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Society's Child - Janis Ian

When, while writing the last post, I found myself in danger of using the phrase "free spirit" twice, I googled a synonym site and was appalled at what it offered:

Noun meaning: One who is a nonconformist or who does not recognise the authority of others

synonyms: bohemian, individualist, maverick, non-believer,

-so far so good but then-

eccentric, original, boho, counterculturalist, deviant, heretic, iconoclast, individual, loner, lone wolf, nonconformist (etc etc)

There were to other definitions, equally disturbing:

Noun: an eccentric person

synonyms: crank, eccentric, oddity, crackpot, individualist, maverick, nonconformist, oddball, bohemian, deviant, dropout, fanatic, misfit, madman, madwoman, nut, nutter, pervert, weirdo, zealot, lunatic, nutcase..........and so on ad nauseam

The final definition is: "Person who is foreign to something" with synonyms beginning: outsider, foreigner, outlander, stranger....

I cannot bring myself to continue.

While I'm guessing that Word Hippo is probably an American thesaurus, I was disturbed to find their on-line competitors were no more positive about free thinkers. I've always used or taken the phrase as a complement, describing a person who thinks for themselves, not accepting the accepted creeds, opinions and rumours of the majority, from village gossip to viral pronouncements on the Internet, without questioning them. A world where we're calling a free thinker a deviant, crackpot, pervert or even a foreigner, is not so far from a world of book burning, media censorship and the knock on the door in the middle of the night.

And of course, the beginnings of the suppression of free thinking are the redefinition of meanings of words to suit your own purposes.

Janis Ian was a free spirit right from the start. She was one of the earliest female singer songwriters, scoring a chart hit with her first release "Society's Child" in 1967 when it reached number 14 in the US charts. A young Jewish girl of only 13 when she wrote it, Ian was immediately the subject of controversy. The song is about a white teenager who is dating a black boy and is recorded in the teen, tragi-rock opera style of the likes of "Leader of the Pack" and "Out on the Streets" which is no surprise at it was produced by the legendary Shadow Morton who oversaw the work of the Shangri-Las.

Even in the supposedly liberated sixties, the subject matter - interracial love - was a relatively taboo subject for a pop song and many radio stations refused to play it. One that did was burned down, and a journalist was fired from the Boston Herald for writing about the single. Ian doesn't mess around - she dives in right from the start:

"Come to my door, baby face is clean and shining black as night my mother went to answer you know that you looked so fine

now, I could understand your tears and your shame she called you 'Boy' instead of your name when she wouldn't let you inside when she turned and said, "But honey, he's not our kind"

she says I can't see you any more, baby can't see you anymore"

but though

"One of these days I'm gonna stop my listening gonna raise my head up high one of these days I'm gonna raise my glistening wings and fly...."

in the end the pressures of society take their toll

"I can't see you any more baby

can't see you any more no, I don't wanna see you any more, baby..."

It's an amazing variation on and step up from the classic girl group tragedies of doomed love due to the guy being unsuitable (biker or from the wrong side of town), or the couple being too young, a kind of "girl groups do civil rights" record, and was a real shock to the airwaves back in 1967. The unlikely merger of style and subject matter are a delicious surprise even now.

May we all be free spirits.

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