Several months ago, I embarked on a project that involves writing about several well-known rock stars. Not too many people know about my project, but one of my friends that I’ve been consulting and sharing with suggested I include Janis Joplin (along with a couple other women rockers). “UGH!” I thought. “I hate Janis Joplin. Why would I want to include HER of all people in my work?” Well, I couldn’t seem to shake the idea from my mind, so I did a little investigating to find out if there was a link between Janis and my project…and lo and behold, there was! But I needed to find out more about her….
For the past several weeks, I’ve been reading On the Road with Janis Joplin by author, musician and Janis Joplin’s road manager John Byrne Cooke (son of Alistair Cooke). There are several other books about her: One by her sister and one by her lover/roommate, but I decided this one would probably be the most unbiased look at her life.
Reading this book was slow going at first because, well…she’s not one of my favorite people! I was happy to see a couple Beatles references in the early part of the book as the author tried to put her early development into perspective with what was going on in the music world at the time. Janis was originally from Texas, but moved up to the Haight Ashbury section of San Francisco in the mid 60’s to join the band Big Brother and the Holding Company. She would end up having two more bands before her death in 1970, and would tour extensively with all of them. It wasn’t until her final album (that would have to be finished without her after her sudden death) that everyone would feel that she had finally learned to control her vocals to put out her very best album.
Interesting trivia from UtimateClassicRock.com:
The last recordings Joplin completed were ‘Mercedes-Benz’ and a birthday greeting for John Lennon. On Oct. 1, 1970, Joplin recorded the old Dale Evans cowboy tune ‘Happy Trails’ for the former Beatle, which is sort of spooky given the lyrics are “Happy trails to you, ’till we meet again.” The tune was titled ‘Happy Birthday, John (Happy Trails)’ and released on the Janis box set in 1993. Lennon told talk show host Dick Cavett that her taped greeting arrived at his home after her passing.
But a strange thing happened as I read further and further into Janis’ story. I came to love and respect her for who she was. This is a young woman who was voted “The Ugliest Man on Campus” at the University of Texas at Austin in her freshman year (I was told I was the ugliest girl in the 7th grade), and it would seem that she carried the scars from her unpopularity in high school and college with her into her career. To put it bluntly…she was lonely. Very lonely…and her drug use was to comfort herself through the pain. My heart aches for her now.
If you don’t know about Janis Joplin, but want to learn more about her, this book is a good place to start (I’ll probably end up reading the books by her sister and the one by her lover/roommate). I did get a little frustrated with the author going off on his own story a little too much for my liking, but all in all, this was a fine book. And for that reason…
I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beetles!