Janis Joplin: A Biography

“I gotta go on doin’ it the way I see it... I got no choice but to take it like I see it. I’m here to have a party while I’m on this earth... I’m gettin’ it now, today. I don’t even know where I’m gonna be twenty years from now, so I’m just gonna keep on rockin’, cause if I start saving up bits and pieces of me... man, there ain’t gonna be nothing left for Janis. -- Janis Joplin, 1967 (excerpt from David Dalton’s Janis)
This is exactly how Janis lived her life - one big party. Her philosophy for life was centered on three things: music, sex, and drugs. Unfortunately, most people remember Janis for mainly sex and drugs. They overlook the fact that she has been one of the most influential white women in the history of rock. Her emotion-packed, soul-baring blues rocked the nation (along with her hair-raising lifestyle) and made her the first woman to achieve the status of a full-fledged superstar.
Janis was born on January 19, 1943 (the first of three children) to Seth and Dorothy Joplin in the town of Port Arthur, Texas. Her childhood was very quiet. She was involved with Girl Scouts, her church, and the library. She took art lessons and received straight A’s in school. The problems started when she reached adolescence. Most of her childhood friends had moved away (Friedman 11) and Janis tried very hard to fit in with the crowds at Thomas Jefferson High. She had a weight problem and acne, which, to students in Port Arthur, was certain death for the social life. She tried everything she could to be like everyone else, but the only acknowledgement she received was the title “slut” (Amburn 16).
She finally found acceptance with a group of three guys, Jim Langdon, Dave Moriaty, and Grant Lyons. Jim played trombone, Dave was editor of the school paper, and Grant was a varsity football player (Amburn 20). They were a group of intellectuals that were respected in the school and when Janis joined them, no one dared harass her. They loved to party - drinking, raising hell, music, and even some “sexual explorations” (though none of them were ever romantically involved with one another) (Amburn 20). Jim, Grant, and Dave helped to make her high school years more bearable, but she had already started to become more and more dependent on alcohol. The guys were a year ahead of Janis and, unfortunately, she spent her senior year alone without the comfort of protective group. The school hated her. They would call her a “nigger lover,” throw pennies at her in the hall, spit on her, and destroy her artwork.
Her escape - music and alcohol. She loved singing, especially anything with a blues beat. Bessie Smith was her personal role model and source of inspiration. She spent hours listening to Bessie and imitating her. Odessa was another personal favourite of Janis’s. Janis memorised not only words but also Ode’s style of delivery. Yet, even though her voice was powerful and moving, she was too scared to sing in front of an audience. Aside from music, alcohol and drinking ruled her life. She would go across the Texas-Louisiana border to go to the local Cajun bars and drink as much as she could. She showed up to graduation drunk (Amburn 29). “Enrolling at Lamar University in mid-July 1960, she proceeded to scandalise the campus” (Amburn 30). Lamar was exactly like Port Arthur. No one liked her and in fall of 1960 she dropped out and ran away to Houston. She drowned her insecurities in heavy drinking and soon it led to a breakdown. She was in and out of Port Arthur until the summer of 1961 and then enrolled in Port Arthur College. Janis dropped out of Port Arthur College four months later and, with her parents’ blessing and money, went to Los Angeles. She soon found her way to Venice, the once-great beatnik town, but found the beatniks had moved on and Venice was growing decrepit.
Highly disappointed, she went back to Texas and during the Christmas holiday of 1961, she made her first debut as a singer at a club in Beaumont with Jimmy Simmons (a friend of Jim Langdon) accompanying