If you ever fell in love… well, did you actually meet the one you loved? Probably. But not always. Certainly not for Gary Carter of Asheville, North Carolina. He writes for BoomerCafé about “My Affair With Janis.”
I had an affair with Janis Joplin.
Fuzzy memory says it started in 1968.
I experienced her music on the radio, but it was when I saw the her, you know, this funky crazy smiling girl in full hippie gear— feathers, fur, rings, beads, big round glasses— and that sassy nipple, a mind-altering vision that singed the eyeballs and seared the imagination of a high school boy in rural America eaten alive by puberty and restless to dive into real times. Right then, I knew she was the one who not only could rock my soul, but could save my soul. Obvious she was a searching, hurting soul who needed to be loved, to be saved. It was in her face, in words about her, but mostly in that husky voice dripped with pain. I knew it was karma, I knew the day would come when she would claim forever a piece of my heart. I longed for her to be my ball and chain— if I could just get to San Francisco.
And, then, poof, she was gone. But she lives still in her music that never goes away, and now in a deeply researched and beautifully crafted biography by Holly George-Warren, Janis: Her Life and Music. Sure, there’s been plenty written about Janis, but George-Warren, a battle-tested rock & roll writer, digs deep into the roots and history of a baffling, brilliant, and extraordinary life, yet also a very intentional life lived large by a girl who chased her dreams and steadfastly refused to compromise. A girl who acknowledged, “When I sing, I feel like, oh, when you’re first in love.”
Thus, for the first time, we get the truest tale of Janis yearning like hell to get away from Texas but never completely able to let go, as witnessed when she returned for her tenth high school reunion, a rising star in the world but still a fallen angel in Port Arthur.
While the book doesn’t scrimp on her rise to fame, it more importantly dissects the nuts and bolts that made her who she always was, revealed by family and friends, even a few enemies. For the first time perhaps, the real and true Janis is revealed, the sweet girl hiding behind the mask who advised knowingly, “Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”
Okay, it’s a tale that ends tragically, a cautionary tale of the fatal allure of fame, alcohol, sex, and drugs. But there is glory to behold in Janis and her unwavering drive to sing her songs her way, no holds barred. There is comfort in the hold on her by her family even in her grittiest moments, melancholy in her ache to love and be loved, unadulterated joy in a life lived fully and maybe even beyond.
So we take solace that Pearl— Janis’s album released posthumously in 1971— and Janis’s inimitable cackle live on in music and mind, proving every day that “you know you’ve got it if it makes you feel good.”