Saturday, July 16, 2011

Long Ago and Far Away: Remembering Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin in 1968, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco
My band practices in the music room of our guitar player's house in San Jose.  Bill, the guitar player, has a lot of music memorabilia hanging on the walls.  He has a framed photo of Janis Joplin, sitting on the hood of a psychedelic 1965 Porsche, parked right in front of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.  That's the photo on the right.

The photograph was taken in 1968 but the Palace of Fine Arts, built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, looks exactly the same today.  (It is located at 3301 Lyon Street, SF 94123).  In the early 70's I sometimes wandered the grounds and structures at night with my pal, Gary Potts, fellow accountant, after getting blasted at Henry Africa's.  I remember looking up at the high ceiling of the dome from inside and feeling frightened by the height.

Later, I took my girlfriend there during the day for a romantic walk, and we later married (and still are married).

In any case, a lot of memories came to life in viewing this old photo of Janis Joplin.  During the days of  1966 - 1968, my father owned a music store in San Jose and sold guitars, amplifiers and speaker columns to members of famous bands.   Janis Joplin's band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, rented some speaker columns from us.  I saw Janis Joplin perform, up close and personal, at the Loser's South (now the Italian Gardens) nightclub in San Jose, where she wandered through the customers' tables, stopping and singing in the midst of us.  I thought she screamed her songs too much and found her appearance plain (no makeup at all) and rather dowdy.  Janis was never one for sartorial splendor I guess.  She could, however, be pretty and sexy when she wanted to.

The Jefferson Airplane was there that night, too, and at break I was sitting a few feet away from Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, who compared musician union membership cards with two very-long-haired members of Big Brother.  The Big Brother guys informed Kaukonen that they had joined the Seattle union instead of the San Francisco union, as they got a better deal on dues.  Funny, it was just a mundane conversation but I still remember the gist of it forty years later.  (Continued below the break)
Those days of '66 - '68 -- yes, there were a lot of bell bottom pants, loud shirts, long hair and clouds of swirling pot smoke.  So much of it came to life one night at practice, all from looking at a photo of a young singer now almost forty years dead.  Where did those years go?

Though I didn't like her at the time, I have since come to admire Janis Joplin and to appreciate her talent.  When my own band learned "Me and Bobby McGee." I listened to Janis's recording of it and enjoyed it very much.  The sadness and sentimentality of that song, for a dead loved one, is touching.

I have often wondered at Janis's recklessness in injecting heroin, which caused her death (and that of many other famous musicians).  Why did she take such an overdose?  Did she want to kill herself?

The answer is no.  I learned from a film about Hollywood that Janis had purchased, unknowingly, a sample of very pure heroin.  She took it at full strength, not knowing its purity, and it killed her.  The same batch of heroin was sold around Los Angeles and several other deaths occurred on the same night as that of Janis.

I would never touch heroin, or cocaine either.  It's like playing Russian Roulette.

RIP Janis.  We hope to see you again.  Below is a video with a summary of her life and career.


  1. I've seen Janis Joplin documentaire on
    You saw?Great artist!

  2. Yes, I saw Janis in person before she was a mega-star, in 1966 at the Losers South in San Jose. The club there has undergone several name changes, from Hawaiian Gardens to Italian Gardens to the Losers South. I believe it is still operating.