A richly detailed, affectionate portrait of the legendary singer.
George-Warren (A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man, 2014, etc.) builds this illuminating biography of Janis Joplin (1943-1970) from interviews with surviving members of her family, band mates, and friends from all eras of her short life. Raised in Port Arthur, Texas, where her father was a refinery engineer, Joplin was a rebel who showed a talent for art. She was an outcast in high school, especially after she began patronizing the segregated venues where she could hear black artists perform live. She had also discovered the Beats, which gave her a picture of a lifestyle she began to emulate. In college, she began to sing with traditional folk groups, showing off a voice inspired by blues legend Bessie Smith. After dropping out, she made her way to San Francisco, where she joined Big Brother and the Holding Company. The most talented of the group, she attracted a devoted following and began to indulge in the excesses of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. The author follows her tours with the band as well as her offstage life, which was full of sex and drugs. Touchingly, she still hoped for acceptance by her conservative family, as indicated in her letters home. After two albums, she had outgrown Big Brother and signed a record contract as a single artist with a new backup band. She was as big a star as any in the business, although her erratic lifestyle occasionally caused her to cancel dates. As her last album, Pearl, demonstrated, she continued to grow as an artist, but her death from a heroin overdose at age 27 cut her promising career short. George-Warren gives her subject a sensitive yet honest treatment, showing all dimensions of Joplin’s life without minimizing her self-destructive side. Filled with evocations of the San Francisco music scene at its height, the narrative will give readers new appreciation for Joplin.
A top-notch biography of one of the greatest performers to emerge from a brilliant era.