By Steven M. Housman
Hardly a Plain Jane
Up Close and Very Personal With Jane Olivor
The main purpose of this interview was to highlight the fact that Jane Olivor has a fabulous new live CD (which I reviewed a couple of months ago) and now a superb DVD of her concert, titled Safe Return, that was recorded in Boston and was released just last month. Also, in late June, Columbia Records released a Greatest Hits collection, titled The Best of Jane Olivor, a compilation of her best-known songs from her Columbia years, including the Academy Award-nominated song The Last Time I Felt Like This with Johnny Mathis. This is the first time this song has been issued on a Jane Olivor CD.
She began singing in small Greenwich Village pubs in the early 70s, that led to a recording contract which showcased her amazing voice on a half dozen albums, while headlining Carnegie Hall before the decade was over. All of this came to a crashing halt when her husband died of cancer in the mid-80s.
It took Jane a decade to reemerge and command the spotlight that had shined so bright once before. The wait is over.
Usually when I interview an artist, I take a few days until I record my thoughts on paper. With Jane Olivor, I didnt take my usual few days - I took a few seconds!
I was pumped after this interview because Jane was such a breath of fresh air compared to so many other people Ive interviewed (names excluded!) that I couldnt wait to put my thoughts down in black & white. She answered all of my questions with such honesty and ease, never deterring from any subject.
We spoke openly about her comeback, her husbands tragic death that forced her into a decade-long absence, her feelings about being compared to Streisand, her stage fright, her genuine dislike of Britney, Christina and rap, her strong feminist beliefs, psychics, and all of the so-called music of today. And yes, she even spoke out on her anger towards President Bush and the hot topic of gay marriage, among many more topics. I honestly dont think we left a subject untouched, and Jane was more than eager to share her opinions with me, and you, the audience.
Okay, lets talk about your stunning new CD and DVD. Why the title Safe Return? Is that how you feel?
Well, actually we wrote the song Safe Return first and the people putting out the DVD thought that the title fit coming back to a very good place to perform. Russ Walden wrote the lyric. Hes great!
Arent you much more involved with songwriting now than ever before?
Yes I am. Im writing some melodies now. I think you kind of go in and out of writing. The worst thing is to force yourself, because Ive done that and it just doesnt work. When the muse comes, you know it. She stays for six months or a year and sometimes she just goes. I have such respect for actors and singers and writers. Especially the writers, because they take from nothing and put something tangible on paper. Just think of the songs James Taylor has written, its awesome! Or Billy Joel, or Paul Simon. Where does it come from? And for so many years they kept writing. and great material! I just have so much respect for the creative people and the creative process. Its harder than it looks.
Since this is a live recording, how did it feel to perform these great songs on stage again?
Theres pressure to get it perfect and we only had one run through for recording this DVD. I was very centered that day. I enjoyed the process, even though it was a challenge to stay so centered for the cameras. But, I enjoyed it.
Lets go back to the beginning. After all the media coverage on your brilliant debut album First Night in 1976, was stardom everything youd hoped it would be?
Whats interesting is that I didnt want stardom at the time that it came my way. I felt so unprepared for it and felt unprepared as a person. The people around me pushed me because they were prepared much more than I was. I felt as if I was shot out of a cannon when they were gearing me for superstardom, and all I had was six songs in my back pocket and hadnt been singing for more than two years. I think I would have been more ready for it six or seven years down the line. Also, I never drank or did drugs, which many do to calm them. If I had, Id fall asleep! (Laughing). If anybody ever tried to give me a pill in the 70s, Id say, Where did you get it? Whats in it and whats going to happen to me? What a wild chick!
Did the comparisons to Edith Piaf and Barbra Streisand begin before your debut album First Night, while you were singing in clubs?
I have to say, Streisand is great, great great, great, but I wasnt a fan of hers. I was entrenched in folk and foreign language music. I was a geek! But I loved pop music, I loved what I heard on the radio, but I was so not into Broadway, its funny.
Did those comparisons begin before you hit it big with your first album?
Wow, thats a very good question. People would say, Oh you sing like Barbra Streisand, and it got me angry. I didnt want to sing like anybody else. I thought they were crazy because I thought I had a very folky voice. So after I would sing a folk song and they made the Barbra comparison, I thought they were nuts. Now I hear the similarities. Years after I was in the business, I did some observing. Theres a feeling that I have that can never be wrong According to me. People who look alike, are alike. So going back, I do have a similar energy to Streisand. I talk like this da de-da-de-da-da-de-da from Brooklyn (non-stop gossip-like speech). Then people would say, And you talk like her too. I was not a fan. I did not go to see her on Broadway and I didnt buy her albums because I wasnt into the Broadway-type music. Then I had an album of hers once, and I thought, Whoa, shes great! Its as if she was right there in the living room.
Many singers that are compared usually get pigeonholed. You seemed to have escaped that. Why do you think that is?
