June 17, 2008


For the last hour and a half I've been immersed in documentary film clips of Janis - performances and interviews. I hurt for her, for who she was inside, but more so than that, I just admire her being so honest and true to herself, for never holding back. It seems that she was always searching for, but never found peace and contentment.

The Janis on stage sings with abandonment, fully engaged in the music and her audience. Her voice is uniquely hers, passionate and soulful. But off stage she's a woman longing for love and acceptance. Something fame and fortune was unable to provide, she wanted something personal and real.

Damn. I admit its hard for me to type this because I want to capture what I'm seeing and hearing, but its not easy. There's a painful beauty about Janis. We know the end of her story. I can't say it was a shock, it almost seems fitting for someone who wanted something so much....but it was always just out of reach. Using drugs to fill the empty places works well - for a temporary fix.

What did she want so desperately? The same thing many of us want. Love, acceptance, to feel special. Specifically I think Janis, like me, longed for the love of a man.

Most of her songs talk about men. She sings of love and sex. She's taunting, begging, trying hard to be convincing that she's the one that could love you better than any other woman; that if you just opened your heart to her you would be happy and satisfied. She shamelessly sings of giving her body in hopes of receiving the elusive love of a man, one that would love her for who she is inside, just Janis.

In interviews the sadness and pain in her eyes is so evident. As her career takes off you see less of it, but it never completely leaves. Janis gains some confidence as a singer and performer, she grows somewhat accustomed to her fame. Yet, she never loses the aura of being "the homely girl that wasn't good enough".

On stage she shares a story about how she was out husslin' on the streets for a guy, but they all liked the girl who lived in the apartment below her. So one day she hid outside that girls door to see what it was that girl had that she was lacking...then she breaks into the song "Try".

There were a few interviews tonight that were revealing (I type fast so I did my best to capture the exact words)

She was on the Dick Cavett Show. After performing one song she came off stage and he began asking her questions about how she writes songs and where she gets her ideas for them. She giggles her little girl laugh and says:
"I don't write songs, man, I make them up in my head. Like, sometimes I'll write the words down do I don't forget them....but they just come to me, man, I don't try to find them."
Then describing what its like she says:

"I'll tell ya what it is. Ya know those mule carts with the dumb mule in front and there's a long stick with a string that has a carrot at the end of it? That dumb mule runs after it all day and never gets a damn thing in the end. That's what its like with a man and a woman."

Dick looks a bit troubled at this, like its getting too personal and deep so he tries to make light of it, "So your saying men are like mules?"

Janis says back in total sincerity,
"No, man, no. The woman is the mule. Men always hold up something more than they are prepared to give...."

and you see it there on her face as she says it - hurt and disillusionment.

In another interview she's asked, as usual, about growing up in small town Texas. She shares that she's going back there for her 10 year High School Reunion. In her straightforward way gets the point across that no one in high school liked her, she never went to a dance, that they thought she was weird. She was going to go back and just be Janis and let them all be frigging amazed that they could say they knew her.

She says:
"When I was in high school some doctor told my mother I'd be either in jail or an insane asylum by age 21. Here I am 25 , my second record came out, and they thought I was....misguided."
Sadly, within two years of that statement, she'd be gone.

In yet another interview she's asked how success has changed her, she says:
"This whole success thing hasn't compromised me being true to myself and not play games. I don't BS myself or anyone else. I've always told myself I will be real and so far I'm doing that. I'm not wearing cardboard eyelashes and girdles and playing Vegas. I've never been premeditated enough in show biz to be worried about putting on a face."

The Janis on stage did what she was born to do - sing and through her singing bring people together for a great time. She totally came alive, or as she puts it:
"its like when your making love and your totally inside yourself in the moment and that's all there is and it just feels so good you want it to last forever."
On her self Janis said,

"I'm a victim of my own insides. There was a time when I wanted to know everything. I read a lot. I guess you'd say I was pretty intellectual. It's odd, I can't remember when it changed. It used to make me very unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn't know what to do with it. But now I've learned how to make feeling work for me. I'm full of emotion and I want a release, and if you're on stage and if it's really working and you've got the audience with you, it's a oneness you feel. I'm into me, plus they're into me, and everything comes together. You're full of it. I don't know, I just want to feel as much as I can, it's what 'soul' is all about.*"

Finally, when compared to the blues singers that inspired her she had this to say:
"There's an honesty there - Peggy Lee, Billy Holiday, Aretha Franklin - they sing the truth. They can milk you with two notes and they make you feel like they just told you the whole universe. I don't have that now, all I got is strength, but maybe if I keep going...."
Janis didn't keep going, but I have news for her - she DID have it then, she had it from the start and she never lost it.

*taken from Kosmic Blues website


Jessica said...

Wow...there must be something in the air because I spent almost the entire day yesterday listening to Janis.

Great post! She truly put herself into her music.

Drowsey Monkey said...

I love Janis. I left a comment on your other page about the documentary Festival Express. It's fantastic and I highly recommend it. It was great to see her in her element ... altho I wish there was more of her in it.


Love, love her. Excellent post! :)

Dan said...

Barbara, I think you captured her angst perfectly. I always thought she had more talent that was yet untapped but sadly her life ended before it really began.

Thanks for the wonderful memories.


JohnnyG's Blues said...

Its a sad observation, but without the pain, Janis would have been just another hippie chick singer. Her pain was poured out in the music and in turn gave it the unmistakable stamp of authenticity. I don't think I go too far to say she was one of the blues greats of her generation and set both the stage and the standard for others.

The pain eventually proved to be too much and stole from her not only her life, but stole her from us.

Thanks, Layla, for bringing to the front of our minds another of the musical giants who defined the musical landscape.

Bond said...

Festival Express is a great documentary and shows so much of the Janis that most never saw.

When I did my Tutelage on Janis, I found so many quotes attributed to her, some of them so telling ...these two really made me sit and stare at the screen as I typed them

"Onstage, I make love to 25,000 people - then I go home alone." - JANIS

"I was the same chick, because I've been her forever, and I know her, and she ain't no star: she's lonely, or she's good at something. I have to get undressed after the show, my clothes are ruined, my heels are run through, my underwear is ripped, my body's strained from my clothes, my hair's stringy, I got a headache and I got to go home, and I'm lonely, and my clothes are all fucked up, my shoes have come apart, and I'm pleading with my road manager to please give me a ride home, please, please, just so I can take these fuckin' clothes off, and that ain't no star, man, that’s just a person." - JANIS

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Jess, great minds think alike you, ya know?

Drowz, Thanks for sending that link...I will watch it for sure!

Dan, thank you SO MUCH for saying that.

JohnnyG, amen to that...to all you said.

Bond, THANK YOU. Your quotes add so much to this post, I hope everyone who reads here checks them out. I think her manager treated her like crap (from what I hear).

Jessica said...

@Bond-Thanks for sharing those quotes. :)

Bond said...

Many of those around her treated her poorly...It is so sad...I mention some other examples in my post.

Starrlight said...

Go check out quote #12 on this list. It, to me, sums up Janis.


drewzepmeister said...

Janis Joplin-always loved her voice. Pearl is one of my favorite albums.

The Road Traveler said...

Very nice writing about Janis. Thanks for sharing it.

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