With summer knocking at our door, Joplin’s “Summertime” is probably playing at the back of our heads more often than ever. Was it a friend who recommended Janis Joplin years ago? Or did we stumble upon her when surfing YouTube one humid May afternoon?
It might be either, but once you have listened to her raw, anguished, soul-wrenching voice, you know that not many people can appreciate her music, let alone her life. As for that, let us tell you a few things that may be quite intriguing.
To really understand who Janis was, it is important to look for and establish a connection between yourself and her—a connection that exists beyond her music. Only then can you truly keep going back to her when happy or heartbroken and still find solace, like you did a long time back.
Janis was a young troubled genius and a social misfit who rose to fame in the 60s era of rock and roll music, fueled by her love for whisky and addiction to drugs. But before she became a rockstar, she was a Texas girl who rebelled against fashion that was gendered and that confined women to predetermined standards of the fashion industry. By wearing men’s clothes when she was not more than 14 years old, she practiced individualism unlike anybody her age. Subjected to years of bullying, she resorted to making friends who shared her taste in music, a bunch of boys who were equally enthusiastic about the Beat Generation propagators.
After changing several educational institutes because they failed to offer her what she was seeking, she joined the University of Texas, in Austin to study art. That was also when she started performing. She would often walk around barefoot carrying her autoharp so she could sing anytime she wanted. Her public performances were initially limited to folksongs and local pubs, and gradually shifted to music festivals and cities in other parts of the nation.
Her honesty, opinions, and presence reflected how she personified the growing counterculture. Inspired by legendary artists like Bessie Smith, Lead Belly, and Odetta, Janis oscillated between blues and jazz, and folk music. Over time, she just grew more outspoken and her fondness for Southern Comfort grew more outrageous.
But underneath the person that she appeared to be, she suffered from increasing performance pressure and alienation, which only bottles and bottles of Southern Comfort could help her escape from. In fact, she was so fond of this smooth whisky that when Jim Morrison made violent advances toward her, she didn’t shy away from breaking a bottle of Southern Comfort on his head. Morrison passed out cold and that was the end of what could have been a phenomenal duo in the history of music. Morrison though, remained smitten and a little heartbroken about her.
Another very popular story that goes around about Janis and Southern Comfort is about how she managed to get a lynx coat for drinking whisky. Because she drank Southern Comfort, it boosted sales and she convinced the company managers to thank her with a lynx coat. What Janis did was not exactly advertising SoCo, she drank because she loved drinking, much like the rest of the things that she did.
The last music tour that she went on in 1970, accompanied by David Dalton from Rolling Stone, she emptied the contents of her handbag on the floor of a limousine in an attempt to find her lighter. From his account, we now know that it had movie stubs, pack of cigarettes, an antique cigarette holder, and of course an empty bottle of Southern Comfort!
For most of us who like listening to and exploring music, who find new genre and new artists every day, it becomes a real challenge remembering all of the artists we come across. Few escape our memory with time. But then there are people like Janis Joplin, who come and alter the course of our lives. There’s no going back—one day you wake up and it is not a blasphemy to ask the lord to buy you a “night on the town” or the next round of whisky.