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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

April 7, 1951

As you probably have already guessed, I decided to change the layout of this blog ever so slightly.  Since Spring is in the air, I decided to make the decor fit with a nice clear blue sky and white fluffy clouds.  I think I will be keeping this look until at least next month - after all, the 4th anniversary of this blog is coming up soon!

Remember, there's still time to vote on what you want to see all month long for the May celebration month.  You can choose between a month of music, a month of food, a month of personal stories, and a month of birthday biographies.  I have added a poll on this blog so that you can have your say.  Just look at the right hand sidebar.  The poll closes on April 30, 2015 at 11:59pm, so please make your voice heard.

Until then, we still have the month of April to get through, so let's have a look at the very first Tuesday Timeline of the month.

Of course, before that...we have some unfinished business to take care of - mainly the celebrity birthdays and other events that took place on April 7.

1141 - Empress Matilda becomes the first female ruler of England

1521 - Explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrives at Cebu

1770 - English poet William Wordsworth (d. 1850) is born in Cockermouth, Cumberland, England

1798 - The Mississippi Territory is organized from disputed territory claimed by both Spain and the United States

1827 - English chemist John Walker sells the first friction match - created by him just one year earlier

1862 - The Battle of Shiloh ends during the American Civil War

1868 - Canadian politician and Father of Confederation Thomas D'Arcy McGee is assassinated by Irish Republicans

1906 - Naples, Italy is seriously damaged following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius

1915 - American jazz singer Billie Holliday (d. 1959) is born in Philadelphia

1927 - The first long-distance public television broadcast takes place - between New York City and Washington D.C.

1928 - Actor James Garner (d. 2014) is born in Norman, Oklahoma

1940 - Booker T. Washington becomes the first African-American to have his image placed on a postage stamp

1948 - The World Health Organization is established

1955 - Winston Churchill resigns as Prime Minister of England

1964 - IBM announces the System/360

1967 - Roger Ebert publishes his very first film review in the Chicago Sun-Times

1969 - The unofficial, symbolic birthdate of the Internet

1978 - Development of the neutron bomb is halted by President Jimmy Carter

2001 - Mars Odyssey is launched

2012 - American journalist Mike Wallace passes away at the age of 93

2014 - British presenter Peaches Geldof dies of a drug overdose at just 25

And for celebrity birthdays, we have the following famous faces turning another year older - Andrew Sachs, Wayne Rogers, Bobby Bare, Iris Johansen, Francis Ford Coppola, Cornelia Frances, Patricia Bennett, John Oates, Gilles Valiquette, Jackie Chan, Brian Haner, Russell Crowe, Bill Bellamy, Jennifer Lynch, Ronde Barber, Tiki Barber, John Cooper, Jeremy Taggart, Kevin Alejandro, Anika Knudsen, David Otunga, Alex Lanipekun, Kyle Lebine, and Alexis Jordan.

As luck would have it, today's Tuesday Timeline subject is also celebrating a birthday.  Birthday number sixty-four, to be exact.

That would make her birthdate April 7, 1951.

But you know what?  I often wonder what kind of a person she was like back in the days of the late 1960s.  Particularly the year 1968 - when she was seventeen.

I wonder if she really did learn the truth at seventeen.  That love was meant for beauty queens? 

Say...that reminds me of a song.  Mind you, the song is written from the perspective of a seventeen year old GIRL...but I have to admit, seventeen was a rough year for me as well, and I can relate to almost everything in this song.  Let's have a listen.

ARTIST:  Janis Ian
SONG:  At Seventeen
ALBUM:  Between The Lines
RELEASED:  August 1975

Maybe it wasn't a number one hit.  But it did serve as the soundtrack for many teenage girls who were questioning their self-esteem and self-worth, and serving as social commentary against fleeting popularity and teenage angst.

And the writer and performer of this song - Janis Ian - just happens to be today's Tuesday Timeline spotlight!  Happy birthday, Janis!

She was born Janis Eddy Fink on April 7, 1951 in New York City, the daughter of a music teacher and summer camp operator.  She had an early interest in music, writing her very first song at the age of twelve, and in 1966, she released her very first single, "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking) under the stage name of Janis Ian (Ian being the middle name of her brother).

Now, "Society's Child" was a social commentary about interracial romance, and the subject was considered extremely taboo for the time that it was released.  Ian received her share of hate mail, some radio stations refused to play the song, and it was reported that one station that did was deliberately set ablaze.  But Janis Ian always considered herself to be a woman ahead of the times, and her social commentary songs certainly resonated with a lot of people.

Especially her signature hit "At Seventeen".

By the time Janis wrote "At Seventeen" in 1973, she had been there and done that.  She was 22 at the time.  The inspiration for the song came to Ian via a newspaper article about the debutante culture - you know, the events in which high society girls make their "debut" at the age of eighteen to the most elite of a community?  Well, I, of course, am only speculating this to be the case as I've never been an eighteen year old girl, nor have I ever been a member of the town elite.  Not as if I WANTED to be either.

Anyway, the newspaper article had an interview with an eighteen year old girl who had made her debut at one of these ceremonies, and how she soon discovered that being popular did not solve all of her problems.  If anything, her problems became much worse.

Oh, and that article?  It had a quote by the girl being interviewed that stated "I learned the truth at eighteen".

Janis decided that she would change that quote and make her opening line "I learned the truth at seventeen".  It just flowed better. 

Interestingly enough, Janis Ian almost considered not releasing the song at all, claiming that the lyrics she was writing were a little too personal.  But once she added the final verse of the song, she felt better about it, and it was released for airplay in the summer of 1975.

Then came her next problem.  Promoting the single.  It clocked in at four minutes and forty-four seconds - longer than most pop songs out there.  The decision was made to target women for the song's dominant audience, but with most radio stations being controlled by men, sexism in the seventies was still very much a real thing.  It wasn't until she appeared on "The Tonight Show" - not to mention singing this song on the very first episode of "Saturday Night Live" - that the song really began to take off, peaking at #3.

And to cap off the success, she won the Grammy Award for "Best Pop Vocal Performance" that year. 

(It also wouldn't be the first time she was nominated for a Grammy award though - she was also nominated in 1979 for the Giorgio Moroder produced disco hit "Fly Too High").

It was after that when Ian's singing career slowed down.  She still continued to write songs and record them, but she never really had another hit single after the 1970s.  She also writes science-fiction stories, is a contributor to the LGBTQ magazine "The Advocate", and married Patricia Snyder in 2003 (ten years after she came out as a lesbian and twenty years after her first marriage ended).

I guess if one were to write a song about Ian today, it might go like this.

She learned the truth at sixty-four
That life would give her so much more
And that there's so much more in store
At sixty-four...

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