Tomorrow night, May 3rd, PBS will air a documentary about one of my favorite singers, Janis Joplin. If you can get it in your area, I highly recommend watching it. Janis and I go a long way back, starting to when I was about 18-years-old. I had dropped out of everything and was living a nothing existence—I'd even quit my crappy retail job—and was feeling letdown, lowdown and very, very lonely when my friend's mom looked at me and said, "You know, you remind me a lot of Janis Joplin." At the time I wasn't happy about it. Why? Because Janis had never exactly been considered 'attractive,' in society's often short-sighted viewpoint, that is. Another thing is that over time she had been relegated to a dirty sect of the music world which consisted of hippies and hard-livin' drug addicts. I didn't want to be like her, I wanted to be all the things stupid young girls think they should be, so I brushed the comment off my shoulder and left it behind like an unwanted candy wrapper. Stupid me.
One night I was up late watching a news program when a story came on about Janis's old town of Port Arthur, Texas. A group of fans wanted to erect a memorial commemorating her life and, sadly, her death, but the townspeople said they didn't want it because Janis wasn't exactly what you would call a role model. My jaw dropped. I was in shock, total shock, and I literally started crying. Looking back, I can see so many parallels between Janis and myself. We both grew up in an environment where our quirky artistic ways were often teased and misunderstood; and we often felt alone and were often made fun of for our looks.
As soon as she could, Janis left Port Arthur. She traveled twice to San Fransisco in search of a freer lifestyle, taking Kerouac's On The Road as a lifestyle choice, not just a literary adventure. For her, life was an adventure: all to be tried, tasted, loved, sung about, and moved on from. She was a beatnik, not a hippie. And, oh my God, could she sing. Janis possessed a voice that could harmonize all by itself—she had the rare gift of being able to sing three notes at the same time. This gift led her from a life of great unhappiness to being hailed as one of the greatest singers ever born. All it took was a lot of determination and a balls-to-the-wall attitude. And boy did she have attitude.
And yet Janis remained insecure and stayed that way. Those close to her often comment on it, saying how much they wished she could reach some kind of inner security, I guess you would call it peace. Another thing I identify with. Janis's downfall was letting those demons lead her to alcohol and heroin, and mine has been allowing others to control me for their own needs because of my fears of not being good enough. I feel like Janis can teach us all a lesson about tenacity and self-reliance. People hurt her, but she didn't let them stop her. Her life was hers to live, and she carved it out every inch of the way.
Sadly, her addictions proved to be too powerful. Saddest of all was the fact that she had 'cleaned up her act' for nearly six months before once again succumbing to heroin. It was a freaky thing that happened, her usual drug dealer was out of town and Janis, alone and with too much time on her hands in an L.A. hotel room, went ahead and bought an untested batch of heroin from a trial dealer. Had she known a group of other users would overdose from the same dealer that weekend, she might have held off for a while longer. Janis died alone and was found hours later, too late to save. It is heartbreaking, and yet I guess it was meant to be. In time and all things of the Universe, it must have been part of the plan, but, seriously, what a shame.
A few weeks ago I was belting out Janis songs in my house and out of nowhere I 'felt' her voice sing through mine. It happened again a few minutes later. Then a few days after that I felt a cold wet hand touch me on the shoulder and I thought to myself, it's Janis. I'd like to think I had spiritual contact with the beautiful rock star (and she was beautiful!). But, who knows? What I do know is I love her, and every day is a monument to the insecure girl with a voice of primal joy and and tenacity and hope and fire. God rest her amazing soul.