Her father was an engineer at Texaco and Janis ended up attending the University of Texas. She dropped out of college and left for San Francisco in 1963 to pursue music but it didn't go well. Frustrated with not gaining traction in the music business, she began hanging out with seedy people and started shooting up drugs and drinking alcohol. Her close friends saw her downward spiral and gathered up enough money to help Janis return home in 1965. Her parents were shocked at her appearance as she weighed less than 100 pounds and seemed very frail. The not eating and instead consuming drugs and alcohol had ravaged her body.
She sobered up and enrolled in Lamar University (Texas), to get a degree in anthropology. On the side, she played her guitar and sang at local venues in Austin, Texas. She became engaged to a man who worked for IBM, but he called the wedding off which devastated Janis. She started seeing a psychiatrist at a United Fund agency (later called The United Way), to help with her problems.
It took just one year after she moved home for a music manager to talk her into moving back to California to become a lead singer for a band he was putting together. He was familiar with her work in San Francisco and thought she’d be a perfect fit for the band. He also knew her past problems with drugs and alcohol so he told her that he wouldn’t tolerate her going down that path again.
After several months of touring, the band’s manager ran out of cash because they weren’t bringing in large enough audiences, so the band had to dismember. She played for a few different groups for two years then started her solo career around 1969.
Janis Joplin’s albums weren’t mega-successes like some artists of that time. She did rock the world with singles like: “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Piece of My Heart,” and “Cry Baby,” but the reason she’s remembered by so many to this day, is due to her on-stage performances. She was mesmerizing. The vintage clothes she wore, her wild hair, her raspy voice, her painful facial expressions, her unique movements on stage, her indecent language both verbal and non-verbal, the possibility of a breast or two popping out, etc., were what truly set her apart and were why the organizers of Woodstock considered her a great match.
After Woodstock in August 1969, Janis began a horrific downward spiral again into alcohol and drugs. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, people would see Janis holding on to a bottle of Southern Comfort. Many people attempted to intervene and convince her to seek help for her addictions, but she wouldn’t listen. She was no longer dependable in showing up for concerts sober or for showing up in the recording studio. She was a mess. Her dreams were right in front of her, but she couldn’t fight the addictions that were holding her back.
About a year after her performance at Woodstock, she died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27. Jimi Hendrix who also performed at Woodstock, died from a drug overdose just sixteen days before Janis. They were both so amazingly unique. They were the epitome of artistry versus just more “me-too,” singers, songwriters, and musicians. There’s no telling how much more creativity they had left but unfortunately their demons caught up with them, so we’ll never know.
Janis’ topsy-turvy career only lasted around three years so isn’t it amazing that people still remember her around 50 years later? Reminds me of the saying that the length of our lives is less important than its depth.