The "Better Times" Project

Janis Ian & Friends

Carla Warnock (American Sign Language)

Check Carla’s website for more info.

Credits: ASL and video by Carla Warnock
Vocals by San Diego Women’s Chorus
SDWC artistic director: Kathleen Hansen

From Janis: When I was a child, riding the bus to school, I’d sometimes see two people gesticulating to one another, laughing too loudly and handing out little cards to passengers that said something like “I am Deaf and using sign language.” On the back were rudimentary hand signs for the letters of the alphabet. My brother and I quickly learned them because we loved the idea of a “secret language”, but for us, it was just a game.

Like many others, I also saw “The Miracle Worker”, the story of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, when it first came out, and it moved me tremendously. I couldn’t imagine a world without sound or sight, let alone communicating only through touch. 

I think the first time I worked with a “signer” (as they were called back then) was at a festival in the 60’s; it was a relatively new concept, that Deaf people might want to attend a music show, and it intrigued me. In 1978 I read John Varley’s incredible novella, “The Persistence of Vision”, and was forced once again to consider a world I’d never inhabited. A few decades later, I read Leah Hager Cohen’s “Train Go Sorry”, which made that world even bigger. 
All of those things, along with the increase in what are now called “interpreters” at festivals worldwide, the presence of Deaf people at my own concerts, and my growing sense that there was more to language than human vocal cords could contain, made me re-evaluate what language was in the first place. Why it existed, and how. What “normal” is, and why we think of as such. 

I’ve used Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds” in my classes for years, asking people to consider what a world without spoken language would be like. I’ve tried to be more inclusive in my own shows, and when I get the opportunity to work with an interpreter, I have packages ready with lyrics, descriptions of the songs’ moods, and a tentative set list that includes where I plan to speak between songs, whether there’s a guitar solo somewhere, etc. When I was first performing, interpreters preferred to stay in the background and go unacknowledged. Nowadays, I routinely bow to them at show’s end, and often find myself interacting with them during the show itself.

Kathleen Hansen, artistic director of the San Diego Women’s Chorus, reached out on my behalf to Carla Warnock, who donated her services and this video so I could offer “Better Times Will Come” for those who might have a hard time hearing it.  For that, I thank them both. 

Stay tuned for SDWC’s own video and mp3 download in the future! Meanwhile, please take a long look at another way to interpret “Better Times Will Come”. 

(Janis Ian)

Better times, better times will come.
Better times, better times will come.
When this world learns to live as one,
oh, better times will come

When we greet each dawn without fear
knowing loved ones soon will be near
When the winds of war
cannot blow any more
Oh, better times will come


Though we live each day as our last
we know someday soon it will pass
We will dance, we will sing
in that never-ending spring
Oh, better times will come