Janis Joplin: The Judy Garland of Rock ’N’ Roll?
In Concert: Janis Joplin. CBS 67241
‘Janis is gone and nothing can change that’; Janis the amazing, singing/screaming lady who took the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 by storm; Janis Joplin, one of the greatest white blues singers, died in October, 1970 aged 27.
During her short hectic career she managed to record five albums, number five being the second postumous release, and is a double album of live recordings. On record one, Janis sings with Big Brother and The Holding Company, the band she originally made it big with after moving to San Francisco from Texas. The second record is with the Full Tilt Boogie Band in accompaniment. On the latter, Janis’s voice is noticably better, being able to use her powerful voice in a far more effect and immediate way. But with Big Brother, her voice has the untrained, vital magnatism that made her the superstar she was later to become, and the superstar life she led contributed to her sad, untimely death.
On the second record, she desperately tries, between numbers, to be ‘one of the boys’, to be accepted, to be at one with the wild, restless people who were always part of her devoted audience. In her public life, she lived to the limit; singing, laughing, stomping the stage with a relentless frenzy, a bottle of Southern Comfort never far away. In reality, Janis was a lonely, depressive loner, all the screaming passion with which she sang out about love never helped her find the love and peace of mind she searched for and never found. A casulty of a world where the image of what you are, is more important than what you really are.
Many of the songs on this double set have appeared on record before, but only in a studio recorded form. ‘Try’ and ‘Get it while you can’ on side four take on wider dimensions through the freedom of a live performance, whilst ‘Ball and Chain’, which appeared previously on the ‘Cheap Thrills’ album, is one of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard.
It is good that Janis’s death has not been exploited. CBS have waited nearly two years before releasing this memorial album, which presumably will be the last previously unissued recordings to be released (although a ‘Greatest Hits’ package will, in time, no doubt appear). As a recording it is a fine reminder of what Janis was all about, unfortunately as a memorial it is also a reminder of what can happen to isolated lonely individuals in an anonymous uncaring world. Sad also is the evidence on these recordings that Janis had so much more to offer. In ‘Ball and Chain’, recorded at Calgary in July 1970, Janis breaks off the song to deliver this message ‘…. that one day better be your life …. If you get it today you don’t want it tomorrow ….. ’cause you don’t need it….tomorrow never happens. It’s all the same fucking day’. An overdose of an opiate took a great singer and a lonely individual who never came to terms with her world.