Janis Joplin: From High School Loser to the Queen of Rock N Roll!

(Source: Luis Fernando Reis via Flickr)

Probably one the brightest and fastest stars to shine and burn out, Janis Joplin was the wild female Rock Star personified. With her ragged, bluesy voice, gypsy style and hedonistic lifestyle, she came to symbolize all that was revolutionary about Sixties counterculture. Janis threw down electrifying on-stage performances at both the Monterrey Pop and Woodstock music festivals and set the blueprint for future female singers of all genres of music.

Most of all, Janis seemed to be someone who just didn’t give a shit about what other people thought of her. She dressed how she wanted, sang what she wanted, drank what she wanted, screwed whom she pleased and generally burned down societal expectations of what a young woman was supposed to do with her life in 60’s-era America.

Yet, behind all of this loud, colorful bluster, there always seemed to be hint of sadness in her eyes; a loneliness and alienated pain in her song lyrics and singing style. A pain that she chose to self-medicate with too much drugs and an ever-present bottle of Southern Comfort by her side, tragically culminating in a heroin overdose at the tender age of 27.

Born in Port Arthur, Texas to a humble, small-town family, Janis soon found herself an outcast in her own community. Her deep acne, non-traditional looks, artistic leanings and rebellious stance earned her incessant bullying from her classmates. “I was a misfit. I read, I painted, I thought. I didn’t hate n%#@ers.” Later on, while attending college, she was subsequently voted as the “Ugliest Man on Campus” by campus frat boys. All this pain led her to retreating into the music of older Blues divas like Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton and Ma Rainey- later influencing her pursuit of singing as a career.

She finally made her way to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco by the mid Sixties, becoming a fixture of the local Hippie community, and taking both men and women into her bed. Her powerful voice soon gained her notoriety as the powerful frontwoman of the band Big Brother and Holding Company. In a few short years, she shot to prominence as one of the foremost Rock Stars in the country, burning down the house wherever she went with her anguished scream and a string of radio hits.

I’ve always loved the lyrics of one of her final recordings, Mercedes Benz:

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?
Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?
I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?

A tongue-in-cheek satire of society’s penchant for material gain (luxury automobiles, game shows and color televisions). At the end, all she really wants is God (or somebody) to love her and buy her some drinks on a bar crawl. From what I know of her private life, she was a pretty lonely, pained person, never quite finding the true love she longed for. But on stage, that happiness truly shone through with her nitroglycerin charisma and beaming smile.

One of her last public appearances before dying was a performance and interview on the Dick Cavett Show in 1970. In her interview, she announced that she would attend her 10-year high school class reunion. Bedecked in purple velvet, sequins and multiple feather boas in her hair, she was now the world’s first female Rock Superstar. The crowd roared their approval when she said that her old classmates “”Laughed me out of class, out of town and out of the state- so, I’m going home.”

Suck on that, Bullies!

History is often made by unusual people who bucked the trend. So, you may be a freak with no friends now, but remember: he or she who laughs last, laughs longest. Revenge is best when served up cold…

6 thoughts on “Janis Joplin: From High School Loser to the Queen of Rock N Roll!

  1. i was privileged to see her live twice . A shining , bright shooting star with a heart full of soul

  2. I finally understand the meaning of ” . . . a dish served cold” – thanks!

  3. JANIS

    old boyfriend from old way back then n there told me she was the only other woman he loved …

    • Post Author Greg Goldblatt

      Wow- it seemed like she loved quite a few guys in her time, so she must have broken his heart along the way!

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