Last night I went to see the new documentary film directed by Amy J. Berg about the life of rock and roll blues artist, Janis Joplin. I am sitting here this morning, the kids have gone to school and I’m humming Cry Baby and Me & Bobby McGee.
Janis died before I was born. She was found by a friend in a hotel room. When the friend entered the room, the light was on but he described it as feeling “unoccupied”. The morning after her death, a telegram was discovered at the hotel desk, from the man with whom she had enjoyed a brief but fulfilling and genuine relationship. They had separated so that he could continue travelling. The telegram he had written told her that he was missing her and that he loved her very much.
This is how the film ends and it left me wishing that the telegram had not been found so late. What would have happened to Janis if she had read it?
With some beautifully, grainy, retro footage of concerts, backstage, studio, hotels and earlier gigs, goosebumps formed on my arms watching the performances and hearing Janis’ passionate, husky, delivery of each song that came deep from the heart and a lifetime of confused relationships and let downs.
Pieced together by the movie’s narrator, Cat Power, who reads letters that Janis frequently wrote home to her family, Janis apologises for her actions, behaviour and her lifestyle. At the same time she also gives them all the news that she was “brimming with”. Janis’ words always suggest that she doubted herself, despite the outrageous confidence she would display.
The movie paints the picture of someone who we feel extremely sorry for. There is even a mention, during the height of her success, that all the guys in the band would get to go back to the hotel with somebody, and she, would go back with no-one. Did this fall back to the days when she was teased for her looks; she was an outcast and didn’t ‘fit in’?
Despite success, and I mean, she was a babe, a rock goddess, people realised how sexy she was and they fed off her energy, poor Janis came off stage empty and again, we feel sorry for her when success begins to crush her and she spirals into dependence on drugs and alcohol.
This morning, on reflection, I feel that the film did it’s best to make us not only sorry for Janis and her short life, but disgusted at society for having the power to push people to the bottom of the pile. Yes, Janis rose, like a phoenix from the bottom of that pile, but she rose scarred from the way she had been treated in her younger years by her peers.
Acceptance is what society in Janis’ time lacked. Acceptance is what society needs to keeping learning to do NOW. I try to teach my kids every day that everyone is different and that everyone has something beautiful to give. Sounds a bit sweet and a bit gushy doesn’t it? But, hey, if Janis had read that telegram from the man who loved her for what she really was, who had accepted her as a person and who had been touched by and recognised all her beauty, might she still have been here today?
God bless you Janis.