Warning: This book contains offensive language, sexual references and phrases, drug references and aberrant behavior.
This blazingly intimate biography of Janis Joplin establishes the Queen of Rock & Roll as the rule-breaking musical trailblazer and complicated, gender-bending rebel she was.
Janis Joplin’s first transgressive act was to be a white girl who gained an early sense of the power of the blues, music you could only find on obscure records and in roadhouses along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. But even before that, she stood out in her conservative oil town. She was a tomboy who was also intellectually curious and artistic. By the time she reached high school, she had drawn the scorn of her peers for her embrace of the Beats and her racially progressive views. Her parents doted on her in many ways, but were ultimately put off by her repeated acts of defiance.
Janis Joplin has passed into legend as a brash, impassioned soul doomed by the pain that produced one of the most extraordinary voices in rock history. But in these pages, Holly George-Warren provides a revelatory and deeply satisfying portrait of a woman who wasn’t all about suffering. Janis was a perfectionist: a passionate, erudite musician who was born with talent but also worked exceptionally hard to develop it. She was a woman who pushed the boundaries of gender and sexuality long before it was socially acceptable. She was a sensitive seeker who wanted to marry and settle down—but couldn’t, or wouldn’t. She was a Texan who yearned to flee Texas but could never quite get away—even after becoming a countercultural icon in San Francisco.
Written by one of the most highly regarded chroniclers of American music history, and based on unprecedented access to Janis Joplin’s family, friends, band mates, archives, and long-lost interviews, Janis is a complex, rewarding portrait of a remarkable artist finally getting her due.
I wonder how many decades back you’d have to go to find someone who doesn’t recognize the music or the name of Janis Joplin.
The “beatnik from Port Arthur, Texas” set a new high bar for uninhibited powerful, emotional singing by a woman in the mid-to-late sixties. Unleashing raw talent on a still poodle-skirted US exploring rock and roll, Joplin went “Full Tilt Boogie” with a full repertoire of blues, folk, and R&B following her rocky start in San Francisco in the hippie neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. For all that wildly barely contained talent, Joplin was a fiercely conflicted young woman, dying at the age of twenty-seven of a heroin overdose; China white.
The author begins the biography with a quick history of Seth and Dorothy Joplin, the singer’s parents and the “triangle” in Texas she haunted as a rebellious girl, always seeking her mother’s approval and her father’s love. School was not kind to Janis, deeply wounding her and sealing that mutinous daughter apart seeking her own persona. She was always different, more one of the boys than friends with her peers. Easy for her to discover an escape into music…and booze…and drugs…and sex.
It was a long, hard climb from the hard-scrabble life in San Francisco to fame around the world, with countless musicians and bands, unsustainable love, the search for success and fame. The author did an amazing job with researching, interviewing and tracing letters home that provide the rocky road on which Janis traveled. The extreme highs and lows. George-Warren relates the anguish with which she desperately clung to threads of approval and drowned disappointment.
It was after the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, that she could become a national star. During the short period of her major celebrity, Janis managed to turn out myriad hits and set iconic records. Among her best known, “Cry Baby,” “Summertime (a personal favorite),” “Ball and Chain,” “Piece of My Heart,” and “Me and Bobby McGee.”
She was indeed rude, crude, and (for the most part) socially unacceptable, but man could she set an audience on fire with that voice, jumping to their feet and stomping to the music with as much wild abandon as the person on stage. No silver linings here–we all know the story and it doesn’t end well. Janis herself philosophized her life in bits noted at chapter beginnings, many of which I found profound:
“Don’t compromise yourself. It’s all You’ve got.”
“I would never be young again. I’d have to cry all over.”
“You shouldn’t have to be young until you’re old enough to cope with it.”
“What if they find out I’m only Janis?”
“Onstage I make love to twenty-five thousand people, then I go home alone.”
Janis’s last album, “Pearl” was released three months after her passing in January 1971.
If you’ve ever heard that plaintive wail and wondered about the woman behind the voice, you must read this biography. No gloss-over here, just a well laid out chronology of the tragic path another of our singing icons took and the legacy left for aging hippies and the younger generations hooked by those bluesy ballads.
I received this digital download from the publisher (thank you!) and NetGalley and totally appreciated the opportunity to read and review. Recommended to anyone who enjoys well-researched celebrity biographies and well-written histories–get to know Janis–the person and the singer. That was, at times, two different people.
Genre: Biographies of Composers & Musicians, Biographies of Actors & Entertainers, R&B Artist Biographies
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
- ASIN: B07P5GD3SZ
Rosepoint Publishing: Four point Five of Five Stars
The Author: Holly George-Warren is an award-winning writer, editor, producer, and music consultant. She has contributed to more than two dozen books about rock and roll, including The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock, and The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. She’s also written for the New York Times, the Village Voice, the Journal of Country Music, and Rolling Stone. Ms. George-Warren lives in upstate New York with her family.
©2019 V Williams