Janis Ian: Yes! This is the first time I’ve taken this “in the round” show outside of the Bluebird Café in Nashville. We’ve been doing it there for four years as a steady gig. It’s for love, not money, because once you take that door and split it four ways, after expenses, there’s just beer money left. …
I’m trying to see whether this format will work in other places (outside of Nashville) and whether audiences will “get it” in other places. Gretchen Peters, who wrote “Independence Day” for Martina McBride and Tony Arata, who wrote “The Dance” for Garth Brooks —we are all performers and you will see four song-writers trying to top each other by playing dozens of songs.
To honor your mom, you created “The Pearl Foundation.” Tell me about that.
My mom went back to school in her 40s and she was fortunate that I could fund it. After she died, I wanted to find a way to honor her. We formed the foundation in her honor. This year, we’ll hit the half-million mark which, for a tiny foundation like ours, is pretty amazing. Especially given that the only people who work for it are me and my partner and we don’t get paid.
When you came out 15 years ago, did your career take a hit?
I’m sure that it did but you do what you gotta do.
It seems like it doesn’t really matter anymore, right?
I don’t know that it matters as much as it did. It matters in certain areas. Certainly in the Christian music area, we have yet to see a black well-known artist come out. We have yet to see a gospel artist come out. There are a lot of black and gospel artists who are gay. When they come out, that will change things a lot.
I’m beginning to think that it’s generational. The people that I know under 30 are like, “Ho-hum. Who cares?” But the people who really get upset are the old guard who, I hate to put this bluntly, are eventually dying off.
What compelled you to come out?
The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force threw some statistics at me about teenage suicide. At the time, 3 out of every 10 teenage suicides were because they thought they might be gay. Not even that they were gay – that they might be gay.
I waited until my “Breaking Silence” album came out to maximize the publicity. There was a group of us right then that came out: me, Melissa Ethridge and k.d. lang. That’s what it takes — people being brave enough to come out when they’re in the public or not.
It’s just as important for people who are not in the public to come out to their families and friends, a lot of whom say that they’ve never met one before. It’s easy to fear what you don’t know.
Top photo: As a musician, Janis Ian has challenged taboos throughout her career, from confronting sexism and racism to coming out as a lesbian. (Photo by Peter Cunningham)