Janis: Little Girl Blue will receive its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on September 13. Cat Power, aka singer Chan Marshall, tells NME about her involvement with the film, which sees her reading letters written by the legendary Texan blues singer, who died at the age of 27 in 1970. The film is directed by Amy Berg, who also directed 2012 documentary West Of Memphis.
Cat Power: “When I grew up my family; my mom, stepdad, dad, everybody hung out with and were in bands or involved in music. So I always had music around and we would go to see bands since I was very small, so Janis was like an icon of the house that I grew up in. So I naturally learned about her from a young age. It’s funny because, nowadays we’re always wrapped up in comparisons and that’s how we help people understand, but trying to compare Janis or Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse doesn’t help the artist speak for themselves. At the time, I don’t think there was any female that was really that free on stage, that loving, that open. Janis was just all about love. No one was as strong and as powerful as she was with her energy.
“Earlier this year I got an email saying ‘Would you like to read these letters for a Janis Joplin documentary?’. I just heard the word documentary and I used to want to be a journalist when I was young, so I signed on. To be asked to read letters was intimate. I didn’t really know who her letters were going to be written to – I didn’t actually have time to focus because I have a two-month old. But they were all to her family which makes it even more crushing. [Like Janis] I left the South – I’m the only person in my family to ever leave the South – and I have written letters to my family so I felt these pangs and feelings she had when she was hanging out with The Grateful Dead; I was on tour with Guided by Voices when I was around 25 or I met Patti Smith when I was 26.
“In her letters it’s clear to see she was looking for affirmation and validation for who she was as a person, because back then you were supposed to either marry a man or go to university, and she was doing something that these threatening hippies were doing and that scared the shit out of her. Her family were involved in society, they weren’t intellectuals but they were educated people. The last letter was the one that affected me the most. I couldn’t it. I was in tears and crying so hard. It was intense because that belief in herself that she had achieved through some of the letters, the self-respect she had attained and that self-love, that was her main goal. I feel like her main goal in life was to feel loved and so the last one really fucked me up because she was again writing to her family to say ‘I fucking disappointed you guys and I love you’ and it was just heartbreaking. I hope I did justice to the emotion Janis felt when she was writing and trying to communicate herself to her family a pretty heavy feeling. I hope that people see how much she loved and wanted to be loved.”