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Society's Child: My Autobiography Hardcover – July 24, 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 101 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Casual music-scene observers may see Ian and her remarkable music surfacing every decade or so, usually winning a handful of Grammy nominations. There’s a life between recording sessions, of course, that Ian describes with brutal honesty. An unusually intelligent child, she began writing songs very early, adored folk and protest singers Odetta and Joan Baez, but knew she didn’t look like or sound like them. Her idol, Baez, was tall and svelte; she was short and stocky, with stubborn, curly hair. Yet her 1966 hit “Society’s Child,” about interracial romance, brought her role-models’ kind of fame at 15, including hate mail and death threats. Less than a decade later, “At Seventeen,” an homage to outsiders and misfits, brought further fame while, offstage, she endured an abusive marriage, came out as lesbian, had IRS trouble, and battled chronic fatigue syndrome and other debilitating illnesses. Songwriting has been her way to express inner turmoil. She writes casually and conversationally about her ups and downs and the life lessons she learned. Even recounting decisions that were stupid (quite often) and bad things that happened to her (many), she keeps us on her side, hoping things eventually turn out well. Fans will love the book, of course, but many nonfans, too, should find this painfully candid memoir hard to put down. --June Sawyers


Society’s Child is the hugely readable autobiography of an artist who has lived through success and crushing hardship but knows that ‘you can’t sing and cry at the same time.’ Sing on!”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“Painfully candid . . . hard to put down.”
Booklist (starred review)

“A juicily entertaining look at an unusual life in show business.”
Kirkus Reviews

"Deftly written, the life experiences described by Janis Ian in this engaging memoir gives us a peek into the anatomy of a brilliant songwriter'
—Joan Baez

"One of life's greatest pleasures is a book that you simply can't put down—one that transports you from start to finish as it elevates, enlightens, engages and entertains. Janis Ian gives you all this in Society's Child."
—Kitty Kelley

"A splendid retelling of a major life! Janis Ian is a survivor, and her book is an illuminating and inspiring read."
—Anne McCaffrey

"Janis Ian is at once larger-than-life and excruciatingly human. In Society's Child she describes great triumphs, devastating betrayals of every kind, and her extraordinary strength of spirit shines through every page."
—Kathy Mattea

"A book of surpassing clarity and truth."
—Orson Scott Card, author of Ender's Game

"I laughed, I ached, I wept, I cheered...and ultimately was totally taken by Janis Ian's honest and deeply moving autobiography: an insightful and courageous personal account of her musical, spiritual and emotional journey."
—Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul & Mary

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher (July 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158542675X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585426751
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,200,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Grammy Award-winning songwriter, singer and author, Janis Ian took the stage at age fifteen with a revolutionary song about interracial relationships, "Society's Child." It was 1966 and the country responded with both hostility and accolades. The song went to #1, and Janis was caught in the maelstrom of a divided country. Terrified by the hatred directed at her, she left the music industry, only to return a few years later with the worldwide hit "At Seventeen." The story never ends--her songs are currently used by artists as diverse as Bette Midler, John Mellencamp, and Celine Dion; she tours the world regularly to sold-out crowds, and she is considered one of the pre-eminent acoustic guitarists of our era by such notables as Chet Atkins.

In addition to being a songwriter, singer and musician, Janis Ian is a columnist and author. Her books include science fiction, poetry, magazine articles and opinion columns, as well as her top-selling autobiography, "Society's Child".

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the long awaited story of the life of Janis Ian. The work spans her entire career as a grammy winning singer, songwriter, musician and author. Janis penned this extraordinarily candid work herself. It begins with her birth, family issues and hardships, her struggles as a teenage star, relationships, friendships with icons like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and ends in Janis' present life, still performing after four decades. She shares rare insights into the writing and recording of her various albums, including songs "Society's Child" and "At Seventeen". She also shares bravely about her too long marriage to a brilliant, yet addicted and abusive ex-husband, and her very happy Canadian marriage to her current partner. An alias is used here and there, but those of us who have followed Janis' career will probably know who everyone is. I had the honor of auctioning a rare galley copy on Ebay (the "Pearl Foundation" getting 100% of the proceeds),with Janis' blessing back in late May, 2008. That paperback, even without the picture insert went for $1550.00. There were 30 bids, with 10 of them well over $1,000.00. You will be wise to add a copy of this stunning book to your Janis Ian, or singer songwriter biography collection! There is also a new 2 cd set that is available. Each song is a book chapter! B001B0H7AY, check it out!!!
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Format: Hardcover
When you are 15 years old, what do you do for an encore when Leonard Bernstein features you on national television, your first single charts in the top ten garnering a Grammy nomination, and The New York Times anoints you "a new boldness in popular music" and "radiant new talent?" Most child prodigies fade quickly from view, but Janis Ian is thriving some forty years later, though not without immense struggle as detailed in her just released autobiography.

