Janis Joplin Facts You May Not Know
A look at the short, spirited life of Janis Joplin.
No conversation about musical icons is complete without mentioning Janis Joplin. Her career may have been short, but her mark on the music scene inspired countless other performers: Joan Jett, Alicia Keys, Florence Welch and Pink, for starters.
Songwriting talent and vocal ability aside, tales of Joplin’s hard-partying lifestyle ensure that she lived up to the rock-and-roll stereotype. But did you know that she bought a tombstone for one of her idols, or that she had a customized car that broke records?
It’s time to find out some of the lesser-known facts about Janis Joplin.
She Didn’t Fit In With Her Peers
Joplin was born on Jan. 19, 1943, in the racially segregated town of Port Arthur, Texas. Her early belief in desegregation set her apart from her high school peers, and they often teased her for being different. As a result, Joplin would frequently skip classes, attending only what she needed in order to graduate. Her proud stance on segregation was linked to her love of blues music, particularly the music of iconic singers Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith.
She Didn’t Enjoy School
Joplin always stood out from the crowd. As a student at Thomas Jefferson High School, she often wore men’s shirts with tights, or short skirts. Unfortunately, her school days weren’t happy days; she was teased for her unique personal style, called a “pig,” and had a reputation for being sexually promiscuous. By her senior year, Joplin was known as a tough girl who liked to drink.
She Was Voted ‘Ugliest Man’
In 1963, Joplin was cruelly voted “The Ugliest Man on Campus” at the University of Texas, Austin, where she was studying art. This, together with her desire to become a musician, prompted her to leave her home state of Texas and head to San Francisco. She played at the 1963 Monterey Folk Festival and spent some time in New York City, but failed to make her mark on the music scene on either coast.
She Tried To Be Conservative — And Failed
By 1965, Joplin was regularly using amphetamines and other drugs. She left San Francisco and went home to Texas to try to get her life back on track. She took a break from music and partying and tried hard to lead a more conventional lifestyle — even dressing conservatively and putting her hair in a bun — but it was short-lived.
She Needed A Band To Break Into Music
The lure of the music scene was too much for Joplin to resist, and in 1966 she returned to San Francisco and joined the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. (She was actually due to get married that year but called off the wedding to join the band.) The band’s performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival earned them rave reviews, and their 1968 album, “Cheap Thrills,” was a huge hit.
Ultimately, She Was Better Off Alone
As the frontwoman of the band, Joplin’s powerful vocals and drug- and alcohol-fueled performances (she often drank booze straight from the bottle during gigs) got most of the attention, which eventually led to friction between Joplin and her bandmates. Joplin also felt that the band was holding her back professionally, and she eventually decided to go solo. Her last performance with Big Brother and the Holding Company was in December 1968.
She Was Bisexual
Joplin had troubled relationships with both men and women. Her most notable relationship with a woman was her on-again, off-again affair with Peggy Caserta, which continued until her death. In fact, on the night she died, Joplin was supposed to have a threesome with her fiancé, Berkeley student Seth Morgan, and Caserta. However, neither Morgan nor Caserta showed up.
In 2018, Caserta told Rolling Stone that Joplin “was fun and outspoken and uninhibited … but she was considered not pretty, and a lot of women thought, ‘I have a chance too.'”
She Loved Painting And Poetry
Joplin was a heavy-drinking, outspoken rebel, but she also had a more sensitive side. Her interests included painting, reading and writing poetry. When she appeared on “The Dick Cavett Show” with actress Raquel Welch, she encouraged Welch to read F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1991, an oil painting by 13-year-old Joplin was found in a supply cabinet at her old church and donated to the Museum of Gulf Coast.
She Once Broke A Bottle Over Jim Morrison’s Head
Joplin and musician Jim Morrison had a love of drinking in common, but Joplin was turned off by Morrison’s obnoxious behavior. At a party held by producer Paul Rothchild, Joplin rejected Morrison’s advances, but he persisted — until Joplin hit him over the head with a bottle of Southern Comfort. According to the biography, “Break On Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison” by James Riordan, despite being knocked out by the blow, Morrison continued to admire Joplin, enthusing, “What a great woman! She’s terrific!”
