I remember sitting in a guest house in Blackpool watching a tiny portable TV at the end of the night with my mother, and a documentary of which the name of I cannot remember came on of a singer I’d never heard of named… Janis Joplin. I remember very little of the documentary except that when she sang I felt a tingle in my soul and I remember thinking wow that is how I want to perform, if she can do it, I can too. I would never have a vocal range like Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey but what Janis taught me was that if you sing with passion and heart and soul, you can sing, you don’t need perfection just passion and practice. My voice is average at best but watching Janis perform on that tiny portable TV captured my heart and inspired me to practice singing with my soul.
Born in Port Arthur, Texas on the 19th January 1943, Janis struggled to fit in as a child and then young woman. She had a moral compass that didn’t fit in with the morals of the south in that era. Janis was promiscuous, had both male and female love interests, drank to excess and took heavy drugs, she also spoke out against the KKK which made her a target for bullying and intimidation. If she was an emerging artist in this day and age, she would be tabloid fodder and probably have her career destroyed by “the man” because of her lack of wholesomeness and rebellious attitude.
Janis wouldn’t have had it any other way though, she had no reason to be ashamed of herself, her main goal in life was love, love of her family, love of a life partner, love of the people, she sought it, she needed it and wasn’t ashamed to admit that. She told the world that she felt love when she sang.
I managed to find a copy of her greatest hits album and listened to it constantly, learning every screech and growl on the Big brother and the holding company’s version of piece of my heart, learning all the words to Mercedes Benz and playing me and Bobby McGee on guitar. Janis’s music helped and still helps me through times of difficulty. When I’m angry hurt or sad or sometimes even when I’m happy, I fling on Janis as loud as I can have it without obtaining an ASBO for noise pollution, and sing along with her. I’m pretty certain it sounds terrible, with me screeching out of tune to her music but I don’t care, singing along to her soulful blues music is healing, and I truly believe that would make her spirit happy knowing that she made a difference to another not so conventionally beautiful misfit who closes her eyes and pulls faces when she sings.
Why does anybody care about why Janis Joplin inspires me? Well I asked myself the same question as I sat typing this and I came up with this answer:
Janis was an advocate of peace and tolerance and true love of every kind, man or woman, love is love. I believe the same and personally feel that the message of love is now lost in a sea of commercial hypocrisy with popular music no longer inspiring people into changing the world for the better. The thing is we have become so obsessed with perfection in music, and in that goal, we lose the passion, rawness and emotion that overcomes the soul and surrenders us to a higher power. “Being an intellectual creates a lot of questions and no answers” as Janis herself said. Therefore I shall stop trying to give an answer to my own question and proceed to sum up.
Janis Joplin’s life story may be rather tragic, she died without the happy ending she so thoroughly deserved, accidentally overdosing at the age of 27. But all of these decades later her music inspired a young woman who could have easily given up, to fight on. And that is the purpose of this article, to find its way to the one person who feels like giving up and let them know that Janis says try, try, try, try just a little bit harder.....
Music can change the world.