Jan’s Song

“Jan’s Song” is a cut from side B of INXS’s third studio and international breakthrough album Shabooh Shoobah, which was released in 1982. It was written by the usual duo, Michael Hutchence and Andrew Farriss. The song is quirky and syncopated with synthesizers and unconventional sax refrains, with melodic vocals and a compelling message. Although this particular track was not released as a single, the band performed it many times during their exciting 1983 breakthrough tour of the United States supporting such bands as Adam and the Ants, Hall & Oats, Men at Work, Stray Cats, The Kinks, and The Go-Go’s. And of course fans worldwide have played “Jan’s Song” countless times since then.

Although records of any interviews discussing the song’s meaning remain elusive, the lyrics are pretty straightforward, albeit with a twist:

“THERE’S JAN CALLIN’ FROM THE ROOFTOPS

SHE SAYS SHE WANTS THE WORLD TO HEAR

HER PEOPLE’S NEEDS THEIR BASIC RIGHTS

SHE SHOUTS ‘I’LL MAKE YOU UNDERSTAND

WHAT IT IS WE’RE FIGHTING FOR,

A BETTER DEAL ACROSS THIS LAND’

SHE PUTS HER HAT ON

LOOKS IN THE MIRROR

SAYS TO HERSELF

‘YOU’VE NOTHING TO FEAR’

HER FRIENDS WON’T ARGUE, HER FRIENDS WON’T CARE

NOW IS THE MOMENT TO GET OUT OF HERE

JAN’S FRIENDS, THEY’RE MARCHING IN THE STREETS

THE ANGER IN THEIR HEARTS PROVIDES A STEADY BEAT

ON AND ON AND ON AND ON

THERE’S JAN, CALLING FROM THE ROOFTOP

SHE SAYS SHE WANTS THE WORLD TO HEAR

HER PEOPLE’S NEEDS THEIR BASIC RIGHTS – RIGHT!

SHE PUTS HER HAT ON

LOOKS IN THE MIRROR

SAYS TO HERSELF

‘YOU’VE NOTHING TO FEAR’

HER FRIENDS WON’T ARGUE, HER FRIENDS WON’T CARE

NOW IS THE MOMENT TO GET OUT OF HERE!

GENEROSITY…NEVER WAS THERE BE…OUR DEMOCRACY…NOBLE WORDS TO ME…”

The song immediately introduces its subject, a girl named “Jan,” who is “calling from the rooftops. She says she wants the world to hear, her people’s needs their basic rights.” We see this character Jan from an objective viewpoint. What is she doing? Expressing her voice loudly. Why? For everyone to become aware of the injustices that are occurring to people she identifies with. Or so that’s what she “says she wants,” shouting with a determination that “she’ll make you understand” that’s she’s striving for “a better deal across this land.” Although her intent is explicitly expressed, the observer remains curious and perhaps a bit skeptical as to what really motivates this vocal individual. This dubious perspective seems to highlight the hypocrisy in simultaneously upholding ideals of democracy, such as the inherent right to protest, while scoffing at or being dismissive of those who take the initiative to do so. 

Then we are granted a more intimate view: “She puts her hat on, looks in the mirror, says to herself, ‘You’ve nothing to fear.'” Putting a hat on signifies getting ready to go outside or in public, and by looking in the mirror, she is preparing to present herself to the world. Here, she gives herself a pep talk, evoking courage as she anticipates people’s reactions to her intended actions. As we see her in solitude telling herself not to be afraid, we sense that her intentions are righteous, or at least sincere.

“‘Friends don’t argue, friends don’t care,'” is her next line of thought, dismissing the possible social ramifications of speaking out against the status quo, followed by the self-propelled call to action, “‘Now is the moment to get out of here!'”

This moment brings to our attention the personal struggle of anxiety and complacency by which social progress can be hindered, and gives an example of the individual reflection and transcendence necessary in addressing the issues facing humanity. It also communicates a sense of urgency which may be reinforced by the public’s apparent ambivalence toward Jan’s protest. 

For the second verse, the scene shifts to the street where Jan’s friends are marching, fueled by “the anger in their hearts.” And just like the beat of their hearts, the anger goes, “on and on and on and on.” Here, we are to understand the emotional motivation of an oppressed population is something that has an irrepressible life of its own.

Then once again, the visual of Jan, “calling from the rooftops” wanting “the world to hear her people’s needs their basic rights,” is painted, but this time with the reaction “-Right!” which is playfully ambivalent. Does this reaction express a sarcastic, continued cynicism on the part of the observer? Or is it an honest encouragement or affirmation? Maybe a little of both.

As the song closes however, the dreamy, melodic refrain, “Generosity…never was there be…” underscores the inherent irony in the suggestion that it is “generous” for a democratic government to grant “basic rights” to people who had to protest in the streets to attain equality in the first place, like colonialists granting indigenous people the right to vote. Then “…our democracy…noble words to me…” concludes with a sincere sentiment of empathy and desire for equality.

 

 

 

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