The story is legendary, the rehabilitation center is nice, but just one thing is wrong: The new home for drug-addicted mothers on Lyon Street wasn’t actually rocker Janis Joplin’s house.
It was the one next door. Really.
Blame the mixup on rock ‘n’ roll’s drug-hazed, oversaturated history, especially when it comes to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. And even more especially when it comes to the district’s one- block stretch of Lyon where Golden Gate Community’s new 20-bed rehab center will open next month — and where the famously screaming rocker actually lived in 1967 and 1968.
To believe the dizzying variety of versions from tour guides, history books and local lore, “Pearl” Joplin lived in any of four different houses on the block, right near two separate houses that Jimi Hendrix supposedly crashed at — not to mention two more houses where newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was reputedly kept prisoner in the basement.
It’s all fun to talk about. But as with a lot of things handed down through the thickness of years and a thousand old dope trips, little of it is true.
After reports about the new rehab center being in Joplin’s old digs appeared in The Chronicle and other media all the way to England this week, a few hard-core experts popped up to set things straight.
Even some of those who were there back when Joplin was boozing and singing her way into rock fame are still a tad hazy on the details — but the proof came with a copy of Joplin’s 1960s driver’s license. It places her at 122 Lyon, which is in the house right next door to the new rehab center at 124 Lyon.
“It just shows how mythological the whole thing is,” said Country Joe McDonald, who lived with Joplin on Lyon for three somewhat fuzzy months in the late ’60s — and at first recalled it as being the location of the rehab center, until deeper memories kicked in yesterday.
“Before you know it, they’ll just go by that street some day and say, `Janis lived somewhere in this three block area,’ and leave it at that,” said McDonald, who was Joplin’s boyfriend in those days. “It’s hilarious.”
He paused to laugh over his own confusion on the address, saying tongue-in-cheek: “I don’t know, I took a lot of drugs back then and my memories are pretty fuzzy. Heck, maybe I got Janis mixed up with someone else!”
Not much chance of that. Several Joplin biographies and many of her old friends place them together back then, so his role in that bit of history is safe.
Golden Gate managers have believed the story that their four-story, 103-year-old Victorian was Joplin’s for so long that they stopped questioning it years ago. So when they sent out a press release this week announcing their new center, they automatically mentioned their minor claim to music fame — and reporters ran with it.
Some even took the nonprofit’s word that Joplin owned the house in the early 1970s, perhaps neglecting to check the fact that she died in 1970 of a heroin overdose, at age 27, and that every account of her life in the Haight says that she could only afford to rent an apartment on Lyon.
But no matter. It was a fun story. And it doesn’t bother Golden Gate to be set straight.
“Maybe that’s part of the rock God mystique,” director of development Thomas Reynolds said yesterday. “After awhile, everyone believes these guys stayed everywhere. In fact, World Entertainment News in London called to say they heard Joan Baez lived in this house.”
“Whether she lived here or not, our center is still true to the spirit of the ’60s in the Haight in that it’s all about people helping each other,” Reynolds said.
Peter Albin, bass player in Joplin’s band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Joplin’s Lyon Street roommate and clothing designer, Linda Gravenites, both got a chuckle out of the address snafu.
“If the stories about Janis’ house can help something like a rehab center for mothers, then that’s cool,” said Albin. “She would have gotten a good laugh out of it.”
Gravenites remembered that Joplin and she liked the apartment, but it was too cramped with only one bedroom — so they moved to Noe Street in 1968.
The folks who today live in the real Joplin house say they get a kick out of the tourists rolling off buses and walking up to snap pictures of at least four different houses — including theirs — that they were told were Joplin’s.
“It’s kind of cool to think that Janis lived here, a nice connection to the old days, but we don’t make much of it,” said Tom Mills, 41, who lives one floor down from her old apartment — which has been empty for about six months.