Friday, Sept. 16
Green Lantern (1335 Green Court, N.W.) presents Fahrenheit tonight with Susan Morabito at 9 p.m. Cover is $7.
Busboys & Poets is kicking off a new monthly event, an open mic, jam session and talent showcase, tonight at 10 p.m. hosted by Y’Anna Crawley in the Zinn Room of its Hyattsville location (5331 Baltimore Ave., Suite 104). Admission is $5 at the door.
The Gay District Open House is tonight at 8 p.m. at St. Margaret’s Church (1830 Connecticut Ave., N.W.) from 8 to 11:30 p.m. Gay District is a weekly discussion group for gay men from the ages of 18 to 35.
The D.C. Queer Writers Collective will be holding its monthly writing circle tonight at the D.C. Center (1318 U St., N.W.) at 6 p.m.
D.C. Women in Their Thirties will meet tonight at 8 p.m. at the D.C. Center (1318 U St., N.W.).
Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) is having its weekly Bear Happy Hour tonight starting at 6 p.m. There is no cover for this 21 and older event.
Touchstone Gallery (901 New York Ave., N.W.) has two exhibits on display, “The Nature of Joy” featuring pastels by Lou Gagnon and “Off the Square” featuring canvas wall reliefs by Mary H. Lynch. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 17
A new gay-welcoming Catholic church, St. Hedwig’s Old Catholic Church, has its first Mass today at 9 a.m. The church will meet each Sunday morning at Palisades Community Church (5200 Cathedral Ave., N.W.) in Washington. The church, not affiliated with the Vatican, describes itself as one with “progressive Catholic values” that welcomes those “disaffected by mainstream traditions” and what some consider “politically distorted teachings of Christ” in other faith traditions. Bishop Michael Seneco, who’s gay, is the pastor. Visit sainthedwigs.org for more information. All are welcome.
The Skullduggery and Skin Show is tonight at Red Palace (1212 H St., N.E.) at 10 p.m. featuring magic and burlesque. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at redpalacedc.com. All attendees must be 21 or older.
DJ Abel will be spinning at Town’s (2009 8th St., N.W.) Red Party tonight at 10 p.m. There is a $8 cover from 10 to 11 p.m. which then goes up to $12. All attendees must be 21 or older.
Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens (4155 Linnean Ave., N.W.) is having its tenth annual Gay Day today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Partnering with Rainbow Families, the morning starts with a LGBT family garden party. The afternoon will bring square dancing, music, “Punch on the Portico” and more. General admission is $15, $12 for seniors and $10 for members and college students. Children 18 and under will be admitted for free.
The Ladies of Lure present Bare: Ol’Skool Edition with DJ Rosie and DJ Keenan with special guests DystRucXion Dancers at Cobalt (1639 R St., N.W.) tonight at 10 p.m. There is a $7 cover before midnight and $10 after. All attendees must be 21 or older. There will be a cash prize for the best ol’ skool attire.
Black Cat (1811 14th St., N.W.) presents Hellmouth Happy Hour where every week an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” will be screened and drink specials will be offered. This week the episode is “Passion.”
Chris Brown will be performing at the Verizon Center (601 F St., N.W.) tonight at 7 p.m. with Kelly Rowland, T. Pain and Tyga. Tickets range from $39.75 to $85.75 and can be purchased online at ticketmaster.com.
Green Lantern (1335 Green Court, N.W.) hosts “Slippery When Wet: Black Out!” tonight from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. with prize packages and Manhunt giveaway. DJ t-one D.C. will be spinning.
Sunday, Sept. 18
Anniething Goes and 2Tuff present LTJ Bukem at U Street Music Hall (1115 U St., N.W.) with Thunderball, Slant, BJoo and vAnniety Kills tonight at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at ustreetmusichall.com.
Zoom Urban Lesbian Excursions presents Hoopnotica today at 3 p.m. The class, which will teach the basic moves of hooping, will take place at Sylvan Theater on the National Mall near the Washington Monument and hoops will be available to rent. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at phatgirlchic.com/zoom.
Monday, Sept. 19
Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) is throwing a New Year’s Eve-style party tonight to countdown to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Tuesday. Doors open at 9 p.m. and there is no cover. This is not a fundraiser and is one of many parties happening around the country. For more information, visit servicemembers.org.
