Saturday, January 19, 2013

Happy Birthday Janis Joplin

Today is the birthday of Janis Joplin, my mother's favourite singer (and one of mine). It's pointless saying how old she would have been because she isn't. And we don't need to crank any more tragedy out of her early death. Let's remember her life instead.

There were a lot of incredible artists in the second half of the Sixties, but none could wrench the passion out of a song like Janis. I'm not sure if she meant a word of what she was saying. Maybe she was just punching the clock like the rest of us do. But whenever the band wound up that fierce electric blues Janis made the words sound as if they were pouring out of her heart.

Maybe that's where the perception of her as a tragic figure rather than a dynamic one comes from, I don't know. Nobody sees Jimi Hendrix, my mother's other great hero, as a tragic figure, although he died at 27 just like Janis. But when Jimi was on stage he didn't sing the blues, not in the same way. Most of his stuff wasn't about feeling. It was about the virtuoso from the other side of space destroying evil armies with his wild sonic bombs. Something like that anyway.

Mum had a cassette version of the album Cheap Thrills and we used to sit in the kitchen together listening to it, loud, as we drank red wine. Sometimes we smoked her weed to make the sounds blasting out of her cassette radio even better. I was well into my twenties by then, if there are any moralists out there worried about youth being corrupted.

We shall not see her like again, to paraphrase some poet or other. And when I say that I mean my mother, and Janis. They are associated forever in my mind because of those nights we shared listening to the music. Two delicate - and difficult - souls, gone over to wherever the smoking, drinking souls go.

Don't worry, Mum, no crazy straight girl there is going to flush your marijuana down the loo.


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