Unreal Nature

July 30, 2008

Little Janis: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:25 am

From her earliest days, Janis displayed a churning intelligence and an insatiable demand to do. She took to reading before she entered school and had a library card as soon as she could walk. Mrs. Joplin read to Janis frequently, but only as a matter of course. “It wasn’t to make her precocious or head of the class or anything of that sort,” she explained. Being an especially bright and curious child, Janis simply learned . Later, it was no secret to Janis’s friends that she was a voluminous reader, although she went out of her way to keep that hidden from her public.

The above quote and what follows are taken from the book, Janis Joplin: Buried Alive  by Myra Friedman. Janis grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, an oil town on the coast, about a hundred miles from Houston. Where it is ” … flat as a mesa. The air is gummy with humidity, and it howls — heat, mediocrity, boredom.”

Mrs. Joplin also said that Janis took quickly to magical tales and is convinced that Janis unraveled her whole life as one spinning yarn that curled endlessly in circles and circles of made-up stories, similar to the gleeful fantasies of her childhood. “You have to understand,” she pleaded, “what kind of things appealed to her” She studied about the theater. She studied “tall-tales of America. She’d spin these tales. It was so far out that you were supposed to understand that it was that way. She tried the same thing with the press — in my opinion. And it backfired….”



… The revolt began unnoticed, likely in Janis’s own mind to have been nothing more than an unfamiliar shadow, a longer look at the sky on night, a poem, a troublesome twinge of the flesh, any or all gone quickly enough and fading with the drift of buried memory. Perhaps a question: “Why not?”An answer: “Because.” Outwardly, for a while at least, everything continued as before. Mrs. Joplin said that Janis’s behaviour was not strikingly different from the other children’s until her senior year in high school, although her intelligence and imagination were quite another matter. Of that, the Joplins were very much aware. Janis’s grades were consistently excellent, and when they were slightly less than that, it was because she was not particularly challenged.

By all accounts, Janis was an astonishingly naive and gullible girl, a leadable child ready to do anything in order to please other people. Arlene Elster, who was a year ahead of Janis at Thomas Jefferson High, admitted that sometimes she and Karleen made up preposterous stories, which they showered on Janis to tease her. Invariably she believed them. Her language, at least until her junior or senior year, was free of gamey embellishment. Karleen laughed at the memory of the “cussing contests” that Janis lost, a forlorn and pathetic contender. Her white-blonde hair had toned down to brown. She was chubby, and a smattering of freckles across her features gave her the air of a church-going innocence endearing to the town’s adults.”




  1. I have no reason to be proud. I was a Big Brother fan, then a Paul Butterfield Blues fan, feeding (like everyone else) vampirelike off the energy she spilled from the stage and never thinking what was being burned up to produce it.

    Hindsight is a cold and comfortless thing.

    Comment by Felix Grant — July 30, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

  2. The radio station that I listen to off-and-on through the day plays her stuff fairly regularly. It gets better every time I hear it, after all these years.

    It’s a shame that she had such a hard time of it. Her biography is like one long train wreck from the word go.

    Comment by unrealnature — July 30, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

  3. She’s rarely on the radio here, but I play her a lot on CD or MP3 (before that, on tape and vinyl).

    To hear her on stage was to be drunk without any need for the alcohol she herself splashed everywhere. That should have been a clear signal; but we just drink our artists in every field, without asking about the conditions in which the drink was produced.

    [ I edited the typo in “She’s” – Julie ]

    Comment by Felix Grant — July 31, 2008 @ 5:48 am

  4. And yet, here you are “a sober scientist of sound mind in his mid fifties” while she didn’t make it through. I think there were many contributing factors ( there always are ).

    On radio: I have the extreme good fortune to be able to receive this one station from Farmville, VA, 101.3 FM, that is owner-operated and has only one DJ ( the owner-operator ) and that plays exactly, EXACTLY what I want to hear all day long. Lots of old stuff, some new stuff, tons of live stuff, mostly rock-and-roll, but a little bit of country ( “because I like it” in a slightly belligerent tone from the owner-operator DJ )– and NO pop. He’ll play four hours of some live festival prefaced by “turn up your volume !” and followed by ” just because I feel like it!” >> in a southern, country-boy voice. 24/7 with very few ads and almost no DJ talk.

    Comment by unrealnature — July 31, 2008 @ 8:50 am

  5. JH> …and NO pop…

    Interesting. I think perhaps the signification of the word “pop” has undergone some slippage since I were a lad, but even so … Joplin was very definitely “pop” in her/my day.

    Thanks for the typo edit … dunno what I typed, but I’m very glad to have my mistakes erased from posterity :-)

    Comment by Felix Grant — July 31, 2008 @ 11:14 am

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