The Library of Congress Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender Employees presents “The Frank Kameny Papers: A Gallery Talk” today at the Library of Congress (101 Independence Ave., S.E.) at noon, led by John Earl Haynes, a modern political historian at the Library, and focusing on two items from the Kameny Papers currently in the “Creating the United States” exhibit.
Tuesday, Sept. 20
Remington’s (639 Pennslyvania Ave., S.E.) is hosting D.C. Drag Idol tonight from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. hosted by Raquel Savage Black. Admission is $5.
The LGBT Congressional Staff Association is hosting a panel discussion tonight from 5 to 7 p.m. at in the Orientation Theatre at the Capitol Visitors Center to discuss racial justice and LGBT equality. Some of the topics will include addressing homophobia, bi and transphobia in the black community, cultural barriers to coming out, how do African-American LGBT images in media shape attitudes and more. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, email [email protected]
Wednesday, Sept. 21
Green Lantern (1331 Green Court, N.W.) will host the weekly Poz D.C. happy hour upstairs from 8 p.m. to midnight.
Jonathan Dillon from American University will be presenting his work and research with three LGBT rights organizations in Uganda at the D.C. Center (1318 U St., N.W.) tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. The presentation will largely focus on the work of these organizations but some research findings will be shared. There is a recommended donation of $5 that will be given to the organizations in Uganda.
Thursday, Sept. 22
Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) is having its monthly meeting tonight in the main room at the D.C. Center (1318 U St., N.W.) from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Stonewall Kickball presents “Chow Down for the D.C. Center” at Level One (1639 R St., N.W.) tonight. All night, twenty percent of the food sales will be donated to the Center.
The D.C. Center (1318 U St., N.W.) and Tongue in You Ear presents the Brother Tongue Poetry Workshop series. Tonight is the first in a series of four workshops led by Regie Cabico, a three time National Poetry Slam finalist who has appeared on two season of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. All sessions will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 for all four sessions. For more information and to register, visit thedccenter.org.
Lambda Sci-Fi, an LGBT science fiction, fantasy and horror group, is having its book discussion group today at 7 p.m. at 1425 S St., N.W. For more information, call James at 202-232-3141, e-mail to [email protected], or visit the group’s website lambdascifi.org.
June Jambalaya, lightly seasoned newcomer thickens mix of RuPaul’s Drag Race
“Some are born into drag greatness, some achieve drag greatness, and some have drag greatness thrust upon ‘em.”
That iconic line, from the 1602 Shakespeare play “RuPaul’s Twelfth Night,” is as true today as when it was first spoken on the stage of London’s Globe Theatre. Back then, the female roles were played by men. Times may have changed, but the song remains the same: Those with male plumbing who plumb the depths of what it takes to play a woman find themselves doing so through dynasty, scrappy determination, destiny, or a road they have to hoe on their own.Season 14 “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant June Jambalaya found herself in the iconic workroom and runway in a very roundabout way, indeed.
“I have been in the performing arts my entire life, going to performing arts school, and I moved out to LA to get my degree in fine arts” said the 29-year-old Jacksonville, Florida native, who spoke with us just prior to the Season 14 premiere episode, in which she’s introduced alongside half of the cast. Jambalaya, whose drag name came about when a dance instructor asked for her birth month and the last thing she ate, stayed in LA after graduation but found things “didn’t go as planned, you know, just auditioning but still working my job. I worked as a visual manager for a luxury department store, so it [drag] gravitated to me because actually, I was choreographing for a co-worker. It gave me an opportunity to use my degree and use my talents—because I felt kind of frustrated with auditioning and the world of performing. I didn’t fit the stereotypical body that a male backup dancer or performer should have and so it drew me to drag because this was an art form where you got to make your own rules and really pick your narrative, which made me even more intrigued to do it for myself.”
While doing choreography for local LA drag queens, noted Jambalaya, “They encouraged me to try it [drag], and I entered a nightly competition at Revolver and won and then I did a 10-week competition at Revolver and won. So all the stars just kind of aligned. It just felt like I was doing something right with all of the talents and gifts I felt like I had.”
BLADE: What sort of style were you drawing from in those early performances?
