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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Texas Book Festival
Little Fires Everywhere
Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng's second novel offers rich portrayals of motherhood in the suburbs

Rosalind Faires, Oct. 26, 2018

The Wedding Date
The Wedding Date
For a good time, read Jasmine Guillory's delightful debut romcom

Rosalind Faires, Oct. 26, 2018

More Arts Reviews
<i>The Dutch House</i> by Ann Patchett
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
In her eighth novel, Ann Patchett shows that what makes a family cannot be measured by the grandness of a house

Yvette Benavides, Oct. 4, 2019

<i>The Secrets We Kept</i> by Lara Prescott
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
Who runs the world? Secretaries, spies, and survivors in Lara Prescott's debut novel

Rosalind Faires, Sept. 13, 2019

More by Tim Stegall
ACL Live Review: Billy Strings
Billy Strings
Acid grass virtuoso leaves the BMI stage smoking

Oct. 7, 2019

ACL Live Review: Brittany Howard
Brittany Howard
What? No knee drops from the soul Shaker?

Oct. 6, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas Book Festival, Texas Book Festival 2019, Holly George-Warren, Janis Joplin

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle