So, I decided to watch a few minutes of the Bonnaroo three-day “music” event in Tennessee live on Hulu last weekend.
It was a mistake.
Look, I am already old and a “get off my lawn” kind of guy.
But what I watched made me realize just how disconnected I am from the music for those of us under 30. Or at least how the media presents those under 30.
What I saw was two guys doing what seemed to be an unrehearsed lip-synch to a song I was familiar with from the 1990s. One guy kept going back to his console and the other guy kept grabbing his own crotch as if he feared it might fall off or something.
I said that just so I can say this: If you are over 60, go buy an album titled “The Light at the End of the Line” by Janis Ian. You will thank me later.
In 1975, Janis Ian wrote her most memorable song called “At Seventeen,” and during her heyday made several memorable albums, including “Between the Lines” and “Stars.” She was, and still is, one of the finer “protest era” writers and singers of our time.
She was not as marketable as Carole King, but instead was a cross between Judy Collins’ voice and Janis Joplin’s attitude.
Joplin, of course, passed away, and Collins and King have faded into elevator music. Ian also disappeared, becoming engaged in a variety of artistic sideroads but last year she resurfaced, completing a truly remarkable album of feminism-driven songs.
It takes about three times of listening to the whole album before you all of the sudden want to listen to it more. And more.
The album starts with a song titled “I’m Still Standing” which should be an anthem for the current older women, like my wife Wendy. She, and so many other of the women of her time, battled their way to equality in a man’s world while trying to be a good mom and family person.
It all came with a high price emotionally and psychologically. Ian puts it this way in “I’m Still Standing”:
See these bruises, see these scars
Hieroglyphs that tell the tale
You can read them in the dark
Through your fingertips like braille
Another line, another year
I’m still standing here.
The lyrics to the second song, “Resist,” are darker and fuller of the resentment that intelligent women have when confronted with the expectations of the world regarding how they should look, dress, and so on.
She is downright angry at those image expectations and the words to the song reflect it. “Resist” is another anthem for intelligent women everywhere.
The third song, and the last I will discuss, is called “Stranger” and puts into words what immigrants across the world must feel like when faced with the unfairness of not being free to go where they wish, mostly due to prejudice and fear. Here are a few of her words:
Did not know a single word
Only knew what I had heard
Land of opportunity
Built by people just like me
I was once a stranger here
The balance of the album is much more personal, similar to my favorite song of hers from 1974 called, “Jesse.” The album is mesmerizing and, even though I am a guy, I think every woman over 60 in the world, can relate.
Four weeks ago, I drove 300 miles round trip to see Ian on her final tour. She is now 71 years old and sat alone on a stage in a small theater in Columbus, Ohio. No crotch grabbing. No lip synch, either. Ian just sang.
The mood was magical and the concert much too short. The woman is incredibly gifted and made her guitar sound like a full orchestra at times. It was an amazing show.
This Friday I will go see Billy Joel in a long-overdue extravaganza at Notre Dame. I respect Billy Joel and like his music, and I am sure there will be some high moments. But I will have to battle the traffic and the souvenir hawkers and the drunk 50-year-olds who still think they are 20. Get off my lawn.
Ian had none of that. It was like sitting in an old friend’s living room and she just happened to have a guitar there. In his mega setting, Joel will have a tough time playing anything that has as much meaning or with as much nuance as what Ian created almost without trying that Wednesday night in Columbus.
I know I am getting old. I know Janis Ian is getting old. I know very few rockers have aged well and were able to keep their edge. Ian did. And I will never forget the concert.
Buy the album. Let it soak in, and let the under-30-year-olds keep their crotch-grabbers.
I’m still standing, with Janis Ian.
Here’s a link to “I’m Still Standing” on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hc3lmY8rDkg