Pete's Blog

Janis Joplin via Steve Simels

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All (three) of you should go to powerpop.blogspot.com to read Steve Simels's moving tribute to the late Janis Joplin, taken from his column in a magazine called Stereo Review in 1975. Here is the response I posted there, slightly edited: A great column, Steve and, yes, it holds up brilliantly, not at ALL dated. It deserves anthologizing. I share most of your views of Janis Joplin but not all of them. Despite Cheap Thrills being far and away her greatest (not to say "only worthwhile") album I can't see her being able to continue with Big Brother even if her manager Albert Grossman and Columbia Records had let her. She and the band were headed over the high side by then. Blame it on my Calvinist upbringing but this is the best example of the Doctrine of Predestination in my lifetime. She was a basket case before anybody knew her name. You could argue that Cheap Thrills captured something the other two great San Francisco albums (Moby Grape and Surrealistic Pillow - did you have to ask?) missed almost entirely: the kind of inspired incompetence that a new generation of bands would claim they invented ten years later. Instead of punks who had deliberately thrown out all frame of reference Big Brother and the Holding Company were folkies who had been given the keys to the music store by Bob Dylan. But the effect was the same: a joyfully ugly noise unto the Lord. But I don't see Big Brother's blocky chords, stiff rhythms, and aimless, super-loud soloing holding up over time. I think in the end Grossman and Clive Davis were right. With decent, conventional musicians she would self-destruct (as you so eloquently described it here) but she'd die a star, and her music would inspire the generations. Staying with Big Brother she'd have ended up like, oh, Maria Muldaur, skillfully performing a hoochy-mama act in smaller and smaller nightclubs. That's if she'd lived, which you seem to think she would have. I'm not so sure.

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