The Light At The End Of The Line

Janis Ian

Record Details

2021
Janis Ian - The Light At The End Of The Line

The Light At The End Of The Line will be released on January 21, 2022. Special bundles are now available for pre-order!

Note: New songs will be added here as they are released.

Tracklist

  1. I’m Still Standing -:-- / 3:12

THE BASICS INSIDE STORY SONG BY SONG LYRICS

THE BASICS

After the release of Folk is the New Black in 2006, Janis decided not to make another record until she felt she had “an album’s worth of impeccable songs”. Although she released several private “for the fans” items, and continued touring, she also set up a whiteboard with a constantly rotating list of songs in process, songs she thought would make the cut, and thoughts about subjects she wanted to cover. One thing that became apparent over the years was her strong relationship with her fans, and the sense that she and they had come full circle – from “Society’s Child” through “Stars” to “The Light at the End of the Line”.

Once Covid-19 caused everyone to postpone their live appearances, she became very busy with the Better Times Project, an effort to help other artists who could no longer support scheduled new releases by appearing onstage or at conventions, or doing book signings, and all the other things that had been the norm to promote new works. For five months she and a volunteer put up a new version by a new artist five days a week, resulting in the current 187 versions (with thirteen still waiting to be posted.)

During that time, she continued to write.

INSIDE STORY

From Janis: I’ve always considered myself a writer first. I think the hardest thing for any artist, as we age, is to keep our edge, to avoid the easy way out. After more than 55 years as a professional writer, it’s not hard to use my experience to cover up a bad line, or an awkward melody. I really did not want to do that! I also realized that I’d never managed to make an entire album that felt like it lived up to the talent I was lucky enough to be born with. And, that my time was finite – I understood that in a completely different way as I turned seventy.

I was floating along through lockdown, tracking new songs on my whiteboard, when I looked at the list one day and thought “Omigosh, I’m just lacking the farewell song, and I have an album!” I knew I wanted it to be sparse, but I wanted a fuller picture for “Resist” and “Better Times Will Come.” I’d worked with Randy Leago for years and years, I knew he’d understand my goals on “Resist” in a way few others could, so we began working long distance . We’d check in every 3-4 weeks to make changes, add or subtract, walking the thin line between what the song itself demanded, and what my voice could sustain. We talked about “being in service to the song” and tried to stay true to that ethic.

Once we’d finished, I also asked him to add things like the wonderful obligato clarinet run on “Summer In New York”, and the moving harmonica on “Stranger.”

I’d worked with Viktor Krauss on several projects and watched his growth as a producer, and since I was living on an island while he was still in Nashville, it was logical to ask him to work on “Better Times”. We went through our mutual Rolodexes to pick the players, and looked on the piece as an arc – of the past two years with Covid, of my life as an artist, of the world in general. That may sound pretentious, but reflection is part of an artist’s job, and ending the album with that cut just brings it full circle, for me.

I’d started “Swannnoa” during my first week teaching at the Swannanoa Gathering, and a year later Beth Magill heard it and suggested I ask Nuala Kennedy to play whistle on it at a live show we were doing. Nuala in turn said John Whalen would be the perfect arranger, and so he was! The best compliment I’ve gotten about that song is when someone said “I’ve never heard that traditional ballad before – where’s it from?”

My artist friends really turned out for me on this one, and I’m very proud that every single person I asked to join responded with an immediate “Yes”. I’ve never said this before, and I never will say it again, but this is the best album I’ve ever made. Let it rest there.

SONG BY SONG

THE ALBUM AS A WHOLE

This is a bittersweet moment for me… I’ve toured worldwide constantly since I was 14, so the decision to step back brings both relief, and sadness. Relief because I love being at home, with my family, having long stretches to write songs and stories and books and things that I just can’t do on the road. Sadness, because I love performing, I’m honored that 55-plus years later I still have an audience, and I hope there’s the occasional bit of fun still to be had in that area.

But one of the things these past two years have hammered into me is just how fragile our lives are, how short in the span of the universe – and how important it is to do what we love. At this age, at this moment, I want to be with my friends and family, and that’s just not possible with a full-time touring career.

