Bluesy singer Janis Joplin died 40 years ago today from a heroin overdose at the age of 27. In the months before she died, she appeared twice on The Dick Cavett Show: in June 1970 (she teased Dick about his shoes) and August 1970 (Cavett declared he wore his “hip” jacket for her and she shot back, “You DID?”). The tape from her June appearance shows her decked out in classic Janis style: lots of purple, sequins, an armful of bangles, and — my favorite — feather boas in her hair.
In 1997, Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks told Booth Moore of the Los Angeles Times that Janis’s “… feathers and her bell-bottomed pants and her beautiful silky blouse tops” inspired her own flowing, “gypsy” style. If you’ve ever felt sheepish for coveting a celebrity’s look, you can console yourself with the fact that, in the early ’70s, Stevie traveled from Los Angeles to San Francisco to shop at Velvet Underground, the store where Janis used to buy her clothes. “Tunic tops that came down to your mid-thigh, and evening gown, old-lady nightgown material bell-bottoms that weren’t really wide, but instead fell straight over a really high boot,” Stevie reminisced. “It was in that room where I thought ‘Wow! These are the kind of clothes I’m going to wear forever.'”
More recently, soul singer Joss Stone — who, as an eight-year-old, used to imitate Joplin to entertain her parents — brought a touch of Janis style back, with her mane of hair, beaded necklaces and hippie-ish bare feet on stage. Joss occasionally is mentioned as a candidate to play Janis in one of the Joplin biopics that are always in the works but never actually made. This year, Amy Adams was cast in the latest maybe-movie, although she’s already eight years older than Janis was when she died. Personally, I’d vote for Joss. Here she is doing a Janis Joplin tribute with Melissa Etheridge at the Grammys in 2005.
I’m not sure any biopic will live up to 1979’s The Rose (SPOILER COMING), a fictionalized version of Janis’s life, starring a sex-ay, big-haired, big-voiced Bette Midler in her Oscar-nominated movie debut as a self-destructive rock star. (I’M WARNING YOU, A SPOILER IS COMING!) The Rose is one of those movies you love even though you shouldn’t. When I saw it again on television recently, I was simultaneously laughing and crying at the end when (HERE’S THE SPOILER) Rose dies on stage. It’s highlarious, but I still get emotional.
I discovered Janis in middle school, when I found the 1973 Joplin biography Buried Alive in the school library’s biography section. (My interest in women’s lives, which influences nearly all of my jewelry designs, goes way, way back.) I wish I knew which naughty librarian allowed this on the shelf! The book, by Janis’s publicist Myra Friedman, introduced me to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. I was too innocent to understand the sex and drug parts, which means I didn’t understand 99% of the book, but I was fascinated by the bullied-fat-girl-to-fabulous-rock-star-to-tragic-figure trajectory of Janis’s life. As soon as I finished it, I started it again. Other biographies are Scars of Sweet Paradise by Alice Echols and Love, Janis by Janis’s younger sister Laura. Love, Janis was turned into a musical and if you ever have a chance to see it, go. I saw it twice in New York in 2001 and by the end of both performances, the audience was screaming like Janis was really in the room.
Laura and her brother Michael have had a tough time managing Janis’s musical legacy and image, according to a recent story in the New York Times. The 27-year-old dead male rock stars of Janis’s era have gotten all the posthumous glory. Hopefully that will change, now that the Joplin family has hired a business manager for Janis’s estate. In the meantime, here are a few more Janis performances. Promise me that you’ll find an excuse someday to put feathers in your hair and all the purple you own on your body and go out in the world looking, as the Times said last week about Janis, “like God’s idea of a rock star.”
Love it! How fun!
It amazes me that she was only 27.
I’ll send you a giant box of Jake feathers if you want to play Janis.
Now I’ve got this song stuck in my head: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shake_Ya_Tailfeather
I love Janis!
Great post, WendyB. My sweet LeRoy gave me my first feather boa, a black one, when we were in a play together the first year we were married. He knew I’d love having one to go with my character, a saloon gal.
Thanks for thinking of Mama.
I had forgotten she was 27! Holy moley. So sad.
