Twenty-seven years: 1/19/43-10/4/70

Anyone who’s lived in Texas, especially in Austin, has heard the stories about Janis Joplin. Countless “Yeah, I knew Janis” anecdotes, countless she was a friend of a friend of a cousin remembrances, and my favorite, the “I live in the house where Janis lived in when she lived in Austin” claim. If I believed all of the latter…. let’s just say that if they were all true, Janis spent every day —of the short time she actually was in Austin — moving. From house to house to house. Several times a day.

Have another little piece of my heart now, baby, yeah.
You know you got it if it makes you feel good,

I have my own memory, personal only to me. Watching her on television with my mother, who was a fan of anyone who really “had it” and thus of Joplin. I remember puzzling over how someone who looked like she did, like a plain-ol Texas girl, like my pockmarked high school aged cousins, like a real person, managed to get on television. Actually, in hindsight, I realize it was actually how a woman who looked like that managed to get on television, managed to attain the validation (I naively thought it was validation) of fame.

I know I found her compelling, but I also remember how much she really disturbed me. Doubtless because during her brief prime, I was in the awkward, inside-out, funhouse mirror self-absorption of adolescence; always wondering if others found me as freakish as I found myself, also just beginning to tease out the glimmering suspicion that there was something to be had in being the freak, the queer, the chubbette, the dog, the nerd, the spaz, in short, the other apart from the most; that just maybe, there might be a way I could still be myself and survive. That realization was terrifying then, to the same extent that it would later be liberating.

I also remember scoffing when my mother shook her head and murmured, “She’s not going to last very much longer.”

As usual, my mother was right.

5 Responses

  1. Thanks for the reminder of Janis’s birthday. Like anyone who went through high school as a misfit, she was one of my idols. I saw her death as emblematic of what I thought would befall me as well. Somehow though, instead she taught me to persevere in spite of myself.

    “Don’t compromise yourself, you are all you’ve got.” Words to live by.

    Rest in peace, Janis.

  2. I have been thinking about Janis because of the Erma Franklin version of”Piece of My Heart” on The Wire last Sunday.

    Youtube is a lovely thing at times like these

  3. Seeing her on Youtube made me realize how great Janis was. Yes, she is disturbing, also to me. But not in a bad way, it’s just moving to hear her sing.

  4. I also remember scoffing when my mother shook her head and murmured, “She’s not going to last very much longer.”

    As usual, my mother was right.

    Probably the only thing Britney will ever have in common with Janis.

  5. Possibly, but not my guess is Britney, like cockroaches, could outlive us all.

    Winehouse on the other hand, is painful to comprehend. She’s so gifted but seems hellbent on killing herself.

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