She Performed With Tina Turner
Joplin was a big fan of Tina Turner. During a 1969 interview on “The Dick Cavett Show,” Cavett asked Joplin who she goes to see when she wants to see a good concert. “Tina Turner. Fantastic singer, fantastic dancer, fantastic show,” she replied. It seemed that the feeling was mutual: On Nov. 27, 1969, Joplin joined Tina on stage at Madison Square Garden for an impromptu duet.
She Never Knew How Successful She Would Be
Joplin’s first solo album, “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!”, released in 1969, wasn’t a big success. In fact, true solo success didn’t come until after her death, with the posthumous album release of “Pearl.” Joplin was still working on “Pearl” when she died, meaning producer Paul Rothchild had to finish the project without her.
“For all its incompleteness (or maybe because of it) ‘Pearl’ remains a jewel in the short, gaudy career of a true original,” wrote a BBC Music reviewer.
She Liked To Get Naked
When photographer Bob Seidemann asked Joplin if she’d pose topless for him to make a statement about the idealism of hippie culture, she said she would rather pose completely naked. The photo was published in 1972, two years after Joplin’s death.
Joplin wasn’t shy about showing off her body to her audiences either. According to a concert promoter at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena, Joplin was late to the stage because she had been having sex in her dressing room. When she appeared under the stage lights in a sheer skirt, it was clear she was not wearing underwear.
She Bought A Tombstone For Bessie Smith
Joplin’s ultimate idol and her greatest influence was Bessie Smith, aka the “Empress of the Blues” — she even told friends that she believed she was Smith’s reincarnation. Joplin was furious when she found out that Smith was buried in an unmarked grave in Pennsylvania following her death in a car accident at the age of 43. She and Juanita Green, the daughter of one of Smith’s employees, paid for a tombstone for Smith, with the epitaph, “The Greatest Blues Singer in the World Will Never Stop Singing.”
She Got A Fur Coat From Southern Comfort
Joplin was such a fan of Southern Comfort, the distillery gave her a fur coat in return for all the publicity. In 1970, on Joplin’s last tour before she died, Rolling Stone writer David Dalton recalled an empty bottle of Southern Comfort falling out of Joplin’s purse while she looked for cigarettes. (Her purse also contained an antique cigarette holder, several motel and hotel room keys, and cassettes of Johnny Cash and Otis Redding.)
She Was Arrested In Her Dressing Room
During a 1969 concert for a particularly rowdy crowd in Tampa, Florida, police officers got on stage and asked Joplin to help them restore order. But Joplin had other ideas, and she shouted obscenities at the police instead. Eventually, the crowd calmed down and she finished her show, only to be arrested in her dressing room and asked to spend the night in jail. Fortunately for Joplin, the charges were eventually dropped when a judge decided she was exercising her freedom of speech.
She Got Temporarily Bumped Off Newsweek
Joplin was on the cover of Newsweek on May 26, 1969, with the headline, “Rebirth of the Blues.” She was originally lined up to be on the cover in April, but got bumped when former president Dwight Eisenhower died. During — and after — her life, Joplin appeared on many other magazine covers, including Rolling Stone, Jukebox and Mojo.
She Inspired Movies
The 1979 movie “The Rose,” starring Bette Midler, was loosely based on Joplin’s life. Originally titled “Pearl,” after Joplin’s nickname and the title of her last album, it was fictionalized after her family refused the producers the rights to her story. Movies Joplin has appeared in include “Janis,” “Festival Express” and “Petulia.” In 2017, plans for a biopic of Joplin, in which Amy Adams was rumored to play the artist, were shelved.
She Sang With Tom Jones
In 1969, Joplin sang “Raise Your Hands” with Tom Jones on his TV show, “This Is Tom Jones.” According to Jones, Joplin told him that she didn’t typically do variety shows, but was making an exception for him.
“She saw through it,” Jones told Rock Cellar. “Then when [we] did the rehearsal for ‘Raise Your Hands’ she looked at me and said, ‘Jesus, you can really sing!’ I thought, thank God people like Janis Joplin had taken note.”
She Was Influenced By African-American Blues Singers
In addition to Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith, Joplin was influenced by Big Mama Thornton and Leadbelly. Kim France of the New York Times wrote, “By all accounts, Joplin behaved as no white woman had ever before behaved on stage — a sexed-up powerhouse who stalked the stage as if she owned it, reducing male rock critics to comically blubbering buffoons.”
