Art, essay, Music

Ode to Janis

I’ve been revisiting Janis Joplin lately, listening to her albums with Big Brother and the Holding Company and her one and only solo album, “Pearl.”

“Pearl” was one of my first CDs. I was instantly drawn to the music on the first listen. I was in my late teens and in the thick of my journey of discovery though classic rock and its roots, cousins and offshoots. (I’m still on this journey, by the way, and will be for life.)

Joplin was unique. To me, she’s the female counterpart of Elvis: an unshakeable force of style and swagger in music.

And a force of feeling.

As any good artist knows, technical chops are a requisite, but to be great, you need something extra: You need to feel the music and make people sense that feel. The best are able to communicate beauty and emotion through music.

That’s exactly what Joplin did. I love to listen to her with my big headphones on, and I love to go along for the ride by playing guitar beside her voice.

Joplin was a wild ride of feeling though music. She sings about pain and heartache, and I just get it. I don’t have to have lived through what she did, but I get it. She cries out when she sings, and its bold and beautiful and guttural and primal–yet controlled. She is in control of her performance. She knows how she’s singing those vocals–from soft and low all the way to thundering.

I feel her music like a kick in the gut that wakes up my soul.

Joplin says in a documentary that Aretha Franklin could tell you the whole universe just singing from A to B. Those are only two notes, with a half-step in between them, but if you’ve got style and feel, then you can really communicate a lot with them. You can convey a whole world of emotion. Listen to Joplin’s version of Rodgers and Hart’s “Little Girl Blue” and you’ll know what I mean.

Sadly, Joplin died at 27. Perhaps it was the sorrow she sang about that drowned her. Her music, however, undeniably floats on, full of emotion and ever-living soul.

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