I know people don’t listen to things in sequence much any more, but if you do, this album layout is an arc. “Arc” as in “rainbow”, “arc” as in a circle, “arc” as something that comes back to itself, and starts again. Like my career, and hopefully, my life as an artist.

1. I’M STILL STANDING

One of the big lessons “At Seventeen” taught me was that it applied to boys and girls, and to all ages. The first time I sang “I’m Still Standing” was for a couple of songwriters in their early 20’s. I’d been seeing the song as about myself, older and wiser, saying “I’m still here! Still visible!” But then I watched both of them, male and female, start to tear up and say “Omigosh, that’s my song.” It was thrilling, to know the song hit a universal. “I’m Still Standing,” is available for purchase now at any of your favorite music services.

2. RESIST

The hardest thing for an artist to do as they get older is to keep their edge. You always run the danger of making something “edgy” just for the sake of it, instead of creating something organic to yourself. The song “Resist” took almost five years to finish, because I wanted to get it right. I was uncomfortable with describing women as “sticky”, couldn’t figure out how to use spoken word without sounding fake (even though the folk and jazz traditions I come from have always used spoken word!), and finally, had no idea how to end it. Once finished, I enlisted Randy Leago’s help for the recording, it really came together. I love that lyrically it comes full circle, from the repetitious “She is. She is. She is” to “Resist. Resist. Resist.”

3. STRANGER

My grandparents were immigrants, lucky enough to arrive in America when the naturalization process was relatively fast. I’ve often said “I am the American Dream” –they came here so their children and grandchildren could have the chances they were denied. Most people don’t understand how broken our immigration process has become, that it can take ten or more years to just get working papers, let alone become a citizen. So I asked myself two things: How would it be if I suddenly had to leave the place I’d lived in all my life and go back to a country I didn’t know? And, if one of my forebears escaped with faked papers and came here to survive, should I be sent back because of it?

4. SWANNANOA

When I teach at the Swannanoa Gathering outside Asheville, N.C., I look out every morning on the Swannanoa River Valley, and the mountains around it. Such a rich area, musically and historically. It always feels like the land itself speaks to me, telling stories of the people who’ve lived there. I’ve often wondered what it was like to grow up there, maybe 5th or 6th generation, then suddenly have to leave because you were drafted, or thrown out. How homesick you would be! How you’d long for the sight of those trees, those flowers – you’d miss the place as much as the people, maybe even more.

5. WHEREVER GOOD DREAMS GO

It’s rare that a song grows out of a clear, real event, but I wrote this for a friend who’d lost a child, to say they had every right to grieve. That the memory couldn’t, and shouldn’t, die. How could you possibly get over something like that? You learn to live with it, but I don’t think you ever “get over” it.

6. PERFECT LITTLE GIRL

I went to see fellow songwriter Cidny Bullens in a one-man show about his transition from Cindy Bullens, born female, to Cid Bullens, male. One thing he said hit me very hard – that one day he’d realized he would always be trapped in a female body. Forever. Silly as it sounds, I remember waking up one morning and realizing I was now too old for Peter Pan to knock on my window and teach me to fly. It was a huge loss for me, because somewhere in my heart, I’d believed that one day, I would be able to fly. It’s important to recognize those sacred places inside us, and acknowledge them. It’s vital. I started the song when I got home that night, and finished it the next day.

7. NINA

“Nina” began with the introduction, which I’d play on guitar every night as I waited to go onstage. Lyrics began popping into my head, and I thought, “I do not want to write a song about Nina Simone!” Outside of being arguably the greatest all-around female musician, band leader, arranger, interpreter, performer I’ve ever seen, we’d been friends, and it was not easy being friends with Nina. Quite the opposite. Still, as I wrote, I kept coming back to Nina. So I finally gave in and concentrated on making it live up to her power and brilliance, without shying away from her other issues. As a lyricist, I think this is the best piece on the album. It’s a complicated piece, but then again, Nina was a complicated soul.

8. DANCING WITH THE DARK

We’ve all got those days, don’t we? Especially in the time of Covid, when it’s just too much, and we want to take all our burdens and throw them into the sea, then let the tide carry them away. I’ve felt like that a lot these past few years, overwhelmed with business, overwhelmed with relationships, overwhelmed by life.