Her Psychedelic Porsche Sold For $1.76 Million
In 2015, the Porsche 365 Joplin bought in 1968 broke records when it sold at auction for $1.76 million. It was painted all over with a bright mural of birds, butterflies, floating eyes, landscapes, mushrooms and skull-like faces. Typically, celebrity ownership doesn’t increase a car’s value by much. But this was an exception, and it was the highest price ever paid for any Porsche 356 at auction.
She Was One Of The First Members Of The ’27 Club’
Three weeks before Joplin’s death at the age of 27, another 27-year-old musician, Jimi Hendrix, died from an overdose. Since then, many other celebrities have died at the same age, leading to the collective name, “The 27 Club.” In 1971, Jim Morrison died, age 27, in his French apartment. Other members of the morbid club include Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, British singer Amy Winehouse and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
She Refused To Be In The Woodstock Documentary
When Joplin and her backing band, Kozmic Blues Band, arrived at Woodstock in 1969, they sat backstage for nearly 10 hours. Joplin reportedly spent most of this time getting high, and when the band finally took the stage, she was more than a little worse for wear. She later said she was unhappy with her performance and demanded that it be kept out of the documentary about the festival.
She Wrote To Her Parents All Her Life
Filmmaker Amy Berg used letters Joplin wrote to her parents as her main source material for her film about the singer, “Little Girl Blue.” These showed Joplin’s ongoing desire to impress her parents, who remained supportive despite being concerned about her drug use.
“Weak as it is, I apologize for being just so plain bad in the family,” Joplin wrote after leaving home for San Francisco to pursue a music career.
She Performed Once In The UK
Joplin’s first solo gigs didn’t get great reviews in the U.S., but things improved when she and Kozmic Blues Band arrived in Europe. After shows in Germany and Sweden, Joplin performed her only solo U.K. gig at the Royal Albert Hall on April 21, 1969.
She Liked To Scream On Stage
Joplin’s outbursts of emotion on stage weren’t as spontaneous as her audience might have believed. She actually practiced different kinds of screams and shrieks in advance, often with her musical influences in mind.
“I remember her trying out different screams on us, saying, ‘This is the way Tina Turner would scream,'” producer John Simon recalled in an interview with the Library of Congress. “Or, ‘I could do it like Big Mama Thornton.'”
She Had A Fling With Leonard Cohen
Joplin had dalliances with many people during her life, including musician Leonard Cohen. After first meeting in the elevator of New York’s Chelsea Hotel in 1968, the two artists spent the night together.
“She wasn’t looking for me, she was looking for Kris Kristofferson; I wasn’t looking for her, I was looking for Brigitte Bardot,” Cohen told Rolling Stone. “But we fell into each other’s arms through some process of elimination.”
He later wrote about their fling in his classic song “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” but didn’t admit it was about Joplin until years after her death.
She Signed Her Will Only Days Before She Died
On Oct. 1, 1970, Joplin visited an attorney, Robert Gordon, to sign her will. However, Gordon told Rolling Stone that she seemed “happy” — about her possible marriage to Seth Morgan, her band and the album she was recording. Joplin died three days later.
She Left Money In Her Will For A Party
On Oct. 4, 1970, Joplin was found dead in room 105 of the Landmark Hotel in Los Angeles after an accidental heroin overdose. In her will, she left her friends and family $2,500 to throw a wake party, which was held at The Lion’s Share in San Anselmo, California, on Oct. 26. The Grateful Dead performed, and legend has it that brownies laced with marijuana were handed out to unsuspecting guests. Joplin was cremated in the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Mortuary in Los Angeles, and her ashes were scattered from a plane into the Pacific Ocean and along Stinson Beach in Northern California.
Her Last Love Letter Didn’t Reach Her On Time
Joplin’s final attempt to get clean involved a trip to Brazil, where she met an American tourist named David Niehaus. He helped her come off drugs, and they fell in love in the process. But Joplin started using heroin again when she got back to the U.S., and her relationship with Niehaus suffered as a result. The morning after Joplin’s death, a telegram from Niehaus was found at the Landmark Hotel, reading, “Love you Mama, more than you know.”
Her Sister Wrote Her Biography
Joplin’s sister Laura wrote a biography of the singer, “Love, Janis,” which was published in 1992. In 2013, Joplin was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; Laura and her brother Michael attended the ceremony.
“One of our goals is trying to keep Janis in the forefront,” Michael told Rolling Stone. “Everything just seems to be aligning by accident more than by design, which is a fabulous thing.”
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