Passionate and Sloppy: Janis Joplin is hooked. She has to turn on almost every night. "I’m on an audience trip," she says. "when I go on-stage to sing, it’s like the "rush" that people experience when they take heavy dope. I talk to the audience, look into their eyes. I need them and they need me. Sex is the closest I can come to explaining it, but it’s more than sex. I get stoned from happiness. I want to do it until it isn’t there anymore."
"My message," she says, "is ‘Get off your butt and feel things!’" When she stomps, quivers, flails her arms, tosses her mane of hair and swoops through a vocal chorus with hoarse croons and piercing wails, few listeners fail to get the message. Last week at the Newport Folk Festival, a crowd of 17,800 clapped and roared for encores until nearly 1 a.m.
Staying Stoned: Janis is the lead singer with Big Brother and the Holding Company, a hard-driving San Francisco rock group whose sound somewhat resembles a busy sawmill. At 25, Janis is the most distinctive female performer yet to emerge from the West Coast rock movement.
Back home in Port Arthur, Texas, Janis’ mother and father ( a cannery executive) are mildly astonished at her success, but also relieved. For a long time, she admits, they thought she was "a goner." By her own description, Janis in her Port Arthur days was a weirdo among fools. She painted, read poetry, and listened to Odetta and Leadbelly records. "Everybody else was going to drive-ins and drinking Cokes and talking about going across the tracks to go nigger knocking." At 18, she escaped to Los Angeles with her parents’ dubious blessing and became a beatnik. Not a hippie. Janis explains the difference carefully. Hippies believe the world could be a better place. "Beatniks believe things aren’t going to get better and say the hell with it, stay stoned and have a good time."
No Cold Beer: Janis followed this program for five years, working as a keypunch operator, singing occasionally, dropping in and out of three colleges, and drifting to New York and San Francisco. What did she get out of it all? Among other things, a longshoreman’s vocabulary, a cheerful habit of drinking Southern Comfort by the bottle ("I may own that company some day,") and moods that she describes as "superhorrible downs." Then, after joining Big Brother two years ago, "I made feeling work for me through music."
Like most members of the group, Janis cannot read a note of music. "We’re not dispassionate professionals," Janis explains. "We’re passionate and sloppy. I’m untutored native folk talent-I like that phrase, it’s so pretenious." Her only regimen is to stay away from cold beer before singing and she refuses to worry about the punishment her rasping style inflicts on her vocal cords. When friends urge her to hold back in order to preserve her voice, she asks: "Why should I hold back now and sound mediocre just so I can sound mediocre 20 years from now?"