Hmmm, feathers? Are you thinking of maybe switching your Halloween costume now?
alexandra keller says
thanks for sharing all the Janis.
i’m wearing a purple DVF to a rehearsal dinner next week, minus the boa
She is awesome. I can’t believe she died 40 years ago. Thanks for this post, I love her.
x Corrine/Frock & Roll x says
Oh, I love Janis so very, very much. I recently wrote a piece on Frock & Roll dedicated purely to her wickedly wonderful style and magnificent smile, in fact! R.I.P Janis Joplin, you marvellous woman.
Grit and Glamour says
I haven’t really listened to Janis, but she was major. I totally adore Joss, though.
Funny…the purple comment…now I get it!
Even though she’ll never come close to Janis’ voice I’d vote for Joss Stone, too. I remember listening to Janis Joplin with my parents… Good times.
Madeleine Gallay says
Brilliant … and right to the sources.
I think style has its roots somewhere, sometimes on the tip of our memory.
Ballet for me … tights and Delmans (whatever the Delmans are at the moment), longer waists and gentle fullness. It doesn’t go away.
Singing and style … there’s a book.
Susu Paris Chic says
Nothing beats good rock at times. Letting hair loose, spirits alike.
Make Do Style says
Gosh I too had forgotten she was only 27. Great post xx
Cafe Fashionista says
Gah! This is such a masterful tribute – love it! Also, I’m totes with you…Joss would have made the ideal Janis!! 🙂
Janis and Stevie have my absolute favorite female singing voices! Even though I never listened to Janis that much growing up (was nuts for Fleetwood Mac), I still can’t change the radio station until her songs are over.
I promise that feathers and purple are on the agenda! p.s. I updated my post today to reflect your leopard/red prowess!
Miss Janey says
Janis was incredible. “The Rose”, not so much but who doesn’t love Bette as a train wreck rock star?
Miss J has heard Pink was considered for a biopic, but she Miss Stone is the only white singer Miss J can think of who could do service to Janis.
Suzanne aka Punk Glam Queen says
Oh such bitteersweet memories… I recall when I was fully introduced to Janis Joplin — when she was still alive and making albums — by my older cousin who recently died. My cousin was a wonderful blues singer who loved Janis an would often add her songs to her act. Ah now I have to go put on some vinyl and sing really loud (and quite badly) in honor of both women!
Very sweet tribute – thanks for posting this and keeping her front and center, where she belongs.
god, I was just talking to my sister yesterday about the fact that she was only 27, she always seemed so much older. Def. makes me want to dye my hair back to blonde and wear it long and loose
Nickie Frye says
I LOVE Janis! I’ve never actually seen The Rose. She was brilliant, though. What a sad story she had.
I’m not really a rock fan, so I know nothing about Janis Joplin except that she was a female rock icon.. but I would be interested in seeing a Janis movie. I don’t know if Joss Stone would play her well, since she’s not an actress, but Amy Adams is a brilliant one and I’m sure she could do the job well..
Love Janis, love rock and roll, love the style — but what I love most about this post is your story about finding that book in the library!
I never knew all this stuff about Janis. I’d completely forgotten she died so young. I knew it was young, but I’d erroneously recalled her being in her 30s. I can’t imagine what her life must have been like. She was so flamboyant in her dress!
I worked with a man who was from Port Arthur (PA transplants are very common in Houston). He passed away a while back. He went to high school with Janis. He described her as unattractive and was so desperate for attention that she would blow guys so they would like her. She did not have many friends. I wonder if this came up in the bio.
Wendy–I know you heart Madonna (as do I)…Do you remember a Vogue cover with Madge where she does the homage to Janis?–I think it came out in 1992.
I have to search my bookcase for my Janis books. I was just looking but didn’t see ’em right away. IIRC, I’ve both read stories like that and read of people refuting such stories. I guess we’ll never know because it sure is possible — yet it’s the kind of thing people love to say about anyone who becomes famous! But if I find the books I’ll let you know what the particular ones say.
Are you talking about a pic of Madonna wearing lots of beads? Why did I think that was album art???
I’ll see if I can find the photo and email it to you!