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Janis Ian, 'I'm Still Standing'

In 1975, 24-year-old singer-songwriter Janis Ian's beloved ballad "At Seventeen" brought an invisible figure into the light. Millions of "ugly duckling girls" who didn't fit the era's feminine ideals sobbed along with Ian's empathetic account of how those standards destroy souls.

Now, in the first single from her January release The Light at the End of the Line (her final album, she says), the 70-year-old Ian answers that song from life's other side. Good-humored and unsparing, "I'm Still Standing" celebrates every line and rough patch on an older woman's face: "Hieroglyphs that tell the tale," Ian sings in her lucid alto. "You can read them in the dark through your fingertips, like Braille." The song calls for an embrace of the aging body, one upon which time writes, as Ian puts it, the lyrics of our lives. And it's the intimacy she also uncovers — touch shared by old lovers who embrace each other's imperfections – that lends "I'm Still Standing" its powerful undertone of self-respect and joy.

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.
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