I heard a lot of Janis Joplin growing up. What drew me to her was her looks. She was unapologetically plain. She never wore make-up, and always had frizzy hair. She wasn’t Twiggy skinny, she wasn’t Brigit Bardot pretty. She was a breath, no, a gust, of fresh air. She made us realize that you don’t have to be conventionally beautiful to be sexy.
But Janis wasn’t all confidence and sex-appeal. She had her weaknesses, and her own methods of medicating them. Like many people in the public eye, she felt an emptiness. She had everything — fame, fortune, fans, drugs, famous friends, but despite it all, she couldn’t find real happiness. On stage, she felt like a goddess, connecting with thousands of her fans, but when the show was over, she was left feeling distant, isolated, and alone.
How Janis died is just as fascinating as how she lived. Her death is one of those bizarre, had-t0-be-fated coincidences that makes you think, “Gee, if only one thing had been different, she’d still be here.” Janis was addicted to heroin, as so many of her contemporaries were. Her dealer always had someone test his stock before selling it (as more cautious dope dealers do), but when he got the particular batch that killed Janis, his tester was out of town. Assuming it would all be fine, he dealt it out anyway. Ain’t that life for you?
She had been laiding down tracks for a new record. After a day of recording, she retreated to her hotel room for the night. She shot up with the herion she had purchased earlier. Only moments before her death, Janis stopped by the lobby of her hotel to get change to buy cigarettes from a vending machine. The hotel lobby worker reported her as seeming completely normal. She bought her smokes and returned to her room. It is at this point that she collapsed, falling next to her bedside table, her face smashed into the hotel room carpet and a cigarette in hand. The batch of heroin was several times stronger than what she was used to. She wasn’t the only one to die from this batch.
It’s just bizarre. All of our greatest artists die unnatural deaths. It’s as if we only have them on borrowed time.
Janis may have been plain in looks, but she spread her peacock feathers with her wardrobe, donning knitted vests, lush velvet poet blouses, chiffon, and feather boas wrapped in her hair like ribbons. Maybe it was a mask, but her fashion sense influenced a generation of women to step out from the geometric, understated, and precise wardrobes of the early sixties. A lot of young women stopped wearing waist constricting dresses in favor of flowing chiffon tops and bell-bottom jeans. The silhouette was changed forever. Janis has yet to be forgotten. She’s still quite fresh in popular memory. She’ll never be irrelevant.
“People expect Janis Joplin to be a tough bitch, and say I start talking to them like a lonely little girl–that’s not in their image of me–they don’t see it. Say you meet somebody you’ve heard about, you don’t ever see them, you don’t see who they are and who they need to be recognized as, you see who you need them to be.” — Janis.