Janis Ian Alan Heineman - Essay

Alan Heineman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Among contemporary lyricists, Janis Ian] is second as a poet only to John Lennon (certainly) and Dylan and the Airplane's Slick-Kantner-Balin combination (maybe). She does not indulge in the obscurantist, free-associational quasi-poetry that passes for profundity among many of her contemporaries—and elders. She has, instead, the rather quaint notion that words are designed for meaningful communication. Which does not mean that she is simplistic or obvious—merely that most of her songs mean something, and mean it in an original, striking, but understandable way.

Janis deals, in her songs, with real contemporary problems in a concrete manner: dishonesty, lack of communication, the suicidal impulse. And just when you think she's taking the facile, kids-under-25-against-the-world hard line, she turns on her own world (and herself) and deflates it: Honey D'Ya Think deals with the phonily hip, Shady Acres with the irresponsibility of kids toward parents, and Society's Child—the most famous instance—with not only the bigotry of the older generation but the sheeplike, albeit unwilling, imitation of that bigotry by the younger.

She is the first to admit that many—too many—of her first songs concern problems considered (sometimes wrongly) exclusively adolescent. (p. 16)

Yet her songs are a sensitive delineation of adolescence….

I have referred to her...

(The entire section is 412 words.)