9. DARK SIDE OF THE SUN

I can’t remember when the idea of writing a song from Lucifer’s point of view took root in my head, but I do remember wondering if he was happy with the choice he’d made. Looking back at what he’d been, realizing he’d never be able to redeem himself. Having to live without the golden world he’d always taken for granted. And yet, still angry, still arrogant, insisting he was right all along. So much duality; what a fascinating character. Stella Adler used to tell us that you had to have sympathy for every character you played, to see the whole of them; I tried to see Lucifer’s pain and regrets, as well as his bravado.

10. SUMMER IN NEW YORK

I grew up on all kinds of jazz – Billie Holiday, Coltrane, Spivey, Monk – and I’ve always loved writing in that vein. One day I found myself missing New York so much! I grew up in Jersey, so there was always the wistfulness of looking across the river, part of the City and yet not. Then we moved, and I loved everything from the way steam rises from the asphalt in summer, to block parties I’d sneak into. Randy’s clarinet manages to evoke Gershwin and the elevated train all at once. I love how sparse this piece is; it takes a lifetime to learn what not to write or play, and how important it is to leave space.

11. THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE LINE

It took decades to get over the trauma of “Society’s Child”, the violence and hatred I was subjected to when it came out. Part of the healing was deciding to stay after shows, meeting and connecting with my audience. Once I realized I was going to stop doing that, I wanted to tell them how much I love them. It sounds corny, but there it is.

12. BETTER TIMES WILL COME

Two days after John Prine died, I was doing laundry and found myself singing “Better times. Better times will come”. Pretty soon the rest of the chorus came. I wrote the verses waiting for the clothes to dry, then sang it into my phone. That started the Better Times Project (bettertimeswillcome.com). Artists of all sorts joined in, until I had close to 200 different versions in everything from Mandarin Chinese to Dutch sign language, drawing books, videos, collages. I put up a new version every day for months, and people in lock-down wrote to say it helped them to face each new day.

When I recorded it for this album, I wanted my part to stay true to that first a capella version, but then grow into something broader. I called Viktor Krauss, my favorite bass player, and asked him to co-produce something that would “show the times we’ve been living through”. We went through our mental Rolodexes, enlisting friends like Diane Schuur and Vince Gill, Jim Hoke and John Cowan. The direction was “Don’t hold back!” and that’s just what we got.

For me, this piece illustrates the arc of fear, isolation, hope, relief, and then return to fear we keep going through as we deal with this scourge. And it’s a tribute to all the artists who continue to do our work, offering audiences an escape and a bit of joy, even as we’ve watched our own professions disintegrate under the weight of it all.

LYRICS

1. I’M STILL STANDING

See these lines on my face?
They’re a map of where I’ve been
And the deeper they are traced,
the deeper life has settled in
How do we survive living out our lives?

And I would not trade a line
Make it smooth and fine
or pretend that time stands still
I want to rest my soul
here where it can grow without fear
Another line, another year
I’m still standing here

See these marks on my skin?
They are the lyric of my life
Every story I begin
just means another end’s in sight
Only lovers understand
Skin just covers who I am

CHORUS

See these bruises, see these scars?
Hieroglyphs that tell the tale
You can read them in the dark
through your fingertips, like Braille

And I would not trade a line
Make it smooth and fine
or pretend that time stands still
I plan to rest my soul
here where it can grow without fear
Another line, another year
I’m still standing here
I’m still standing here
I’m still standing here

2. RESIST

She is. She is. She is.
She is. She is. She is
She is. She is. She is
too short too fat too skinny
Too tall too plain too pretty
Too hot too wet too sticky
Too… picky
Oh, what an ugly girl. Oh, what an ugly girl.

