by Brian Arsenault
I see they’ll soon be airing a “documentary” on Janis Joplin. Even after all these years, there’s still a twinge of pain whenever I read about her or see that goofy, tragic face.
It’s too damn soon for a documentary. Too soon to try to put her in a place about the struggle of women. Too soon to try to take a lesson from her about the abuse of alcohol and heroin. Too damn soon to try to define her by some 2016 standard and then put her on a shelf and say, whew, well we covered that. We’ve fixed Janis Joplin in the cosmos.
Maybe someday when everyone who felt that truly physical thrill — a chill, a shudder, an awakening — when you first heard her on record or saw her on stage has passed; maybe then there’ll be enough distance to make some sense of her as an artist. As probably the only true white female blues singer ever. And she was just a kid. That’s what really matters.
Too many still need to get what they need out of her. It’s not pure. Her music was.
Don’t let them tell you who she was. No one who knew her. Not family, not friends, not bandmates and not film makers.
Want to know Janis? Buy the albums. Not remastered or digitized or otherwise emasculated. Get early pressings if you possible can. Then just listen. See the concert films, even though they are deeply flawed for the most part. That is who she was. That is her art. That is what she had to give you. And it is an awful lot.
You wanted to hang out with her? Grow up. No vicarious chum through anecdotes and analysis. Sorry.
You won’t know her personally. Why should you? You won’t know either because some narrator spins some psychobabble or somebody spouts from their chemically clouded memory of those days. Or how about the latest “woman’s dilemma” consideration from some Ivy League hall she would have whistled down and found funny.
What you will get from the music is a piece of her heart and yes I stole the line. The great ones give you that. Judy Garland did. Janis did. They paid the price. You get the magic.
I have Janis in my head and my heart and every sense of good rock music — which of course comes from blues and r&B — that I have. I think I’ll skip the film.