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Janis: Her Life and Music


Janis: Her Life and Music

Janis Joplin (1943-1970) was one of the freest of free spirits, though a slave to dangerous habits and a prisoner of her own desperate dreams. Author Holly George-Warren has brought the rock star’s personal pains and public escapades to new life in this engrossing account.

Joplin was the first child of a caring, artistic mother and a rather intellectual father who paid special favor to his oldest child --- photographing her, taking her to libraries and introducing her to classic literature. His attention to her and her younger sister waned, though, when he finally had a son to dote on. A rebel from an early age who openly and often screamingly defied her elders for no apparent reason other than that she could, Joplin was so smart that she skipped most of the first two grades of her Texas elementary school and became a locally lauded painter.

"Holly George-Warren has brought the rock star’s personal pains and public escapades to new life in this engrossing account."

But nothing would ever be quite enough for a girl who craved the limelight. She discovered country and blues music in her teens, beginning with Elvis, but soon fixated on a more authentic genre --- black blues. Influenced by the depth of that sound and charmed by Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD, she would drop out of college, find her way to San Francisco, and set her sights on making it as a singer.

Joplin succeeded in her goal, first latching on to a group called Big Brother and the Holding Company, soon becoming their star. Her growling, spontaneous, rhythmic singing style echoed the defiant voice she once used on her parents; it spoke to a generation of equally unconventional souls searching for unruly role models. Joplin was always determined to be different, and fully herself. She was arguably the first real female rock star and made the most of every minute. She boldly experimented with sex (with both genders), booze (once given an award by the makers of Southern Comfort because she so often appeared with a bottle of it in hand), and, fatefully, heroin, the one substance that gave her the complete comfort she sought.

Her unfortunate early death, from an unusually powerful dose of that drug at a time when she had almost vowed to quit using, was followed weeks later by the release of her greatest album, Pearl. Pearl included one of her best-loved, bestselling songs, “Me and Bobby McGee,” and several ironically titled numbers: “Buried Alive in the Blues,” “Get It While You Can” and “A Woman Left Lonely.”

Holly George-Warren, who was magnetically drawn to Joplin’s unique style in her own formative years, was able to interview members of the Joplin family and many of Joplin’s fellow musicians from the era in which she not only participated but also helped to supercharge. The portrait emerges of a young woman who, though aching inside from an unfulfilled wish to be a simple, ordinary person, found and reveled in notoriety by being outrageous, daring and, as she herself believed, doomed. Yet she had an infectious laugh and a generous spirit. And, perhaps because of her father’s early attentiveness, she always carried a bag of books.

George-Warren rightly depicts Janis Joplin as the great star she knew so well how to be, yet who privately asked a friend once, “What if they find out I’m only Janis?”

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on October 25, 2019

Janis: Her Life and Music
by Holly George-Warren

  • Publication Date: October 13, 2020
  • Genres: Biography, Music, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1476793115
  • ISBN-13: 9781476793115