JUNE JAMBALAYA: When I first started drag, my references were from the Latrice Royales and the Roxy Andrews. I looked at the queens before me that really put on high-energy, like high old school drag numbers and performances. But the more I got to experience who June was, her brand and you know my own artistry I started to really pull from my love for the modern woman and thinking about like, my mom and my sister and my aunts and how I was always inspired by women, especially minority women, because they were the strongest, most fearless, most stylish women that I got to encounter so I really drew a lot of those references into my drag. And then I also, you know, I call myself The Real Housewife of Drag because of my love for the franchise and how real women just sit there fully dressed and living their fantasy on television. That’s sort of what this is for me.
BLADE: You’re serious about the way you use fashion. Does that clash with camp elements of drag?
JUNE: Yes I’m funny, but I don’t consider myself a comedy queen. I think it’s performance with looks, um, because I revealed myself in a Christopher John Rogers couture gown and then I added a train and airbrushed my name on there to make it, you know, it was fashion but then I made it camp and, you know, urban by airbrushing it—having my nails, have my name hang off… So I’m wearing these designer pieces that you typically don’t see from someone; I’m a size 14, 16 and you haven’t really seen a big girl pull out these type of designers this way and I think that’s interesting. So my camp comes in my love for the visual… You’ll see me inside a waterfall performing a song for a video. That’s where I think my camp comes through, in my visual artistic side. But with my fashion, I really do try to show that plus-sized women and full-figure people love and respect fashion and there is room for us there, too.
BLADE: What is an LA club experience with you like, as opposed to what we’re going to see on television?
JUNE: I have always picked things that felt good to me, but I’m learning that I still have to pick numbers that people are going to enjoy. But when you come to a June Jambalaya performance, you want high energy. You know I’m gonna have backup dancers. So like me and my girls, we rehearse these numbers for weeks on end before the show. One of my biggest inspirations is Beyoncé. I’ve been to more concerts than I’d like to admit.
BLADE: Oh, there’s no shame in that.
JUNE: (laughs) Seeing those shows, all the way down to the costumes and the choreography, all that time and effort that went into it—so I try my best, with the resources I have, to give people that live tour show experience.
BLADE: Your life will be different from the moment the show starts airing. What is the waiting experience like, and have you been given any helpful advice from other queens?
JUNE: So recently, I posted a Christmas video that took three months to film—and it’s different now, because of the [Season 14] announcement, and people know the show is coming. So I get to hear from people from Brazil and Belize message me and tell me how much they enjoyed my video, and people who don’t even celebrate Christmas, that these visuals and these packages of my art are reaching all over the world—it’s blowing my mind to think about this time last year. I had maybe 2,000 followers and I just had dream and I was making videos and taking photos like crazy, and now it’s [the buzz leading up to the show] unfolding before my eyes.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have conversations with Gigi Goode, Kandy Muse, and LaLa Ri. They have all been so extremely supportive. I think Gigi Goode gave me some of the best advice. She came to my “Showgirls” performance and she was like, “Do everything, every opportunity that comes to you. You’re going to be tired but this is going to be the ride of your life—and everything you’ve dreamt of, you can literally do right now. So whatever is in your head, let it out.”
BLADE: What advice would you give to those who are just starting out with their drag, and is having a formal background like yours helpful?
JUNE: I think it [education] definitely helped me, but I haven’t been doing drag that long. I started April 2019… But I think when you find something you’re passionate about you will do the work to further educate yourself on it, and I really do believe I did that. So my advice to anyone embarking on something or doing something they’re passionate about is, pull from people who are doing it really, really well. I think one of the best things that I did, I watched Roxy Andrews. I studied with Aquaria [as I was preparing my audition tape]. I saw what the best of the best were doing, to prepare myself to meet that level of excellence. When you’re in this high-pressure drag situation, and mind you, this was just a hobby for me. I had a full-time job. So I went from a part-time baby queen to now doing it full-time, 18-hour days. So it showed me there’s still so much to be done, to be in drag all day, to go from doing an acting challenge to getting ready for a runway. It’s so physically demanding, to be a full-time drag queen.
BLADE: So are you in better shape now than you were before?
JUNE: Well, we filmed it a while ago. I was in really good shape. Then I took a break and ate some food, enjoyed the holidays. Now it’s kicking back in. You know, press [to do] and outfits need to fit (laughs).
BLADE: What do you hope to achieve, as a result of being on the show?
