Review: Janis

Following her breakout performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 Janis Joplin catapulted to stardom. Although it seemed like Joplin was an over night success, she cultivated her voice and singing style from an early age, mimicking classic blues performers such as Bessie Smith. But Joplin was plagued with a dark outlook on life that she held at bay with substance abuse.

In Janis: Her Life and Music, biographer Holly George-Warren thoroughly records the ups and downs of Joplin’s short life. Although Joplin perpetuated a myth of being a misunderstood and neglected child, her parents doted on her and accommodated her creative interests. Their influence showed in Joplin’s voice, which she inherited from her mother, and an intellectual curiosity and love of reading, which she learned from her father.

Janis (digital galley, Simon & Schuster) recounts Joplin’s rich life, from her youth in Port Arthur, Texas to her rise to fame in San Francisco with Big Brother and the Holding Company. While in high school in Port Arthur she frequented nearby Louisiana clubs where she heard R & B and “swamp pop music.”

After high school Joplin enjoyed fits of creative genius and her talents shone when she went to college in Austin, where she fell in with like minded musicians. But Joplin had recurring problems with drug and alcohol abuse and at times resorted to dealing and turning tricks to earn cash. Her journey eventually led to San Francisco where she explored her music and a wider array of drugs. She eventually joined Big Brother and the Holding Company, a band that, although not up to Joplin’s level of talent, helped launch here to stardom.

The well researched Janis gives performers, family and friends an opportunity to recount stories from Joplin’s life. With melancholy I read about her remarkable voice and performances that left audiences stunned, wondering what may have been. Joplin said she turned to heroin when “her feelings tormented her.” Unfortunately her life came to an end in 1970 with a fatal overdose.