Monday, October 4, 2010

October 4, 1970 – Janis Joplin Born Again

Janis Joplin described her early life as that of a “Babylonian whore”, quoting a line from a fellow graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School interviewed during her ten-year high school reunion. She had grown up the eldest of three in Port Arthur, TX, and had always had a psychological demand for attention. Her mother once said, “She was unhappy and unsatisfied without it. The normal rapport wasn't adequate.” During high school, she held a group of other outcasts as friends, but overall felt that her schoolmates had “laughed me out of class, out of town and out of the state.”

While with her friends, she had been exposed to the records of blues singers, which inspired her to become a singer. In college, she developed a style after the blues as well as beat poets. Without completing her degree, she left for San Francisco in 1963. Her career began, but so did her life-long struggle with drug use and drinking, even to the point of heroine. In 1965, her friends from Texas, worrying about her health, persuaded her to return and even threw a party to pay for her bus fare. Once in Texas, she regained her footing, returned to school, and drove to Austin to perform with her guitar and singing. While in Austin, her career exploded when she joined Big Brother and the Holding Community.

Credited as “the most powerful singer to emerge from the white rock movement” in Time and “the most staggering leading woman in rock” in Vogue, she stormed the scene. She sang with numerous bands, changing over the next four years and developing her style with each. Over the next four years, her name would become famous across the US as well as internationally. Her drug use, however, also returned. She struggled against it, vowing with bandmate Dave Getz to keep needle-use out of their apartment (a vow broken), but the addiction surrounded and finally seized her.

On October 4, 1970, Joplin was discovered with a severe overdose in the Landmark Motor Motel by a delivery man with a wrong address. Rushed to the hospital, she survived but had to progress through weeks of recovery. During this time, she underwent something of a spiritual revolution, believing that “Jesus sent that delivery man.” That Christmas, she would return to Texas and rejoin the Church of Christ she had attended as a child with her family.

Joplin became as fed up with organized Christianity as she had before and soon stepped into what became the "Rock Christian" movement. Casting aside the darker themes of rock, the "Jesus hippies" embraced psychedelic art, powerful emotions, and beneficial anarchy. She would meet with other leaders of the Christian movement, applauding some and voicing disgust at others. Most famously, she gave a concert with evangelist Billy Graham in 1973. Most notoriously, she launched into a feud with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, referring to the Praise The Lord Club as a “nest of vipers.” When scandal broke in 1987, Joplin refused to allow her fans to celebrate, saying that there is no glory in the fall of PTL since “it shouldn't have ever existed in the first place.”

Joplin's position in ministry is often called into question with many members of the Christian Right praising her devotion and good work while others say that she is two steps down from the Devil himself, possibly even an anti-christ. Opponents routinely bring up her history of drug abuse, a topic from which she never shies and uses as grounds for further promotion.

In reality, Janis Joplin died October 4 from an overdose of heroine complicated with alcohol. She was discovered by John Cooke, Full Tilt Boogie's road manager, after not appearing to a scheduled recording session at Sunset Sound Studios. Her ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean, but her legacy lived on as one of the greatest female artists of the twentieth century. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

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