JUNE: I’ve never been to Fashion Week. I would love to experience that or walk and be a part of it, or be part of a beauty brand or something of that nature. But when it comes down to artistry, we have a whole Vegas residency with “RuPaul’s Drag Race” now. I would love the opportunity for that—or the Werq the World Tour, to actually; Imagine if I got to take all of my visuals and put it on the stage… that’s an artist’s dream.
Follow June Jambalaya on Instagram/TikTok/Twitter: @junejambalaya. To stay up-to-date on all things #DragRace Season 14, follow along on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok at @rupaulsdragrace.
‘Fiona and Jane’ an enticing look at lifelong friendship
Two women bicker, fall distant – then meet again
‘Fiona and Jane’
By Jean Chen Ho
c. 2022, Viking
“Fiona and Jane,” a new short story collection by Jean Chen Ho is an enticing New Year’s present. The captivating volume features secrets, family conflict, queerness, astute cultural observations, and above all, friendship.
We long to fall in love. So we lose our hearts to our lovers and go to pieces when our relationships break up.
Yet, especially, if we’re women and/or queer, we want a best friend as much, maybe more, than we do a lover.
Fiona and Jane, Asian Americans, grew up in Los Angeles. They’ve been best friends since they met in LA in second grade. Jane’s family emigrated to Los Angeles from Taiwan. Fiona, with her mother, came to LA from Taiwan when she was a young child.
In “Fiona and Jane,” Ho’s debut collection, the two friends over 30 years grow from second-graders to 30-somethings. Ho’s linked stories draw us into Fiona and Jane’s friendship as they become, at different times, incredibly close, then distant (both geographically and emotionally) from each other.
Ho, 41, has more writing chops than you can imagine. She is a doctoral candidate in creative writing and literature at the University of Southern California where she is a Dornsife Fellow in fiction. Ho has an MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her writing has been published in The Georgia Review, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, McSweeney’s, and other publications.
Ho was born in Taiwan, grew up in Southern California and lives in Los Angeles. But, “none of the things that happen to Fiona and Jane are autobiographical,” she said on the podcast “All of It with Alison Stewart,” “I didn’t mine my particular life experiences and put them in the book out of respect to my oldest and dearest friends.”
Fiona is hetero, smart and attractive. As a teen, she earns enough money to buy a secondhand car (named Shamu, Ho writes, “after the Sea World killer whale because of the corroding white patches all over the black paint.”).
While Fiona’s mother isn’t religious, Jane’s Mom is devoutly Christian. Jane is bisexual. When she and Fiona are teens, they kiss “to practice” – what kissing’s like. Though she doesn’t tell her Mom, Jane, when a teenager, has a romantic relationship with her female piano teacher.
When she’s young, Jane often does what Fiona does. Because Jane’s tall, she’s often thought of as “Fiona’s bodyguard.” As she grows older, Jane begins to rely more on herself.
Fiona is eager to leave LA. She goes to college, then moves to New York City with her first boyfriend. She enters law school, then drops out.
Jane stays in Los Angeles. She opts to take a gap year between high school and college. The gap year morphs into a couple of years. Jane has relationships with women as well as with Julian, a vet who has PTSD.
Though Fiona and Jane are quite different from one another, they keep circling back to each other. Despite their differences, they have one thing in common: they both have lost their fathers.
In one of the collection’s most moving stories, “The Night Market,” Jane speaks of her visit before she graduated high school to Taiwan where she has come to see her Dad. Her Dad has gone from LA to Taiwan for a temporary job. Jane learns that he’s going to stay in Taiwan because he’s fallen in love with a man there. Her Dad asks her to keep this a secret. But, in her pain at his revelation, she outs him. Jane blames herself for his suicide.
Fiona discovers as a child that she’s never known her father. Her mother raises her on her own.
Over the years, Fiona and Jane bicker, fall distant – then meet again. As teens, they help each other get fake IDs so they can drink. As adults, they help each other through moving apartments, love affairs and mourning.
“Sixteen years since my father died, and I was still alive,” Jane thinks, “I got up, every morning. I lived, day by day. I had my best friend, Fiona Lin.”
Check out “Fiona and Jane.” Then, text your best friend.
