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Janis Joplin

by Jessica R. Powell

Is Janis Joplin a famous artist because of her sudden death in the late 1970’s? Some would answer yes to this question, but I would disagree with them. Janis Joplin had to deal with many problems throughout her life. Many of these things were kept bottled up inside of her, and they finally exploded on the night of her death. I know that many people remember the name Janis Joplin because of this terrible ordeal, but, as they begin to get to know the real Janis, they will discover the truth about the wonderful person that was hiding behind all of the images she created for herself. I admit that I only knew Janis Joplin through all of the images of her that were floating around. When I finally took the time to discover the real Janis Joplin, I was ashamed for all of the assumptions that I had made about her in the past.

I believe in my heart that Janis Joplin has been acclaimed the "greatest female singer in the history of rock n’ roll" (Amburn 1) because of the incredible talent that she brought with her onto the rock n’ roll stage. Although Janis was not very well-known for her music from the start, she began to attract many listeners with her unique singing abilities. This is usually true with any talented beginning artist in the music business. It is also true that with any artist, the life they lead tends to be broadcast in newspapers and tabloids all over the world for all to see and comment on. Nothing that the artists do can be kept a secret from the public, especially the bad things that go on in their lives. This is where Janis Joplin adopted her famous personality as a troublemaker.

Janis Joplin was not always known for her ability to do wrong. Her younger sister, Laura Joplin, remembers Janis as a child as "a bright, precious child with a winning smile and a manner about her that charmed people" with "a full face, small, twinkling blue eyes, a broad forehead that Mother always said showed intellect, and fine, silky blond hair that had a soft curl in it" (Joplin 28). She was a creative little girl who began to show her true intelligence at a very early age. She discovered that she was a pretty good painter when she began to take art lessons as a very young child. She continued to receive straight A’s in school as she grew up. She also loved to volunteer her free time to do work that would better benefit others than herself. Most of her free time was given to her church and the local library. Janis Joplin’s parents, Seth and Dorothy, were both very pleased with their daughter’s independent qualities (Joplin 29).

As Janis continued to grow older, she began to experience problems in her life. She was not considered one of the popular people in high school, especially with the girls she attended school with. Janis usually buddied around with her male friends, who only seen her as another one of the guys, instead of one of the beautiful woman that they found attractive (Friedman 1). Janis knew that she was not a very beautiful girl, but the fact that the boys ignored her feminine side upset her deeply. Many people did not realize that Janis felt this need to be seen as the woman that she was, not just a guy in an unknown group. Janis was very good at hiding these emotions, and she continued her role as the male companion that her friends thought she was.

Janis Joplin started out in the 1960’s as a blues singer. She traveled to San Francisco to sing in the night clubs. She became known as "the greatest white female blues singer who ever lived" (Leahy 4). Even though Janis tired of the musical scene, she never gave up on her dreams. "When Janis wanted something she went for it full force." For example, "if she was not invited initially to go to some event the guys she hung with was attending, Janis wheedled herself an invitation" (Joplin 53). This attribute made Janis Joplin a very successful artist. In 1968, her album "Cheap Thrills" debuted on the Billboard chart’s number-one position for eight straight weeks, and it remained on the Top 40 for nine months. The album eventually sold more than a million copies. This was true success. Later that year, Janis won the International Critics Poll for Best Female Vocal Album and Best Female Pop Singer for the Jazz and Pop magazine awards. She also won the magazine’s Readers’ Poll for Best Female Pop Singer (Amburn 181).

Although Janis became a great success, she was always known for her drinking and drug problems. Her trademark was performing on stage with a bottle of Southern Comfort gripped in one hand and the microphone in the other. As Janis became one of the more popular artists of her time, her addictions began getting her into many troublesome situations. Once, she had to be admitted to the hospital, where she was weaned off of Methedrine and heroine. Janis did not give up her drug and alcohol addictions after this incident, though. They continued to grow, despite her failing health problems.

Joplin’s sexual lifestyle was also highly publicized. Stanley Bard recalls that "Janis was a very sexual woman." She even went as far as broadcasting it to certain people that entered her home. He remembered that "over her bed in her room, she had written ‘The world’s greatest sex object’ in lipstick" (Amburn 157). Her lifestyle was gradually destroying her. Her health was failing, and she seemed to be going over the edge every time she was seen. She even let it begin to destroy her voice. The voice that was loved by so many. It was the voice of Janis Joplin that attracted most listeners ears. It was said to sound like "coarse sandpaper" as she sang with her "raw, screaming delivery" (Friedlander 198).

Janis died alone in her room at the Hollywood Landmark Hotel. She was diagnosed with an accidental overdose of heroine. This tragic event occurred on October 4, 1970. This was right after the surprising death of Jimi Hendrix on September 18. The irony of this situation was that when Janis had heard of Jimi Hendrix’s death, she stated, "I can’t go out this year because he was a bigger star." ( "The Rock an Roll Years" 217) Not even a month later, she died.

Janis Joplin was usually put down by the media publishers because of her serious addictions. She was a confused woman who only wanted to be loved and accepted by everyone. This need destroyed her. she did things that I do not believe she would have done if she would have felt the self-respect she should have for herself. She was a very talented musician, and she was always very smart. She just did not know how to take control of her own life. I think that Peter Herring’s last statement about Janis Joplin in his book Classic Rock Stars, sums up her entire life perfectly. He stated, "Before Janis, the women of Rock and Roll were still expected to look and act as if they’d like to make love to all of the men in the audience. Janis changed that; she made love, too, but it was to everybody. Then, as she once put it so poignantly, she went home alone"(50).


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