In 1975, Janis Ian won the Grammy for female vocal; her album “Between the Lines” went platinum; and “At Seventeen” made No. 3 on the charts.
In 1987, the IRS made her sell her piano.
“I woke up one morning to discover that the business manager who had been with me since I was 14 had neither paid taxes nor answered the IRS when they asked him to pay taxes,” sighs Ian, whose first hit, “Society’s Child,” came when she was only 15.
“Society’s Child” is one of few songs Ian still owns. She had to sell her catalog to satisfy the IRS. “I couldn’t tour because they’d attach the receipts, ” she explains.
In 1988, she ended up in Nashville, owning four pieces of furniture and a guitar.
Now, Ian is coming out of bankruptcy. She’s delivered a new album, self-penned and self-financed (she mortgaged her house).
While she’s at it, she’s coming out of the closet. “Breaking Silence,” which arrived in stores June 8, is being distributed by Morgan Creek Records, “the only people brave enough to come to the table.”
The label is more worried about Ian being a “female singer-songwriter” (Ian hates the pigeonhole) and over 40 than they are about her being a lesbian. The new disc — very much like her best work of the past, more resonant with age — is being aimed at AAA (Adult Alternative Airplay) formats.
“We also actively went to the gay media,” says Ian. “On one hand, I guess it’s self-serving. On the other hand, the rate of gay teenage suicides is three times higher than non-gay. I had no role models, except people who lived a life of secrecy and subterfuge. And I couldn’t do that any more.”
After a recent “Tonight Show” spot and some early summer dates, Ian will tour the U.S. for August and September, then hit Europe, Australia and Japan.
She will sign every petty cash voucher personally. And she will let radio pick the single.
“I’m lucky, in a way,” she said, “where I don’t feel like I’ve got a whole lot to lose.”