Lighting the way: an interview with singer Janis Ian
Veteran performer embarking on final tour
By my count, queer singer/songwriter Janis Ian has had four distinct chapters in her musical career. The first began when she was in her teens with the release of her groundbreaking single “Society’s Child,” and the albums on Verve Records that followed in the late 1960s. By the mid-1970s, for the second chapter, Ian signed to Columbia Records, resulting in the biggest hit single of her career, the Grammy Award-winning classic “At Seventeen.” She remained on Columbia into the early 1980s, even collaborating with Giorgio Moroder on the song “Fly Too High.” The third chapter occurred in the early 1990s. Bette Midler recorded Ian’s song “Some People’s Lives,” the title track of Bette’s Grammy-winning 1991 album. Ian herself recorded the song for her marvelous 1993 comeback album, the aptly titled “Breaking Silence.”
Ian has not been sitting idle since that time, mind you. She’s released a few more albums, including some on her own Rude Girl Records label. She also published her memoir “Society’s Child: My Autobiography” in 2008 and won her second Grammy for the audiobook. I have had the pleasure of interviewing Janis in 1994, 2004, 2008, and in 2022, and it is always a revelatory experience. She was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of the release of her flawless new album “The Light at the End of the Line” (Rude Girl).
BLADE: I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with the best way to say this, and I keep returning the fact that with The Light at the End of the Line, your extraordinary last solo studio album, you are going out with a bang.
JANIS IAN: [Laughs] better a bang than a whimper!
BLADE: What was involved in the decision to make this your final studio recording?
IAN: I think hitting 70 was a big part of it. Having the last 15 years to put together songs and wanting to make something that was better than anything I’d done before was involved. Mostly, the timing really worked out. I went into lockdown right around when I needed or wanted to start thinking about this. I had no plans until I looked up at my write board and realized I had 15 songs I was pleased with, and one unfinished. I started listening to what Randy Leago had done with “Resist,” and I began working with Viktor Krauss on “Better Times…” I had originally intended to do an all-solo acoustic album, but it became clear that I really wanted a blend of it to serve the songs. There wasn’t a sudden, “Gee, I’ll make an album now” decision. There was more a talking to people and seeing where Randy and Viktor’s schedules were. Seeing where John Whelan was. Whether we could get Nuala Kennedy to do her parts from Ireland. Finding a studio where I live, which is near Bradenton, so there’s not a huge amount of studios available. Then just winnowing down the songs and going, “Well, I think this is actually an album.”
BLADE: Among the many aspects that make The Light at the End of the Line exceptional is that for the 12 songs, you draw on the many influences spanning your five-decade career, beginning with “I’m Still Standing,” which is as personal as, say, “At Seventeen.”
IAN: I would say so. That was part of my goal for the entire album, and part of the winnowing down of songs, was to make sure that the songs I picked were as universal as possible, and also songs that would hopefully stand the test of time. I mean it’s incredible that “At Seventeen” was released in 1975. It’s 45 years later and it’s still getting lots of airplay. Lots of people still sing it. People are still affected by it, young people, not people anywhere close to my age. So, to make an album that would reach as many people as possible emotionally, and at the same time have songs that were as well-written as I’m capable of doing after almost 60 years as a songwriter; that was the challenge, really. So, I’m glad to hear you say that.
BLADE: The social consciousness of your music extends all the way back to “Society’s Child” and continues today with songs such as “Stranger” and “Resist.” Please say a few words about the role of social commentary in your music.
IAN: I was raised in a very political family. I grew up stuffing envelopes and going to marches. My parents were both politically aware. My mom did things like attend the Civil Rights Congress. My parents were under watch by the FBI. So, it was a natural part of my life. Everyone we knew was involved, in one way or another, in politics and social issues, because I would regard feminism as much as a social issue as a political one. Although the line between the two is pretty blurred these days as I’m sure you know. “Stranger” just came out of nowhere one night. I had an off night and I never write on the road, ever. I think I’ve written two songs in my life while I was touring. But I was changing guitar strings and came up with that little pattern and the song just fell out in the course of the evening. I’ve been thinking about it a lot because my own grandfather had to come into America on a cousin’s passport. None of us found out his real name or the story until we were in our 20s and 30s. So I started thinking with all these people saying “illegals should be deported, even if they grew up here, even if they were born here, even if they’ve lived here 40 years, where does that leave me? Should I be sent back to Poland or Russia or the Ukraine?
BLADE: It truly resonates and it’s an ongoing issue. That leads me to the next question, which is about the anthemic single “Resist,” which is one of the album’s most powerful statements, with its “I will not disappear” and titular chants. Are you ever shocked that you still find yourself having to write and perform a song such as this?
