Janis Joplin was a formidable artist. From her innate musicality to her precocious abilities as a front person, she accomplished more in her twenty-seven years than many do in a lifetime. But behind that soaring voice came a woman every bit as human, fallible and uncertain as the rest of us. Talking about her late sister, Laura Joplin succinctly noted, “What Janis, Michael and I have in common is that we made our own choices. We weren’t trying to be different, even Janis, we were just trying to be ourselves.”
And in the recent book, Janis Joplin Days and Summers her individuality shines, from the forward to afterward, where a more somber Kris Kristofferson remembers her influence. For him, “Bobby McGee” held a new meaning when he heard her perform the track: “…every time I sing the song I think of Janis.”
Janis Joplin Days and Summers shows the vocalist for the searching, shrewd student that re-created herself as the doyenne of blues-rock. There, hidden behind the scrap photos comes a person even more mysterious than the sultry rock star whose voice still manages to capture the celebrant within us. The detail within the book is deeply moving and merits the full five stars both for its research and library of photos.
In one of the more revealing photographs, Joplin is found holding an acoustic guitar, her smile caught somewhere between faint amusement and pensive acknowledgment. Michael Joplin remembers his sibling’s ambition to sing at San Francisco, the pride still prevalent after so many decades.
Lushly produced, the book is surfeited with photographs, capturing Joplin on her life journey. She writes to her pal Barbara, confirming that she is indeed singing for Big Brother & The Holding Company. There in blue ink, Joplin’s choppy handwriting is there to be seen for all its directness, distinctiveness, and glory, exposing her most intimate thoughts in their truest form. More interestingly, the book also holds a postcard she addressed to her mother, explaining what she intends to do on her impending evening off.
Shortly after, we find Joplin at a candle-lit table, her voice raised to the Hindu Prayer she and her companions are enjoying. It’s clear from the photographs that Joplin was every bit the free spirit that her back catalog suggested, and the book offers a portrait of a time untouched by materialism.
By the time we come to the Monterey Pop Festival, Joplin has completed her transformation from disciple to rock and roll diva. But behind the flowers, flairs and chants came a darker, more dense aspect to the shifting landscape. “It wasn’t all friendliness and flower power,” says Joshua White. “They had attitudes. When they arrived in New York, they called it shitty New York.” Within a short period of time, America was caught in a cruel and unnatural war that devastated the landscape. Elsewhere another “hippie” used his message of love to spread hate– the fate of Sharon Tate is too awful to commit to this review.
But the book is one of laughter, as is shown near the end, where the singer is caught enjoying a chortle, her body draped in purple. Midway through the book, readers are reminded that Joplin was once deemed “Most Staggering Leading Woman in Rock.” In many ways, she still is. Cause whoever follows her (regardless of gender identification) emulates, identifies with, and channels her. And through this scrapbook, Genesis Publications has captured a newer side to her, bringing her influence further into the lexicon of rock and roll. Wanna a piece of her heart? Well, I guess you’d better read the book.
Photo: Janis Joplin (Public Domain)