Janis Joplin was the first lady of rock'n'roll. She was an American singer, the female icon of the 60s, the most recognizable woman in hippie era. There were many great bands and singers, but her personality, attitude and unique, extraordinary voice and stage presence made her a legend.
She came to this world in 1943, full of hope and thought that everything was going to be just fine; there was no reason to be otherwise, but life had other plans for her. In 1971, when she was 27 years old she died. She died of a broken heart. Everything in between is a tale of a woman who gave love in every possible way and her greatest wish was to get love in return.
She was born in a traditional middle-class family and community. When she was in her teens she was rejected by her peers because of her physical appearence. In turn, she rejected them. She didn't want to live by their rules and she made them react to her even more, by dying her hair orange, wearing unconventional clothes and speaking openly about her political beliefs. She was a rebel and an outcast who passionately read poets of the Beat Generation. She was intelligent and opinionated, she had no fear, but she was feeling hurt. She found her solace in music and when she was 17 she began to sing blues and dream about leaving that small industrial town in order to find her own destiny. When asked about her classmates, she said “They laughed me out of class, out of town, out of the State, man”. Her journey started slowly, walking along a bumpy road.
At first, she was singing blues for beer. But her ambition led her to San Francisco, a city where it was possible for her to express her creativity, be different and free of everything conventional. So, she recorded a couple of blues songs. But, that kind of freedom had its cost. She became addicted to speed (amphetamine drug) and drank heavily. That wasn’t anything unusual for the hippie era, people weren’t aware of the danger that drug produces and people used it for “opening their creative mind”. For Janis it was an escape from her own mind, she used it to numb her pain. After two years she got into a terrible physical condition but she finally fell in love and thought she would get love in return. He was a man in a suit, so different than she was. Love she felt and help from her friends gave her the strength to come back to a place she called home as a little girl. She sobered up, gave up on drugs and tried hard to please her family, to be what her mother wanted her to be, living her life as an ordinary woman with ordinary expectations. But, life surprised her once again. The man she thought she wanted to spend her life with abandoned her. And that was the breaking point for the Janis we know, the woman who was on her way to become the superstar, the woman who was still looking for love and acceptance.
She came back to San Francisco, got in a band, being haunted by the fear of becoming involved in drugs again. Unfortunately she relapsed into drugs although trying really hard not to, but that didn’t prevent her from doing what she liked and knew best, that didn’t prevent her from expressing her feelings through her bluesy, unimaginable voice while her appearance and behavior shocked all the “mainstream people”. And that was her goal, her music to become part of the mainstream culture, and to spread her emotions to all the people.
And people recognized those emotions. After the Monterey Pop festival in 1967 she made it. Her interpretation of the blues song by Big Mama Thornton called “Ball and Chain” amazed the audience, they listened to her voice and her raw emotions mesmerized. The madness began. It was a huge breakthrough.
By reliving her own emotions she performed the songs. On stage, she was in some kind of a trance-like state, looking naked, honest, childlike. You could see pain and joy on her face, you could see every woman’s inner world in her eyes. She gave all that she had to her audience and they identified with her; she gave them Pearl. Pearl was that flamboyant, energetic person on stage we all know who transformed pain into something colorful. She was true with her whole being. She was singing from her soul. People knew who stood in front of them, because people don’t like being lied to.
“All these people think I’m wonderful”, she wrote in her letters as if she had wanted to persuade her family how thrilled she was and that she wasn’t a failure. Maybe she just wanted to persuade herself that everything was good and mask what was really going on. She reached for success and lost herself in it. She got addicted to heroin. Men abandoned over and over again…And after a concert, she’d go home alone.
Sadness and loneliness were her lovers, so real and close to her heart. They sang to her, she sang to us. They never left her for a single moment. They whispered words to her soul and she shared what she had heard. As if she had been born and destined to do that.
When asked “How were you different from your schoolmates?”
Janis answered: “I don’t know, why don’t you ask them?”