IAN: I’m shocked that it hasn’t been fixed by now [laughs], and that it seems to be getting worse. I think that in some ways my generation underestimated the determination of the powers that be to stay in power. We knew about the FBI and the CIA, but it would never have occurred to us that there would still be genital mutilation. That women would still be burned on pyres. That there would be revenge rape. It’s a shock that these things still need to be addressed, but it’s not shocking that they need to be written about. I also think that music cuts through the noise in a way that very few other things can. Politics becomes just noise. Social media becomes just noise. Music has the ability to touch people’s hearts directly in a way that none of those things can. I didn’t set out with “Resist” and think, “Oh, I’m going to write a protest song about this.” But I was plenty annoyed when I wrote it.
BLADE: That definitely comes through.
IAN: It’s a fine line for me because my voice only carries so far. I can’t do what certain singers can do with their voices. I have a relatively light voice. That’s one of the great things about Randy Leago, and what he did with it. Because he managed to leave all that space for the vocal while surrounding it with…oh, I think I had asked for angry drums. So, the first thing you hear is that thud of the bass drum, which to me is like a footstep coming into the room. Lines like “I cannot be your virgin and I will not be your whore” came out of my own experience.
BLADE: It really is an incredible song. “Nina” is a breathtaking tribute to Nina Simone. It made me think about her performance in Questlove’s 2021 documentary Summer of Soul, and how she’s being reintroduced to new generations. Have you seen the doc?
IAN: I have not seen that, but I did see the Liz Garbus documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? (from 2015) because she’s singing my song in it.
BLADE: What do you think she’d think of your song about her?
IAN: [Big laugh] I would not begin to wonder what Nina would think about anything. I wouldn’t go there for $1,000,000. Well, maybe for $1,000,000, but I would be pretty unsure of myself. Nina was monumentally easy and monumentally difficult to love. That’s what I tried to capture in the song. She was biologically ill, mentally ill, I would say, but I’m not sure what the correct phrase is these days. But there was such a big biological aspect to it and by the time that was really beginning to be understood and treated, she had already burned so many bridges and made so many people angry. I feel like I saw Nina at her best and her worst. Her best was so much better than any other performer I’ve ever watched. And her worst was pretty scary.
BLADE: As a gay man, I have always loved the story about Nina’s correspondence with Langston Hughes.
IAN: She and (James) Baldwin (were friends), too. We had lunch at my mother’s one day and she showed up with James Baldwin in tow. I don’t think she cared about that at all because artists tend not. It doesn’t really matter, it’s like skin color. Who cares as long as you’re doing great work. It’s the world that surrounds us that becomes the problem.
BLADE: That is very true! Album closer “Better Times Will Come” is the kind of uplifting number we all need at this time. I was delighted by Diane Schuur’s scat…
IAN: Isn’t she great? Deedles!
BLADE: Her “Shayna maidel” shout-out elevates the song to a different level.
IAN: We probably talk every couple of weeks or more often. We’re good buddies. She’s great.
BLADE: Was that song as much fun to record as it is to listen to?
IAN: It began out of the Better Times project that I started when lockdown began — bettertimeswillcome.com. That involved, in the end, 187 artists all doing their own versions of the song. We’ve got 13 versions still to put up! Everything from Japanese sign language interpretation to a Dutch version to a Mandarin Chinese version to banjo or guitar or flatfooting. When it came time to record it, I wanted to close the album with it, but do something completely different from what I’d done already. My version that everybody worked off for the project was just me singing the song immediately after I finished it into my phone, no guitar, no nothing. You can go to bettertimeswillcome.com and watch all those videos, see all those versions, listen to them, download them. It was a great way to promote other artists who had projects coming out and suddenly couldn’t tour or make book appearances, all of that through my Facebook page. The Facebook people were wonderfully generous. I didn’t want to repeat that or reuse it, so it became question of how I do this so that it’s totally different from anything on the album and it maintains that spirit of inclusivity. I reached out to Viktor and we literally both sat down with our phone books and went, “OK, this person would be great. That person would be great. Are they available?” Vince Gill wasn’t available because he’s out with the Eagles. We told Vince we had a two-month window and he literally turned it in three days before we went to mix. With Deedles (Schuur), she’d been in lockdown for a while. There was no nearby studio. It was working with her manager to find a studio and then coordinating it with her so that she felt safe, and she could do it in her own time, in her own way. For all the musicians, it became a question of me saying, “This is a step-out moment. Treated it like you’re in the (Tommy) Dorsey bands in the old days and he suddenly points to you and says “You take your solo. No preparation, no leading up to it, no ramping up. You just start max.” I was really pleased with it. John Cowan singing a verse to start off with. That’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, and I’ve always wanted John to sing one of my songs. The harmonies are great. People like Andrea Zonn, who’s normally out with James Taylor, because of COVID they were available. It worked for the piece. Viktor and Jared (Anderson), the young engineer he found, worked at assembling. We spent a lot of time on it. It felt like we just needed something to give us all a bit of hope, and yet to recognize COVID, which is why the ending is what it is. Because we keep thinking we’re good and then we’re not and we think we’re good and then we’re not. Trying to speak to that, as well.
