been writing, recording and performing since her teenage years. The daughter of mixed-race parents, Ian grew up Jewish in New Jersey and broke through with a controversial hit, “Society’s Child”, in the 1960s about an interracial romance banned by the girl’s mother, frowned upon by her peers and the society. It wasn’t an easy release at the time, but the song resonated and put it on the map.
She lived through the challenges of stardom at an early age, two marriages to two different men and now lives with wife Patricia Snyder (they have been together for over 32 years) in the Tampa Bay area of Florida after decades of living in Tennessee. (Ian writes a fun blog titled “Conversations with My Wife” inspired by real-life conversations with Synder that she says she writes “whenever something feels funny and I have time to follow up on it.”)
Ian’s talent for translating his ideas and observations into words and crafted songs, as well as his ability to mesmerize an audience with his intimate performances and musical abilities, is clearly a gift. She now seems determined to take the next step in her life – off the stage – and is doing it on her terms.
“Everyone gets a release plan except us artists, and now we have to write our own release plan map,” Ian explains. “(Joan) Baez writes the map, and Elton (John) writes the map, and I write the map. We write the map for the one who will come after us.
We caught up with Janis Ian who graciously donated Dan’s papers some time on the phone during her busy touring schedule to talk about her upcoming gig at the Suffolk Theatre, her new album and what she plans to do after her final farewell tour.
“Final tour” sounds so…final. I’m sure fans resist this for selfish reasons, like in ‘We Need You, Janis’ – but that’s a good thing, right?
Yes, that’s a good thing and that’s part of the reason why I wrote ‘The Light at the End of the Line’ – and the key phrase is: ‘In due time there will be someone another who will see all the good in your heart, even when we are apart…”
Your new album, 15 years of preparation…
I knew I was going to make an album at some point, and I also knew that I wasn’t going to make another album until I had what I considered 15 flawless songs. And it took a while, and one day I looked up and thought, “Oh, there they are.” And I think every one of these songs is as good as I’ll ever get, so (I said) time to make an album.
What can we expect from your show at the Suffolk Theatre?
Variety. It wouldn’t be fair to tour and not do “At Seventeen” or “Society’s Child.” I have friends there – Jim D’Addario lives there who has provided me with strings and gear for decades now – one of the few companies that has actually supported female musicians like me so he comes at the show. Judy Collins will be at the show. Just a bunch of friends who come to shows now (laughs) — it’s called “the famous friends tour” because the other night it was Arlo Guthrie and there was Jean Smart, there had Joan Baez… We all try to write the map and make sure we don’t have to be constantly on the road or away to be creative.
How do you feel about playing on Long Island?
I’m excited to play on the island – this is my only gig on the island and I’ve been playing on the island since I was 14 and taking the LIE there. I can’t wait to be there, I’ve heard a lot about the theatre. It’s gonna be fun.
You were a teenager at the start of your career. What were your goals and wishes at the time?
Well, they changed. My goal when I was a lot younger was to be a Beatle – to be really famous around the world and have everybody stop me on the street and want autographs and stuff, and I think you’re reaching some point where you have all of that and you realize it’s not as fun as you thought it would be (laughs), and it’s not fun being locked in a hotel room for days on end.
If you’re lucky, you’re also exposed to people like Dave Van Ronk or Odetta who take their work very seriously – those writers and artists, singers and performers, and later Stella Adler and the people who make you take realizing that with talent comes responsibility, and that you are also part of a lineage that goes back to the cavemen – the first person who told a story. … It’s a lineage thousands and thousands of years old — these bones that you’re standing on. And it is important to recognize and live up to this lineage.
So I have a very high idea of what it’s like to be an artist… are you going to be a help to the world or are you going to be a bum or a complete hindrance and drive everyone crazy? I think we’ve seen too much of that lately.
Have you ever looked back and realized your own impact and what you have created?
I do not think about it. It’s not that important. I mean, it’s important to others and it’s fantastic that it’s been good – and it’s still good. “At Seventeen” continues to make people feel better – and it’s truly amazing that this song has that kind of life. But beyond that, I don’t think about it much because what I’ve done doesn’t interest me. I am interested in what I do.
Describe a Perfect Day “Janis Ian”.
I would read. Play with my dog. Maybe do some cooking, maybe eat at a good restaurant. Maybe go kayaking. I don’t know – it’s been so many years since I’ve had the luxury of being bored that it’s hard to imagine what it will be like, but I consider it a very worthy goal in my life.
Apart from music, what do you like to do?
I’m not a big fan of radishes, but other than that, pretty much everything.