Longlisted for the 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence
This blazingly intimate biography of Janis Joplin establishes the Queen of Rock & Roll as the rule-breaking musical trailblazer and complicated, gender-bending rebel she was.
Janis Joplin’s first transgressive act was to be a white girl who gained an early sense of the power of the blues, music you could only find on obscure records and in roadhouses along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. But even before that, she stood out in her conservative oil town. She was a tomboy who was also intellectually curious and artistic. By the time she reached high school, she had drawn the scorn of her peers for her embrace of the Beats and her racially progressive views. Her parents doted on her in many ways, but were ultimately put off by her repeated acts of defiance.
Janis Joplin has passed into legend as a brash, impassioned soul doomed by the pain that produced one of the most extraordinary voices in rock history. But in these pages, Holly George-Warren provides a revelatory and deeply satisfying portrait of a woman who wasn’t all about suffering. Janis was a perfectionist: a passionate, erudite musician who was born with talent but also worked exceptionally hard to develop it. She was a woman who pushed the boundaries of gender and sexuality long before it was socially acceptable. She was a sensitive seeker who wanted to marry and settle down—but couldn’t, or wouldn’t. She was a Texan who yearned to flee Texas but could never quite get away—even after becoming a countercultural icon in San Francisco.
Written by one of the most highly regarded chroniclers of American music history, and based on unprecedented access to Janis Joplin’s family, friends, band mates, archives, and long-lost interviews, Janis is a complex, rewarding portrait of a remarkable artist finally getting her due.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Though there have been many accounts of music icon Janis Joplin’s life, few are as dynamic and empathetic as Holly George-Warren’s biography. She paints a portrait of a complex woman, tracking Joplin’s Texas roots in a conservative family, her bisexuality, and her staggering self-doubt. And though Joplin’s heartrending voice, flamboyant style, and tragic demise are the tentpoles of her legacy, George-Warren dips deeper, spotlighting Joplin’s deep-seated perfectionist tendencies and her frustrated efforts to earn her family’s acceptance. If you’re a superfan of Joplin or just like reading generous, colorful life stories, put this on your to-read list.
In this excellent biography, George-Warren (A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton) paints a complex portrait of singer Janis Joplin (1943 1970). Drawing on archival materials as well as interviews with Joplin's friends, family, and bandmates, George-Warren begins with Joplin's life, stretching back to her childhood in Port Arthur, Tex., where she would "publicly flaunt her individuality." She was an outsider in high school and, in 1961, moved to Austin, where she attended the University of Texas and sang black music in a segregated folk music bar. Two years later she moved to San Francisco and immersed herself into the psychedelic rock scene, where she developed an addiction to heroin on which she would overdose in 1970. George-Warren explores Joplin's evolution as a singer, including her early incorporation of Otis Redding's vocal techniques into her own performances, as well as her moments of impulsive brilliance, such as her first time singing "Bobby McGee" live in Nashville in 1969, having just learned it which she would record only a few days before her death. Indeed, as the author points out, a lonely Joplin spent the last year of her life "trying to find a way to reconcile her ambitions as a singer with her desire for some kind of loving attachment." George-Warren beautifully tells a moving story of a woman whose life and music inspired a generation.