BLADE: As a songwriter, you have a long history of having your songs recorded by other performers. If you had to choose one song from The Light at the End of the Line to be covered by another artist, what song would it be and who would want to hear sing it?
IAN: Oh, man, that’s pretty easy! I would have P!nk record “Resist.” I think she would slay that; I think she would just kill that song.
BLADE: Not only is The Light at the End of the Line your last studio recording but the multi-city tour on which you will be embarking throughout most of 2022 is your final North American tour. What will you miss the most and the least about touring?
IAN: The thing you miss about touring when you’re not touring is the audience. I have really good audiences. Everything from the male or female seven-year-old would-be guitarist whose parent or grandparent thinks “You should see a really good acoustic guitarist” to the 80-year-old person who’s been following me since “Society’s Child.” It’s a really broad range. I meant it when I said (in the album art) that “this album is a love song” because when I wrote (the song) “The Light at the End of the Line” I looked at it as what I was saying to my fans. One of the difficult possibilities that artists face in these days of social media and easy advertising is making sure that you consider your supporters. A word I prefer to fans, because “fans” has other connotations. The people who have always supported me — I go back to Facebook as an example – there’s a social media everybody said you can’t make money from. And yet, one year when we held the sale for our Pearl Foundation, 70% of the money came from Facebook followers. I have to believe that if you do as I’ve done; if you don’t accept advertising on your page, if you don’t bother people, if you just present yourself and have a good time, they stay with you. I have more than half a million followers to attest to that. There are a lot of potential pitfalls that I try to avoid because I really respect the people who support my work. That’s an absurd cliché, Gregg, but it’s true. I respect those people. I have a lot of gratitude toward those people.
BLADE: Do you have a feeling that they know that?
IAN: Absolutely! When I was staying after every show and signing, which I did for 30 years, I would hear that. That was very direct. The Light at the End of the Line also becomes a way for me to say, “You stuck with me when I was not a great writer. You stuck with me when I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I grew up in this fishbowl. Here’s our payoff. I am now a really good writer and singer, and here’s a love song for you.
BLADE: The last couple of years have been brutal, to say the least, and we lost many great friends and artists, including Nanci Griffith and John Prine. Would you mind saying a few words about Nanci and John?
IAN: Nanci was a very under-recognized songwriter, like Dolly Parton. And a great interpreter. She called me one day and said, “Janis, I need a Janis Ian folk song.” [Laughs] “I don’t know what that means” and she said, “Just let it roll around.” I called my friend Jon Vezner and I said, “Nanci Griffith wants a Janis Ian folk song and I have this idea for something that’ll begin ‘This old town should have burned down in 1929’,” and he said, “Fantastic! I’ll be over tomorrow morning.” That’s how Nanci operated. She left you to do what you do. John’s death really took me aback. It hit me very hard. It’s not that we were that close, but I had known John since we’re both in our early 20s. We had seen each other at the Cambridge Folk Festival a little short while before, or it felt like a short while before. “Better Times Will Come” literally grew out of that. I was in our house, in the garage doing laundry, thinking about John. “Better times will come” started running through my head. I wrote it, basically, because John died. I’m not sure what I would have written without that. Somebody once said to me, “You will never be able to write a three-chord song.” Gregg, this is literally the only three-chord song I have written in my life. I have to think that on some level, without getting weird about it, John was out there encouraging it. He was the king of simplicity. John was simple and direct in a way that very few of us ever get to be. (He’s) sorely missed.
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