After the death of Johan Cruyff, I got talking and into one of those arguments about who was better Cruyff or Zinedine Zidane. I said it was close to call, but that Cruyff was just perhaps more elegant. ‘How can you get more elegant than Zidane?’ was the riposte. Fair point. Just my opinion. I’d seen both players in their prime, and love football. I was frequently number 14, even if I couldn’t manage the Cruffy turn without a ball at my feet, I played football for a bit –too long most people would argue, including all of my managers- but you’ve got to live the dream.
What I’m trying to say, in this lengthy preamble, is I thought Janis Joplin was a rubbish singer, but in an apologetic tone, I shouldn’t really be allowed an opinion. I never yearned to play the trombone or oboe. I was one of those kids that when we were singing hymns at infant school the teacher would say ‘why don’t you leave it for a bit’ and coach the other kids to hit the high notes, or even any notes. And I’m the kinda guy that says things in the pub like who’s that band again, they’re pretty good, what are they called again –Snowsomething- but they’re a bit loud, aren’t they? Janis Joplin was loud and brash, but I liked her for it. There are echoes of Amy Winehouse, but I quite liked the latter’s voice. And if I’m being picky, which I am, I’d prefer Bette Midler’s version of The Rose to Janis Joplin’s messy real-life version.
When push came to the shove, Joplin found her groove and wailed it was something from a lone wolvette lost and alone at the edge of tundra where even the trees are lost and alone. It was look at me. And fuck you. Fuck me. Please. There was something elemental in Janis Joplin.
You get to talking about talent and then because it’s a woman fall back on how she looks. ‘I’m a Red Hot Mamma’ subtext, I’m black and bluesy, and I’m fat. Marie Osmond ‘Paper Roses’ face like filigree and voice that would fit into any Disney franchise. That’s who I like. That’s how shallow I am. How Janis Joplin looked was a big part of who she was. She hides behind her hair. When she’s a big star she tells the talk show host that she’s going back on the tenth anniversary of her high school reunion. That’s nominally, that’s sweet, but a fuck-you moment.
What she’s saying , I guess, is I might not have graduated from high school and might have been voted the ugliest looking guy in school – think about that for a moment, being voted not even the ugliest girl, but ugliest guy – but hey, I’ve made all this dough and I’m a big star. So fuck you. But beneath that cocky exterior there is a little girl that doesn’t fit behind the white-picket fence in Austin, Texas. The type of place where white is right and joining the local KKK is a rite of passage. Janis didn’t fit in and she knew she’d be trouble and she obliged. But in a letter home to her mum, the kinda mum that hoped Janet would settle down with the kind of man she married that had a job for life, mass producing things that people didn’t want, but bought anyway, Janis wrote: ‘After you reach a certain level of talent, the deciding factor becomes how much you need to be loved’. Janis needed to be loved.
And Janis found that love in blues and rock and roll, the zeitgeist of free love in hippy San Franciso, free festivals, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Cosmic Blue Band filling the Albert Hall, but there’s a whole heap of stop signs she had to run through before she was found ‘Full Tilt’ dead of a drug overdose on 4th October 1970. RIP.