Book Review: New Janis Joplin Biography Favors Love Over Sensationalism

Author Holly George-Warren shows the love in Janis: Her Life and Music

New Janis Joplin Biography Favors Love Over Sensationalism

"Right from the beginning, she would just blast everything out front," Bay Area guitarist Larry Hanks recalled of Janis Joplin's earliest appearances on San Francisco's folk scene in 1963, following her Austin apprenticeship in the Waller Creek Boys with future Conqueroo leader Powell St. John and Lanny Wiggins. "There was no restraint. She sang hellbent for leather all the time." He added, "When singing the songs, she was really in them. All the emotional expression was pouring out." Which was the intuitive genius of the woman born Janis Lyn Joplin in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1943. There was a direct connection from her heart to her larynx. All her short life's pain saturated every note she sang, be it while wailing "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" at Threadgill's or topping Big Brother and the Holding Company's raw "freak rock" at the Avalon Ballroom or exploring the later soul of her Kozmic Blues/Full Tilt Boogie bands.

Holly George-Warren, author of several fine music books, including acclaimed Alex Chilton bio A Man Called Destruction, does a remarkable job of restoring flesh and blood to Joplin's blues-wailin' bones, with sympathy and a sharp critical eye where required. Reading that future Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson was among the jocks bullying Joplin at TJ High disappoints deeply. He'd later boast about it to Sports Illustrated, as if it was his patriotic duty to put the teenage beatnik weirdo in her place. But her desire for a free life entered early, alongside the attendant biblical price paid. Relations with lovers could be sketchy, and she strained her familial ties by exaggerating parental rejection to reporters, perhaps conflating it with Port Arthur's? Still, she poured love into all she did, as does the author in a sensation-free portrait that's no Behind the Music script.

Janis: Her Life And Music

By Holly George-Warren
Simon & Schuster, 377 pp., $28.99

Holly George-Warren will appear with authors Andy Aledort and Alan Paul (Texas Flood) in the session “Texas Music Legends: Janis Joplin and Stevie Ray Vaughn” Sat., 4pm, in the Texas Tent.

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