One for the records: an interview with Janis Ian

August 1, 2009

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The other week, I had to reinforce the plastic shelving that is holding my record collection. The 5-tier shelf was really in danger of falling over, and some of the records were falling off the sides, and the ones in the middle were pushing and bending into the other ones, not helping the cause at all. So I got out my hardhat, safety goggles and carpenter square to cut some boards to use as “bookends” so now the records all stand up straight. In order to connect the shelf to the wall, I had to remove a two by four that was nailed in at an angle in the corner of the garage, for what original purpose I do not know (hopefully – it wasn’t holding the garage together). I was then able to secure the shelf to the wall where it belongs. The only boards we had were ¾ inch, which is probably overkill, but it will do for now, or at least until the next remodel. For the younger folks, music used to be printed on circular pieces of vinyl that came in cardboard containers, called albums. In fact, they seem to be making a comeback now, and more and more bands now advertise that their latest CD is also available on 180-gram heavy duty vinyl. Older music fans like me used to exclusively listen to music on these things, and for some odd sentimental reason, I just can’t seem to give them up. No matter how hard I try. The next task before me was “alphabetizing” the records, so I could have a chance at finding something, or in my case, so I could see if I had anything by a particular artist. It always happens that after you physically move your records from basement to storage unit, to condo, to closet, to milk crates, to garage, to car, back to closet, and finally to garage shelf, they are going to get out of order. And I had country mixed up with miscellaneous, rock mixed with classical, and bluegrass with jazz. Mixed up big time. Two and a half hours later, I slid the last record into place. Success! There is actually a small piece of paper with each letter of the alphabet tucked between the records, separating L from M, C from D and S from T. Don’t worry, I only used this system for the “rock” section. Country, jazz, bluegrass and classical just have their section labeled, and that’s fine. I mean, I can’t get too detailed on this, can I? It’s funny when you do this kind of stuff, because sometimes, things stick out like a sore thumb. Take for instance, the letter I. It turns out, there’s only one record in this whole category. Now who could that be? Well, it turns out this artist has been putting music in this category since she was 14; she still tours and still puts out music when she has something to say. I didn’t know this, but this songwriter-turned-author writes science fiction on the side, and was born in a New Jersey town not too far from where I grew up. Still stumped? OK, she’ll be at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson on Aug. 14, and she was gracious enough to take the time to get back to me. Which, by the way, got me thinking, maybe it’s time for a new record category: “Artists who were nice enough to get back to me for an interview” Read Jim’s interview with Janis Ian here. Interview with Janis Ian You’ll be performing Aug. 14 at Skamania Lodge, in Stevenson Washington, right in the middle of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. Have you ever been through here before? Haven’t been to Skamania, or Stevenson, but my partner grew up in Tacoma – does that count? Sprague Street… and we go to Frisco Freeze whenever we can. Does that count?

I recall hearing “At 17” on the radio, (WNEW, New York) and I’m pretty sure I had a copy of that record, too (Between the Lines?). What was it like for you to first hear your songs on the radio? The first time I heard “Society’s Child”, it was blaring out of someone’s transistor radio on Broadway and 85th Street, right outside the supermarket. It blew me away. I wanted to jump up and down, corner people and say Hey, that’s me! That’s meeeeeeeee! I have a hunch that you’re an artist who knows a lot of people. Who do you get to hang out with in today’s music circles? I do know a lot of people, but I don’t hang out with most of them. I lead a pretty quiet life. Honest. Are you touring in support of a new CD? Fortunately for me, those days are pretty much gone. The next projects I’ll be touring behind are the paperback release of my autobiography by Penguin/Tarcher in September, and the Sony Legacy release of The Essential Janis Ian around the same time. But I won’t really be touring to support them; more doing my regular touring gigs, and some press around the two. What’s the songwriting/recording process for you like these days? Do you have a home studio? I had the second or third home studio in LA, and after a year, realized I was spending more time engineering than creating. Haven’t had one since. I’m fortunate in that I can afford to write when I want to write, and record when I actually have something to say. Hope that doesn’t sound snobbish… but I’ve been doing this professionally since I was fourteen, so it’s nice to be able to relax and own my own soul. What’s the main difference between touring today and when you first started out playing music? We get to keep more of the money now. If we’re smart.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge



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