You only gotta do one thing well to make it in this world, babe.
You got a woman waiting for you there
All you ever gotta do is
Be a good man
To one woman
And that’ll be the end of the road, babe
I know you got more tears to share, babe
So come on, come on, come on, come on, come on
And cry, cry baby, cry baby, cry baby.
A friend of mine called me up and said, “Hey, remember that Janis Joplin documentary we read about and wondered when it would come out? Well it’s playing this weekend. Wanna go?” Which is, of course, a dumb question.
So how is it? Well, it’s excellent including interviews with her band members and siblings. But if I had to single out one overriding feeling, it would be profound sadness. She was clearly a very lonely person, pretty much totally rejected in her hometown of Port Arthur, TX.
Basically she made at least three fatal “mistakes” – she was a noncomformist and she wasn’t pretty enough. And she was in favor of racial integration at a time (late ’50’s) when this was not only frowned upon but which was enough to make one a target.
When you see pictures of her as a teenager, it’s pretty clear she was trying to play whatever her pre-ordained role was (good girl, eventual wife and mother). But this fit her about as well as a cheap suit. It wasn’t until she went to Austin and heard live music that she started to fit in. (And she didn’t entirely escape indignities there either).
No, her ultimate real escape was San Francisco with its burgeoning rock and folk scene. She could be free there but she could also unfortunately indulge herself in drink and drugs. But she also had a good relationship with the Grateful Dead, and a romantic one with their keyboard and harmonica player, Pigpen.
(Like Joplin, he died at 27 years old which has turned out to be a significant age for rockers to shuffle off this mortal coil. This morbid “club” includes Brian Jones, Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain. I always thought Duane Allman was part of this club but he actually died at 24.)
It was also fun to see a film of her on a train caravan of Canada (“Festival Express”), interacting with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of the Dead. (You can see excerpts on YouTube or rent the whole movie for $4 USD). That and being on stage seemed to be her happiest moments. Like a lot of performers, she lived for that hour on stage but then had to somehow fill the other 23. She said she “made love” to 25,000 people on stage but then always went home alone.
Anyway, you doubtless know how this ends up and this post wasn’t intended to be a biography. A couple things that stand out for me were just what a sweet – and in some senses, innocent – person she was and how smart. (And as far as I was concerned, pretty damn sexy. I don’t care what those jerks in her hometown thought.)
Seeing it on the big screen was great because the theater had a pretty good sound system. Good clips from Fillmore West, Woodstock, Monterey Pop, Dick Cavett show, etc. She was an incredibly dynamic performer and she really knew how to shake her ass to the band’s sound and work the crowd.
If it comes to your area, recommend seeing it. It will remind you not only of what a great voice she had but what an amazing performer she was. She got a lot from Otis Redding who similarly was dynamic and captivating.
Documentaries tend not to last at theaters long so they can make room for movies where things blow up and people kill each other randomly. According to this article, this flick will be on public TV (at least in the US) in ‘early 2016.’ Amazon shows it available for rental on May 4.
In the meantime, here’s a great version of “Tell Mama” from the Festival Express tour. Insanely fast and funky, she – and the band – tear into it as if their very lives depended upon it.
“I’m ready man!” (Song starts about 2:10).
7 thoughts on “Movie Review – Janis:Little Girl Blue”
Thanks for the information about Janis Joplin’s documentary and nice post on her. I think it was inevitable that Janice Joplin would die an early death. It’s a torturous life not being accepted and being ridiculed by others just because you are unique. I always loved her singing. It was rough and raw and not many women singers were singing like her at all. Not making a comparison of talents but my all time favorite singer, Billie Holiday, reminds me of a lot of Joplin. Billie Holiday had the same roughness and rawness about her singing and she also led a tortuous life trying to find a safe place to be. I was lucky enough to see Janis Joplin in a small venue with seats right up front. She poured her heart out singing. It was quite a night. I look forward to seeing the documentary.
That’s pretty awesome that you were able to see her, especially so close. I’ve never stopped listening to her music off and on over the years. But it took the clips to remind me what a powerful performer she was. She really boogied to the music, almost like a fan who was just digging the band. I’ll say that for all her sadness, when she had a good time, she had a good time!
For the record, I happened to mention to my friend that there was a video on YouTube of Janice singing with Johnny Winter in Boston, a few months after Woodstock. (I linked to this in my first post about her). He said, casually, “Yeah I was there. She was playing and he came on as a surprise guest.” Pretty cool. He saw just about every band there was to see back then.
Thanks. Just listened to Johnny Winter and Janis Joplin in Boston on Youtube. Pretty good. I bet seeing those two live would’ve been awesome. Yeah, Janis Joplin lived for her music and was most alive then. You have to remember though Janis Joplin always took her Southern Comfort up with her on stage and drank it whenever she could. She had it when I saw her in Philadelphia. She was numbing something.
Yeah, unfortunately the documentary makes that abundantly clear.
Forgetting about the pain and loneliness Janis Joplin went through, Janis Joplin’s documentary gave me an understanding of what she was trying to accomplish as a singer. Joplin wanted people to participate in her music with her. Not a lot of singers, especially women, were trying to get the audience to participate in the music with her.
Sadly, I remember, when I was at Joplin’s concert, I was one of those people who just sat in their seats listening to her sing on stage. I remember how self-conscious I was to do anything out of the ordinary and tended to follow the crowd.
The end of the documentary was the best part for me. The singers, Pink, Melissa Etheredge and Juliette Lewis all said what I have come to realize, which is there hasn’t been a woman singer like Janis Joplin since she died. Full of so much emotion and heart, a real powerhouse. She lived a short life but she lived a brave one, even if it was only during the time she was on stage singing. Love you, Janis! RIP
I watched the documentary again on cable. What comes across is not just how fundamentally lonely she was but also what a great performer. And while men didn’t seem particularly interested in her, I thought she had become sexy as hell. Too bad she never realized that or attained any true measure of self-worth.
BTW, that whole section of the movie from Cat Power on was not, to my recollection, in the theatrical release. So, Pink, etc. My guess is those were DVD extras. Glad I watched it again.
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