Janis Joplin was the skyrocket chick of the sixties, the woman who broke into the boys' club of rock and out of the stifling good-girl femininity of postwar America. With her incredible wall-of-sound vocals, Joplin was the voice of a generation, and when she OD'd on heroin in October 1970, a generation's dreams crashed and burned with her. Alice Echols pushes past the legary Joplin-the red-hot mama of her own invention-as well as the familiar portrait of the screwed-up star victimized by the era she symbolized, to examine the roots of Joplin's muscianship and explore a generation's experiment with high-risk living and the terrible price it exacted.
A deeply affecting biography of one of America's most brilliant and tormented stars, Scars of Sweet Paradise is also a vivid and incisive cultural history of an era that changed the world for us all.
In the introduction to this richly textured biography of the trailblazing blues-rock superstar who succumbed to a heroin overdose in 1970, Echols (Daring to Be Bad) informs us that she is not going to give us "a blow-by-blow account of Janis's every fuck and fix." That is not to say that Echols sidesteps the sordidness of Joplin's short life. There's certainly enough drug use ("She even shot up watermelon juice one day") and sex (with both women and men) to keep the reader titillated. But by tracing Joplin's place in the psychedelic movement--vibrantly reconstructed here through more than 150 interviews--Echols presents the singer not just as a rock casualty but as a contradictory icon of female power, "neither just the ballsy chick who helped throw open the doors of rock 'n' roll nor the little girl lost who longed for the white picket fence." Joplin's outrageousness--her sexual conquests, inhuman consumption of Southern Comfort and eventual heroin addiction--is presented as an expression of her insecurities. Stifled in her hometown of Port Arthur, Tex., by rigid gender roles and the cruel taunts of fellow teenagers who thought she was ugly and weird, she turned her teenage rebellion into a successful career as rock's first down 'n' dirty bad girl. Outside of Port Arthur, however, she found that even the hip Haight couldn't handle a woman who was neither a folkie nor the girlfriend of some guy in the band. Rock critics may have loved her, but as Echols reveals, even they seemed more concerned with her raw sexuality than with her talent: following the Monterey Pop Festival, which launched Joplin's career, the L.A. Free Press ran an article titled "Big Brother's Boobs" while Richard Goldstein of the Village Voice wrote, "To hear Janis sing `Ball and Chain' just once is to have been laid, lovingly and well." 140 b&w photos.