Friday, March 05, 2010

Being Janis

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
Janis Joplin, "Mercedes Benz", 1970

I was in Athens, Greece when Janis Joplin died. Late 1970. I remember it well. Hendrix died around the same time. It was about two years after "the Summer of Love". In Athens and elsewhere, western travellers grouped together and were shocked. It was like a bit of us had been taken away. A something that we somehow knew, we'd never get back.

United only by our our whiteness and affluence (not that we felt 'affluent'), we mourned the loss of an icon. And yet many of us, myself included, did not at that time comprehend the magnitude of our loss.

I remember only the newspaper headlines, and a communal feeling shared by my fellow back-packer globe-trotters, a feeling that George Harrison immortalized in "All things must pass". It didn't hit home back then. It has now.

Now, I never tire of hearing Janis.

She's so far away from "me", so different - or so I am told. I'm controlled, secular, contained, and although I hate to admit it, "English". Maybe, but maybe not. Joplin expresses the soul of us white women as no other artist has.

Janis Joplin was so "full on". Has anyone been so "full on" since?

Maybe I've missed them and perhaps it is true that I've become more main-stream in my old age. But I'm open. Is it there, in Madonna, Beyonce, Lady Gaga. Michelle Shocked? Nope. There's cleverness in their understanding of the market. But the passion, the soul? No. It just doesn't exist.

I'm not saying Joplin was the greatest. I'm saying that she tapped into her generation WITH PASSION.

And as an adjunct, Joplin et al, defined contemporary music.

And yet... and yet ... there still exist people in this world, who say that America has no culture.

Who are these people?

They obviously don't think of Joplin, Hendrix, Dylan, Mamet, Lennon (yes, Lennon), Pollack, Warhol, T.S Elliot, the Coen Brothers ... the list goes on an on.

But even if it's true, even if the first Woodstock did not exist, even if Dylan was a nowhere man and Louis Armstrong was just a man who played the trumpet ... you have to admit that Janis Joplin was an all-time great.

And so when I'm feeling down, I plug in to the music of that all-time great.

Janis, you are missed.

- Thank you to Simon, for reminding me.


Terry said...

I still don't get tired of listening to Piece of my Heart, Me and Bobby McGee, Summertime, etc., she was a great artist. Even as a mere male, I appreciated her talent.

Anonymous said...

For once, I am almost lost for words, at least the words to the songs of the Seventies.
There was a gap in our life in the Seventies. We were both in uni and raising a family and searching for jobs. No Grand Tour, lots of responsibilities and not a lot of spare dough. We didn't suffer, but in trying to retain our 'middle class respectability' in a neighborhood of doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs, we missed out on the summers of love and the music of that generation. Both in our mid thirties with kids in the early grades, we listened out of the corner of one ear to what our kids were hearing. We weren't totally square, but with heads down and tails up, we were not cultural revolutionaries. Funny tho', as we had beads separating rooms, wore bell-bottoms and Paisley prints, our conservative neighbors thought we were Hippies.
So we missed out on 'your' music Kate. While you were traipsing around Europe, we were stuck in the rain and mud of Tacoma.
Not all bad, though. By the end of that decade, we had jobs, found an architect, a lot, and built a house, so I 'spose it wasn't a total loss.
Except for the sounds of the times.

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