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Music / Janis Joplin

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And clenching your fist for the ones like us
Who are oppressed by the figures of beauty
You fixed yourself, you said "Well, nevermind"
"We are ugly but we have the music"
Leonard Cohen, "Chelsea Hotel No.2"

Janis Lyn Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) was a singer and songwriter who achieved stardom in the late 1960s as a vocalist for psychedelic rock outfit Big Brother & The Holding Company. She's famed for her raspy, blues-influenced vocal style, as well as hits like "Piece of My Heart", "Summertime" and "Me & Bobby McGee". She was also one of the performers at Monterey and the original Woodstock, along with her then backup band, the Kozmic Blues Band.

On the morning of October 4, 1970, Janis was found dead in her hotel room in Los Angeles, having succumbed to a heroin overdose, just before she could finish work on her album Pearl. She was just 27 and died only a week after Jimi Hendrix passed away at the same age, also from drug-related causes. Pearl and "Me & Bobby McGee" became posthumous successes, with the latter single going to No. 1 on the Billboard charts.


Albums with Big Brother & The Holding Company:

Solo albums:

  • I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (1969) (with the Kozmic Blues Band)
  • Pearl (1971) (with the Full Tilt Boogie Band) (released posthumously)

"I got dem ol' kozmic tropes again Mama!":

  • A Cappella: "Mercedes Benz". It is an a cappella song written by singer Janis Joplin with the poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth. In the song, the singer asks the Lord to buy her a Mercedes-Benz, a color TV, and a "night on the town".
  • Broken Bird: This poor woman had a tough life.
  • Celebrities Hang Out in Heaven: "Rock and Roll Heaven" by the Righteous Brothers imagines Joplin with several deceased other musicians — including Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Jim Morrison, Jim Croce, and Bobby Darin — in Heaven together forming a hell of a band, band, band!
  • The Cover Changes the Gender: In the original version of "Me and Bobby McGee" Bobby was a woman.
  • Advertisement:
  • Due to the Dead: Early blues singer Bessie Smith was Janis' idol. When Janis discovered that Smith was buried in an unmarked grave, she got together with Smith's old housekeeper and paid for a proper tombstone to be put up.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": She left her friends $2,500 in her will to "have a ball after I'm gone."
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Once hit a drunk Jim Morrison with a beer bottle.
  • Isn't It Ironic?: "Mercedes Benz" as used in a Mercedes-Benz commercial.
  • "I Want" Song: "Mercedes Benz"
  • Kids Are Cruel: She was bullied relentlessly as a child (to the point that she didn't make any friends until high-school, and even then, there were only a few) simply because she didn't hate black people.
    • Didn't help she wasn't a conventional beauty or mind; in college, she was voted "Ugliest Man".
  • Metal Scream: Very often, most famously in "Piece of my Heart."
  • Lady Drunk: Southern Comfort was her drink of choice.
  • One-Man Song: "Me And Bobby McGee".
  • One Steve Limit: Averted, as she and a then-teenage Janis Ian (of "At Seventeen" and "Society's Child" fame) were friends for a time. In her autobiography, Society's Child, Janis Ian recalls that when the two of them were in public, Janis Joplin would often introduce herself as "The Other Janis," although it was Joplin who was the bigger star. However, she would not allow the younger Janis to see her doing heroin, sending her away with a "Kid, it's time for you to go now."
  • The One That Got Away: Apparently Jim Morrison was in love with her, even (no, especially) after the Grievous Bottley Harm incident above. As you can probably guess, Janis didn't return those feelings, and Jim was crushed.
  • Phone-in Game Shows: In the song "Mercedes Benz", one of the things she wants God to buy for her is a color TV, so she could watch Dialing for Dollarsnote  whenever they called her in.
  • Shameless Fanservice Girl: The story behind the iconic photo of Joplin in the nude is that she showed up for a 1967 photo session with photographer Bob Seidemann, in which the idea was that she'd be topless but wearing a cape and some beads, and would be shot from the waist up only. But after shooting a few rolls of film, Joplin exclaimed "Oh, motherf***er! I want to take my f***ing clothes off!" and started undressing. Seidemann tried to stop her, but she stripped off and he went on to take pictures of her. They weren't released until 1972, but soon become among the most memorable photos of the era.
  • Shout-Out: The line I met a girl who sang the blues in Don McLean's American Pie is supposedly about her.
  • Something Blues: "Turtle Blues" and her album I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (with the Kozmic Blues Band)
  • Unkempt Beauty: Her hair is iconic.


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