Janis Joplin seemed destined to experience and contribute to the full measure of the sixties…for better or worse. While doing research for my next crime novel, Don’t Stop the Music, I unearthed some rather interesting anecdotes. Soon after leaving the University of Texas (where she was misunderstood and voted “Ugliest Man on Campus”) she embarked on a music career and hooked up with Big Brother and the Holding Company as well as the Grateful Dead. They all lived together in Lagunitas up north in Marin County in 1965. The following year, Big Brother and Janis broke out of the local scene and were introduced to the world at the Monterey Pop Festival. While this propelled them onto center stage, their living arrangement reportedly introduced Janis to hardcore drug use.
Janis Joplin, a brief history:
To prevent the devil from overcoming them, everyone left the bucolic environs of west Marin and moved into separate quarters in the Haight Ashbury of San Francisco in 1967. I experienced Big Brother and Janis several times at the Fillmore Auditorium as well as at the Straight Theater in the Haight. Strobes and projectors covered Janis in a rainbow of images and color as she wailed out “Me and Bobby McGee” in her throaty, gritty style. She would play on the same bill as Jefferson Airplane (Jefferson Starship) and The Steve Miller Band and Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jimi Hendrix and Santana. The list was inexhaustible.
Janis loved mixing her drugs with sex and it didn’t matter which flavor or which gender. One day at the Big Brother’s Victorian in the Panhandle, Janis used some “brown sugar” to smooth out the edges from a LSD free-fall. Terence Hallinan, son of Vincent and a rising attorney in his own right, entered with his girlfriend and took his first shot of heroin. He started to convulse and dropped to the floor. Unperturbed, Janis dragged his girlfriend to the backroom and made love to her before returning to assist the unconscious Hallinan.
Drugs continued to be her pathway to creativity as she left Big Brother and become a solo artists with backup groups such as Kosmic Blues Band and Full Tilt Boogie Band. In a chat from yesteryear, Nick Gravenites (former member of Paul Butterfield Blues Band and current resident of Occidental in Sonoma County) told me that in October of 1970 he was rehearsing with Janis at the Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles. That evening, she went back to her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood where she was later found dead from a drug overdose. The D.A.’s office assumed it was accidental as several of her dealer’s clients also O.D.ed that week.
Everybody took bits and pieces of her until there was nothing left. She worked hard for the industry and deserved the iconic title of “Queen of Psychedelic Soul”. May she rest with the angels, and may we continue to dance on the stage she helped to build. Peace.