Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The First Hippie Pinup Chick

In college I took a class called The History of American Popular Music. From the second I looked at the syllabus, I knew it was going to be unlike any other. Instead of  being divided up into sections like, The Cell Membrane, or The Golden Age of the Mongolian Empire, it had sections about Robert Johnson, Tupac Shakur and today's subject. My amazing Professor, Dr. Barry Shank, proceeded to blow my mind, twice a week for an entire OSU trimester with the stories behind the Musical trends that shaped American Society.  Look out for his new book, tentatively called Silence, Noise, Beauty: The Political Agency of Music. It wont be out for over a year, but I will definitely be keeping an eye (and an ear) out for it.

Anyway, continuing with our week long celebration of the Ladies here at Every Day, Another Song, today I take a crack at one of America's Eternal Music Icons.

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin grew up in a very rigid, small town in Texas where she felt that nobody understood her. Maybe it was that rough experience that gave her voice its remarkable grit and bluesy ethos. As soon as she had the chance, she moved up to Austin to attend the University of Texas, where she felt she could find some like-minded people among the 20,000 students. She was wrong. In 1963, a UT Fraternity ran a campaign that successfully had Janis voted the "Ugliest Man on Campus." She promptly hitchhiked to San Francisco where her legend was born.

This was her car, a Porsche 356 Convertible that looks like it was painted by the Electric Mayhem.

In a way, Janis' musical legacy is cut into 3 different parts. First, as the lead singer of Big Brother and The Holding Company, she stole the show from performers like Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding at The Monterrey Pop Festival, and before long she was a figurehead for the hippie counterculture of the time. By Woodstock, only a few years later, she had outgrown the Psych-Rock sounds of Big Brother and was performing with the Kozmic Blues Band, a more Soul influenced outfit reminiscent of the Hornier (Ha) Stax R&B records of the time. Her performance at Woodstock was noticeably impaired by various substances and she later left Kozmic due to creative differences. Her third and final group was her own baby, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, an Organ driven (also Ha) combination of Canadians (The Band?) that received mostly positive reviews. She died of an overdose of unusually strong heroin (apparently 8 of the dealer's other users died that weekend) while recording her only album with Fult Tilt, Pearl. Released 4 months after her death, it became her most successful album. It showcased her extremely raw and emotional singing style as well as her unique world view and attitude in a timeless light. Not saying it's better than any of her other works, in fact I rather like her work with Big Brother and Kozmic Blues, but my absolute favorite Janis track comes off her posthumous release. Sadly, it serves as a foreshadowing anthem to her (and all) overindulgence. If you are still looking to learn more about Janis Joplin, read the best biography written about her, Scars of Sweet Paradise.

Song #35: Janis Joplin - Get It While You Can

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