Born a red diaper baby on a chicken farm in New Jersey, Ian began playing the piano at three, wrote her first song at twelve, and was performing at hootenannies in New York's Greenwich Village one year later. At fourteen, this wunderkind walked into pop producer Shadow Morton's office and the very next week recorded her controversial folk ballad about interracial dating, Society's Child.

It was 1967. David Geffen was her agent, The Byrds opened for her on tour, she shopped with Janis Joplin, did cocaine with Jimi Hendrix, and performed on the Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, and Smothers Brothers television programs. Life Magazine followed her around, wanting photos of her "acting like a teenager" to intersperse with pictures of her on stage and in TV studios.
Perplexing times for this woman child, who in a few short years, crashes and burns, sequestering herself in Philadelphia to recover from emotional exhaustion. Three years later, after lots of "intensive therapy," Roberta Flack has a hit with her Jesse and Ian returns to the music business, eventually selling over ten million records and earning multiple Grammy awards, with such songs as the iconic lament, At Seventeen, disco hit, Fly Too High, and jazz duet with Mel Torme, Silly Habits.
The autobiography catapults the reader along her career trajectory.
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Format: Hardcover
I stayed up all night to read Janis' book. What a life she had! What a life she is still having! From her teens to the present, Janis has shown that talent and guts will keep you in the business. Her story both personally and professionally is told with honesty and she pulls no punches. Ian talks candidly about the music business with all the good and the bad. Anyone who reads her story will be fascinated by an extraordinary woman and her career.
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Format: Hardcover
Janis and I were both 15 when this waif of a girl came on stage in NYC, after being introduced by Murray The K, and, standing alone in the spotlight, sang Society's Child.

We were stunned, and I admit, I had an adolescent crush on Janis for years.

Honestly, along the way, I lost her music, but always felt a kinship to her. Then, when the book came out, I couldn't wait to read it.

I had no idea how much adversity this beautiful woman overcame. I don't want to reveal "spoilers", but, suffice to say, I don't think 4 people could have overcome what this one person has. She walked through hell, and out the exit door. This book should be required reading for today's "instant celebrities" that don't appreciate what they have, and how fast they can lose it all.

I have nothing but respect (and still love her)for her courage and her talent. I am reacquainting myself to her music, and feel like I've found an old friend. I am totally inspired.

The book unfolds, and each chapter tells another story well. It's unreal; just when you think Janis is back on the road to happiness and success, something new detours her journey. Janis learned that success and happiness are not the same, and happiness is not dependent upon success.

PLEASE read this book. Thanks you, Janis, for sharing your innermost feelings, providing inspiration, and for hanging in. As you said, they can take away anything BUT your talent. May the sun shine on you forever.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I was given this book to read by a friend and I expected to return it without reading it. I knew the name Janis Ian and that's about it. Why would I bother reading about someone I barely recognized? To be fair, I picked it up and thought I'd read a few pages. I was instantly hooked. I certainly remember "At Seventeen" but none of the other hits. So, while reading the book, I listened to each on YouTube. My Lord, what I had missed! Ian is clearly a superb songwriter but she's also a superb storyteller. And what a story she has to tell! I half expected her life to be of the "silver spoon" variety but I quickly found the exquisite highs were balanced by deadly lows. Ian is not only a singer but a writer of stellar caliber. While some of her troubles were of her own making (drugs, people choices), some were thrust upon her at random as they are to all of us (health, family, love). I appreciated the brutal honesty on every page of this book and am only sorry it took me seven years to read it.
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