I think I may have moved beyond comparison because I dont sing a lot of Broadway songs. But thats going to change. Ive started to like them. Garth Brooks hated country and look what happened to him! As a matter of fact, I sang a Broadway song at Westbury Music Fair the other night, Isnt It Romantic? Its a pretty song. Ive also been away for 10 years, could that be it?
Your song selection is absolutely stunning. Aside from the well-known standards, what is your process for finding the more obscure songs, such as Its Over, Goodbye?
Publishers brought some of the songs, such as Its Over, Goodbye to me. The thing is, they just dont bring me songs on a silver platter. You have to sift through so many and you just have to thank the lord that you are clear enough to hear the really great song when it comes on. You just listen to so many tapes and a lot of them are just not good. People think its easy to write. People would say, Im a songwriter. But are they great? No. Its hard to be a great songwriter, but anybody could be a songwriter.
When you stopped performing, so many bizarre rumors were flying about. Do you recall that period, and did you feel a need to address the public?
No. There were some crazy ones, like that I died or had cancer. Were not made of paper. We get annoyed. I hoped it would die down. You cant control all of that.
Why did your planned brief hiatus from performing turn into a decade-long absence?
Well, my husband had prostate cancer. It was in remission and then he had another outbreak and died at 49 and a half. It was very hard, and nobody talks, nobody, about two things, childbirth and cancer. Also nobody speaks of their experience with cancer because nobody wants to hear it. Its just too hard.
What prompted your return?
Well I knew I wanted to finish what I had started. Waiting for someone to come through the window and tap me on the shoulder with a magic wand wasnt going to happen. After nine years, I could see it wasnt going to happen. It was all up to me. I was also in a terrible deep depression and found a psycho-pharmacologist in Florida; I was living in Fort Lauderdale. I went to him for a test. He said, Yes, youre very depressed and he put me on the Prozac back in 89, and I felt better after that. So between my own decision and getting medical help I was able to put myself together and do what I said I would do, which was to finish my promise.
Your stage fright is well documented. Have you conquered it, and if so, how?
I dont think you conquer anything that deep. I think you just learn to live with it, and it does move. The anti-depressants do help and singing doesnt ruin my day, which just used to shake me. I was not a happy camper. I dont know how I did it. I guess I so loved the music that I could not be without it.
You must be aware of your enormous gay following. Why do you think that is, and how do you feel about it?
I was never able to figure it out. Its probably because gay men and women have to be very strong to get by in life. Being gay and hiding it, you have to be strong. Even not hiding it. I just think gay people are very strong people, and I think they like that in other people. I think they like the strength in performers that they have.
Speaking of gay audiences, what are your feelings about the currently hot topic of gay marriage?
Oh I think it should happen. Its SO ridiculous. I think its going to happen in a year. They cant stop that. I think they (the Bush administration) just have to run around the polls. And nobody is willing to stand up and also say they believe in abortion as well. SO ridiculous. Ugh! I think that gay people should marry, and its going to happen.
Are you generally political?
I think everyone is political. If youre a human being, youre political. I just cannot stand the BS from anyone. I just love the truth, love the truth. When I watch this cartoon of a president on TV - I just cant watch him. Hes not a leader, everyone is pulling his strings. Cheneys running the country, and everybody knows it. Thats my two cents worth!
What do you think of todays music - the Britneys and Christinas?
I wouldnt dare call it music. I dont get rap either. I dont want to hear about a bitch being punched in the stomach because shes pregnant. Its so angry. This muddy, dark, satanic music. It puts out such an angry poor message. Theres no light in this so-called music. It also makes me angry at the Christina Aguileras and the Britneys, but especially Christina, because she posed on the cover of Rolling Stone with a guitar, hiding, or not hiding, everything, and its sending such a lousy message about women. Women are cheap; women can be had for a beer. I hope women get angry about it because we are not third-class citizens. Women are really the smartest, most intuitive energy on the planet. And I dont like women and gay people (roaring laughter). Just kidding. Seriously, feminine energy frequency is very high. Thats why all the male psychics I know are gay, thank God. The women psychics are gay or straight, but they have their feminine energy anyway. Im sad that the feminine energy on this planet is so maligned, kicked, degraded, and you can hear it in my voice, it makes me very angry! If I knew how to work the computer, I would be on the Internet saying this, because the only thing thats going to save this planet is feminine energy. My full opinion. Men and women (couples) have problems like everyone else. Theres such a different energy going on between women and men. I so suspect that energy. Im upset because I dont want this world to blow up!
Not to jump the gun (but I will), are you back? Can we expect a full-blown comeback, with new CDs and performances?
Sure! Yes! With all NEW songs as well.
Youre about to embark on a tour starting in Chicago in the fall. Will you be expanding the tour to more than the few cities currently lined up?
I certainly hope so. Yes! The fans have always been so wonderful to me.
© 2004 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.