Forty-five years ago today Janis Joplin was found dead in her hotel room in Los Angeles at the age of twenty-seven. Many people remember the lethal drugs that tragically ended her life instead of what contributed to the drugs in the first place.
Janis Lyn Joplin was a Texas girl just like me. She was born into a period where freshly trimmed lawns, party dresses, and upholding the perfect image were all too important. From an early age Janis actually tried to fit in well as her family had wanted her to. Plagued with a boy-ish figure, not the ideal face, and severe acne she was discriminated against, pushed aside and bullied. Naturally Janis’s response to this was to rebel which introduced her to a whole new side of herself she had never seen. Crossing the state border to go watch “Blues Bands” and to drink became a frequent thing to do with her “out cast” friends, and from there on she began to sing Blue-grass herself. When Janis decided to move to Austin, Texas for college, she met a new group of friends where she began to sing with actual bands. She felt as though she finally fit in only months later to be nominated the “Ugliest Man on Campus” which naturally crushed her. Once again, she was laughed out of the state of Texas, and left for California. Janis of course then met Big Brother and the Holding Company through friends, and her career changed after her stunning performance at Monterey. Finally, the world saw this woman as who she actually was instead of a clashing outward appearance with society’s standards. Still though, the attacks against Janis didn’t stop. Despite her powerful lungs, she was rejected among so many.
This is the part about Janis that is so disappointing, but that I love. Women in these days were expected to be a certain way. A career woman, married, children, a manicured outfit, and to sit down and let the men speak. Janis wore crushed velvet pants, sparkly shirts, feathers in her hair, bracelets stacked on each arm, she spoke her mind, and was proud of it. When asked why she didn’t sound like other female singers at the time on the Dick Cavett show, she said “I don’t know why. I always wondered because it seemed so natural to me, but um, I don’t know it’s not feminine maybe that’s why. To really get down, and really get into music, to get on the bottom side of the music instead of float around on the top like most chick singers do. I think they float around on the top of the melody instead of getting into the feeling of the music. I don’t know.”
Janis was the first of her time to display such an outrageous feminine outcry. Not because she wanted to, but because that’s who she was. She wanted to get down with the boys because she loved it, and she wanted more. She didn’t care about the makeup, hair, and candy-shop beach wave love songs. She wanted the audience’s hair to raise at her screaming onstage. People loved her, people rejected her, and ridiculed her publicly. She never knew where she sat; if she was good or bad in people’s eyes contributing to her many many emotional and self hate problems. Janis truly just wanted to be accepted, and loved. Janis is so special to me because she presented a new idea of a woman. A woman who could get onstage with men, and belt the blues; a woman who didn’t have to be in the home. She presented this idea that you could do what you love, and feel like doing despite what society is screaming at you. In return, society ridiculed her saying that she was out of control, and crazed. Except, she was still was a woman with heart, and values saying on the Dick Cavett show that she eventually wanted to “learn how to bake organic bread, and have babies.” Janis was progressive for her time, ahead of it, and I truly believe that is what killed her.
In society when it comes to being progressive, or presenting new ideas, we haven’t changed much from Janis’s time period. You are called a “dumb liberal”, or a “bitch that needs to be put in her place.” We are still trying to contain this image of women, dumbing them down, and refusing them rights. When we feel something that is so new for this economy, in return we are ridiculed, and we are hated. We are taught to think we are not worth loving, and we should hate ourselves too. It teaches you to be overly self-aware, and it drives people to do things for escape. Alcohol, drugs, whatever you can get your hands on. We are taught to be unworthy, as Janis was. She depended on a regular supply of Southern Comfort, heroin, or speed because humans had wronged her. At least these things accepted her, and gave her an overwhelming feeling of comfort (or high) regularly.
People knew she was different, and that she was making a mark. To some she was a taboo topic, a typical drugged out singer, and surely within enough time she could disappear so everyone could go back to normal. They were right. While recording her new album “Pearl”, Janis found herself alone in her hotel room. She hated being alone because alone gives you time to think, possibly to think about how alone internally you feel. To take the edge off, her dealer stopped by with a new batch of heroine. After recording that whole day, she went back to her again empty hotel room where night had fallen. Thats where she then prepared her needle, and injected heroin that had a purity of forty to fifty percent…when the average is around three percent. Immediately, the drug knocked her to the ground where she fell between her bed and bedside table, where this final fix of heroin finally stopped her heart.
Today I am sad because someone who is so fun to listen to whether it’s her songs, or her just talking about ordinary things accidentally killed herself. The world lost someone who was a game changer for Rock and Roll, and for women. I am sad because she was taught that she was not worth of love here, and had to find comfort in such awful, and dangerous things. What a different world it could be if we learned to accept others instead of all the name-calling and shaming. The public was right – she did disappear physically, but Janis never ever went away. Her voice is still pounding through stereos’ and her face is now on the United States forever stamps. I wish she were alive to now see how loved she actually was.