I love Janis Joplin. I know that love isn’t the right word for my relationship with Janis, but it’s the only way I can really explain it other than Janis and I are “involved.” I have this intense feeling when I see one of her performances or listen to one of her records, a feeling like we’re cosmically connected, kindred spirits…like we’re one in the same only decades and planes of living apart.
I love everything about her. Her music, her clothing, her ideologies, her raspy voice. I love that before she played “Piece of my heart” at Woodstock she asked the crowd if they had enough water and were “stayin’ stoned.” She told them that music was a thing to be felt and experienced and then she launched into a 7-minute version of the song where her voice sounded like a siren from The Odyssey.
Janis died from a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970 just as she was recording an album as a birthday greeting for John Lennon. She was only 27. I wasn’t even close to being born when this happened (both of my parents weren’t even in high school yet) but I feel like it’s probably one of the most tragic days in music, right up there with the death of John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, Kurt Cobain, Johnny Cash, and more recently, Michael Jackson.
I have posters of Janis Joplin everywhere. She was the laidback, life-loving person I can be (when life doesn’t get in the way). Her version of Gershwin’s “Summertime” is always the soundtrack of my summer. It’s rockin’ and bluesy. It sounds rushed and rough while being calm and cool. She was a genius when it came to arranging music.
Now, because I have been listening to Janis all day as I sit at my desk at The Gazette with my iPod, I am going to list just a few of the specific reasons why I love Janis Joplin and you should, too.
1. These lines from “Me and Bobby McGee”: “I feel as faded as my jeans” and “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” While she didn’t write them, her delivery always makes me shiver.
2. The words “Love, Janis”. Love, Janis is a collection, released in 2001, of Janis Joplin’s performances interspersed with readings of her personal letters to her family throughout her career. It is a companion to the stage show of the same title and the book by Joplin’s sister Laura. It’s also now a musical which I am DYING to see.
3. Her performance at Woodstock in 1969.
4. Her strong, raspy, sexy voice: TIME magazine called Joplin “probably the most powerful singer to emerge from the white rock movement,” and Richard Goldstein, in Vogue magazine, wrote that Joplin was “the most staggering leading woman in rock… she slinks like tar, scowls like war… clutching the knees of a final stanza, begging it not to leave… Janis Joplin can sing the chic off any listener.”
5. The Kozmic Blues Band. The most talented group of musicians to ever come together.
6. Pearl–the album recorded just before her death is, in my opinion, one of the best albums of all time. Boasts this song.
7. “I won’t quit to become someone’s old lady.” This Janis quote basically sums up my desire to make a name for myself without being controlled by anyone else. I love Janis’ philosophy that you can love deeply without losing yourself.
8. “You know why we’re stuck with the myth that only black people have soul? Because white people don’t let themselves feel things.” Janis had a way of explaining everything so simply. I wish more people would allow themselves to just “feel.” I know too many people who are too focused on the black and whites of life, who won’t listen to their hearts and who won’t take chances. I’m one of them sometimes.
9. I love that she was so open about sex. She broke down the door for feminist thought at the time.
“Being an intellectual creates a lot of questions and no answers. You can fill your life up with ideas and still go home lonely. All you really have that really matters are feelings. That’s what music is to me.” – Janis Joplin