Janis Joplin was without a doubt the female voice of the 60s Rock Revolution. You can still hear that scratch and yelling voice in your mind singing, “Piece of my Heart” and “Me and Bobbie McGee”. She left an indelible impression while alive and even further when she overdosed on heroin and died October of 1970 at the age of 27.
Her life was told to us through various media. Documentaries such as “Monterrey Pop”, “Woodstock”, and “Janis” allowed us to relive her moments on stage. “The Rose”, a movie starring Bette Midler, had Joplin’s name written all over it, so to speak. It is described as “The tragic life of a self-destructive female rock star who struggles to deal with the constant pressures of her career and the demands of her ruthless business manager”. They got the destructive part correct, but Joplin’s death was due to her own upsets and demons.
In 1992 Laura Joplin, her younger sister, published a book entitled, “Love, Janis”. The core of the writing focused on letters that Janis would send to her family in Texas. I hadn’t read the book until another media came out. It was the off-Broadway show entitled Love, Janis and was a big hit.
I had the opportunity to meet Laura and asked why these letters suddenly appeared. “Mother kept the letters in a drawer. It wasn’t until 1988 that the letters were shared with Michael and me. It was an incredible emotional experience for us. Some of the letters were 18 pages long and depicted what Janis really went through. These letters were a true eye-opener because the Janis that I knew was the Janis that her friends knew; an intelligent person who lived at home.”
What better place to have the play produced than at the Village Gate, in the “blues” area of Greenwich Village. The 2001 show depicted the life of Janis Joplin’s singing career through her songs and letters. They casted two Janis Joplins. One would do the singing and the other who spoke from the heart and emotions citing many of the letters. Songs included: “Piece of my Heart”, “What Good Can Drinking Do”, “Summertime”, “Mercedes Benz”, “Ball and Chain” and “Me and Bobbie McGee”.
Not only was the show toured, in more recent years one of the actors who sang Janis Joplin began doing her own tour with a show called, “A Night With Janis Joplin”.
Janis Joplin is back on screen with “Janis: Little Girl Blue”. The film, produced by Alex Gibney and written and directed by Amy Berg, focuses on Joplin's life through her words in correspondence, interviews and the memories of her family and friends…and yes, the letters.
Chan Marshall (a.k.a. Cat Power) narrates this excellent documentary showing how Joplin fought to be herself, an adventurous and rowdy woman who belted out her sorrow, rage and happiness on the stage.
Those interviewed include members of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Country Joe McDonald , Dick Cavett, and Kris Kristofferson, who relates his feelings about hearing Janis perform his song “Me and Bobby McGee.” Laura Joplin is also featured. Feedback also comes from Bette Midler and Melissa Etheridge. I must say that the film includes some incredible performance footage.
"I managed to pass my 27th birthday without really feeling it," Janis wrote in a letter home some months before her death. "It's such a funny game. Two years ago, I didn't even want to be 'it.' No, that's not true. I've been looking around, and I've noticed something. After you reach a certain level of talent … the deciding factor is ambition. Or as I see it, how much you really need to be loved...."
Janis shares about her relationships with her family, friends and lovers, some of which in their present day are part of the documentary. In the end comes to the realization that everyone in the band has someone to go home to…she is alone. She had promised not to do heroin that October 4, 1970.