Put her in high heels, so she can’t run
Carve out between her legs so she can’t come
Get her a dress, for easy access
Tell everybody that she’s just like all the rest

How long? How long, how long, how long
How long? How long, how long, how long

Tell me I’m ugly so I’ll buy your crap
Tell me you want me ‘cause I don’t talk back
Tell me I carry the original sin
Tell me I’m holy when I cover up my skin

Tell me that my body bears a permanent stain
Tell me we can marry if I give up my name
Call me your baby so I never grow up
Tell me you love me when you only want to fu-fu-fu-

Funny how I whisper and you think it’s a roar
You ask me to the table then you seat me on the floor
You want me to be sexy. You want me to be pure.
I cannot be your virgin and I will not be your whore.

Resist. Resist resist resist.
Resist. Resist resist resist.

It’s a funny kind of thing, when you sing a little song
and you get a couple people to sing along
It’s the power of community.
Authenticity changes your reality
I know it’s hard to believe when they’re yelling in your ear
and it’s the only voice you’re able to hear
But you raise up your fist and you learn to resist
and you say “I will not disappear”
I will not disappear. I will not disappear.
I will not disappear, I will not disappear.
I will not disappear.

Resist. Resist resist resist.
Resist. Resist resist resist.
Resist, resist, resist. Resist, resist, resist, resist
Resist

3. STRANGER

I was once a stranger here
Running from a land of fear
Left my home and friends behind
Left the love I knew was mine
I was once a stranger here

Did not know a single word
Only knew what I had heard
Land of opportunity
built by people just like me
I was once a stranger here

In my old town, there’s a lot of fear
One wrong word and you disappear
No one dares shed a single tear
It gets smaller every year

Now I have to leave again
Leave my family, leave my friends
Don’t know where they’re sending me
Only know that I will be
a stranger there
Yes I will be a stranger there

4. SWANNANOA

Swannanoa, I can hear you
call my name upon the wind
If I fall behind, don’t worry
You will see my face again
You will see my face again

Swannanoa, I am longing
for my home so far away
I will carry you within me
from the cradle to the grave
From the cradle to the grave

And the mountains, and the mist
and the white clouds they kissed
And the sweetgum’s perfume in my hair

When these hard times have passed
I will see you at last
Swannanoa, I’ll be home to stay
Oh my darling, I’ll be home to stay

REPEAT LAST SECTION

5. WHEREVER GOOD DREAMS GO

Paint the walls in fairy tales
A ceiling full of stars
Mobiles hung in gay displays
above the cradle bars
Sometimes I think I hear
your laughter through the door
Then I remember
what I won’t hear any more

Do you see me down here?
Talking to the empty air?
In my memories of you,
I’m just a little closer to
wherever good dreams go up there

I was once the only one
to brush away your tears
If ever you are lonely,
I will always be right here
and if you need me,
you can wish upon a star
‘cause I will always hear
your prayers in my heart

CHORUS

I wonder where you are tonight
are you warm, and tucked in tight?
And do you ever visit me,
in your memory?

People think I’m crazy
to be holding on so long
but how can I get over you
when you’re not really gone?

CHORUS

6. PERFECT LITTLE GIRL

Pretend that you’re a girl,
for the rest of your life
Pretend it for the world,
though you know it isn’t right
If life’s a fairy tale,
you can play your role and be
Be a perfect little girl
for all the world to see

but there’s a sacred place inside
and it’s a place you just can’t hide
If this whole wide world would only see
they’d know you tried to be
a perfect little girl

Pretend it’s all a dream
and one day you’ll wake inside
to be somewhere in-between
where you left, and you arrived
And you’ll know that dreams come true,
‘cause it’s happening to you
Like a redbird finds the spring,
you will find your season, too

‘cause there’s a sacred place inside
and it’s a place you just can’t hide
If this whole wide world could see
they’d know you tried to be
a perfect little girl

Blame it on the sun
Blame it on the moon
Blame it on the stars that shine
the same on me as you

‘cause there’s a sacred place inside
and it’s a place I just can’t hide
If the world could see inside of me
they’d know I tried to be a perfect little girl
Perfect little girl
Perfect little girl

7. NINA

Nina, I can see your face,
caught up in the song’s embrace
Alphabets of lightning falling from your lips
Raining on your fingertips

Any kind of fool could see,
you were always meant to be
Miracles in moonlight, worshipped from afar
Burning like a falling star

And how were you to know this world
was so damned hard on beauty
Frightened by your lightning song
Nina, can’t you see?
You were always beautiful to me

Crazy as a loon. In your own cartoon
What a world those eyes must see
When you hit the mark, you stopped my heart
Then you’d turn around and grind it
right into the ground. I’d find it

Cradled in the arms of song
Right where miracles belong
Melody and madness.
Sanctity and sadness.
A heart at war – nothing more

But how were you to know this world
was so damned hard on beauty
Frightened by your lightning song
Nina can’t you see?
You were always beautiful to me

8. DANCING WITH THE DARK (THIS LONG NIGHT)

Take these burdens from my heart
Lay them down beside the sea
They are tearing me apart
Let them drift away from me
Take this sorrow from my soul
I have prayed to find some rest
It’s a weight I cannot hold
It lays heavy on my breast

This long night cannot last forever
This long night, sorrow shields the stars
Give me light
Illuminate the darkness in my heart
Dancing with the dark
I’m dancing with the dark

Take these tears that blind my eyes
I have lived too long in shadows
Unbind these shuttered skies
My horizons are too narrow
Take my weariness and sorrow
Take the troubles I have borrowed
They will all be here tomorrow

This long night cannot last forever
This long night, sorrow shields the stars
Give me light
Illuminate the secrets of my heart
I’m dancing with the dark
Dancing with the dark

9. DARK SIDE OF THE SUN

Things are different down here
People say they love you, then they disappear
I’m the king of all I dreamed of,
but nobody seems to care
Things are different down here

When I sat at His right hand
Passing judgment on the world at His command
How He loved me, from above me
That’s the thing I could not stand
when I sat at His right hand

It doesn’t seem so far to fall
when you are up there, looking down
but from the ground you see eternity
and a distance so profound,
there’ll be no forgiveness now

A race that can’t be run
A war that can’t be won
A song that can’t be sung
just to feed my hunger

I don’t need your love
I don’t need your love to see what I’ve become
but look at me, now
I am free, now
Free to build my kingdom come
on the dark side of the sun

Things are different down here…

10. SUMMER IN NEW YORK

Summer in New York
Skies are blue, but I’m across the river
Missing you, but nothing like before
Summer in New York

Jazz in Central Park
Chocolate kisses stolen in the dark
Rooftop romance. Sugar by the shore.
Summer in New York

What a time we had!
Gone from good to bad
Remember how we would strut
and promenade the Strand
The men were hat in hand
Fifth Avenue was oh, so grand!
The heat
came rising through our feet
When sin and sidewalk meet
you’re dancing to a very different band
Oh, man

Now that we’re apart,
the memory’s more precious than forever
You’ll always be my Coney Island heart
Summer in New York
Summer in New York
Summer in New York

11. THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE LINE

It’s the end of the line
and I know it’s been rough
Oh, but time after time,
it was always enough
You were there when I laughed
You were there when I cried
You are there as I tell you “Good-bye”

It’s the end of the line
and whatever they say,
I was yours, you were mine
Just a heartbeat away
Close enough to be kissed
Far enough to be missed
From the cradle to silver and grey

In due time, there will be
someone else who will see
all the good in your heart,
even though we’re apart
Oh, how I’ve loved your heart

In the blink of an eye,
all that’s left is the past
and the memories fade
‘til there’s silence, at last
But the song will remember
The spark will still shine
It’s the light at the end of the line
There’s a light at the end of the line

12. BETTER TIMES WILL COME

Better times, better times will come.
Better times, better times will come.
When this world learns to live as one,
oh, better times will come

CHORUS

When we greet each dawn without fear
knowing loved ones soon will be near
And when the winds of war
cannot blow any more
Oh, better times will come

CHORUS

Though we live each day as our last
we know someday soon it will pass
We will dance, we will sing
in that never-ending spring
Oh, better times will come

Better times, better times will come.
Better times, better times will come.
When this world learns to live as one,
oh, better times will come
Oh, better times will come

All songs by Janis Ian
Words & music by Janis Ian, © Desperation Publishing (BMI)
All rights reserved; international copyright secured. Used by permission.