full tilt boogie.

I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

full tilt boogie.

I learned about Janis Joplin originally the same time I learned about everything else in music, that giant discovery period in my early/mid teens where I devoured everything there was to hear and see and know. But I stayed away from Janis -- unlike, say, Grace Slick -- because of all of the darkness around the legend. The drugs, the alcohol, her being a member of the ‘27 club.’

And then there were the constant reminders that Janis wasn’t conventionally pretty, that she suffered from acne, that she slept around extensively. It was in every article, every comment made by a DJ after a song, every rock and roll special. It was relentless, and the message to me was clear: getting too close to her by publicly championing her work, proclaiming that I was a fan — would have opened me up to the same derisive public evaluation that I, too, would have fallen far short of. It wasn’t for me. I stayed away.

Last summer I reviewed that massive 38-cd box set from Woodstock, and yes, I listened to every single minute of every CD. Which put me in close proximity with Janis Joplin – that set is absolutely delightful – and my thought process went from “I don’t know enough about Janis Joplin, how is that possible” to devouring everything possible, including (and especially) the magnificent Holly George-Warren biography (Janis: Her Life and Music). Not that you should need me to sell you on HG-W writing about anyone or anything, but this book took her 7 years to write and she had cooperation from everyone, and access to all of the archives.

But what was, for me, the revolutionary element of this book was how it felt to read a biography of a female artist being written by a female writer and historian. To not have every inch of Janis’ life examined under the relentless male gaze, and in fact, instead, calling out that fucking bullshit for what it was every time it occurred, was mind-blowing. I had to keep putting the book down because it felt totally and completely different.

This shouldn’t come as a shock given that I’ve been involved in two anthologies of women writers writing about women artists -- it’s the whole reason those books came into being -- but having one subject who was consistently battered by the gauntlet of the male music press (and male press in general) -- it won’t undo the damage and assholes will still make thoughtless comments and voice garbage opinions, but it at least is on the record, and the record has been corrected and shown to its seat.

I remain angry at the patriarchy (evergreen) and I am now moving back through Janis’ music and history and making up for lost time. But I am incredibly angry that it’s happening now and not 40 years ago. (Not that being an open Patti Smith fan was a piece of cake, either, but being called a lesbian was easier to deal with than being called a slut.)

I just need all the women to write all the books so I can read them. We all do.

I am now making up for the lost time, buying the records, listening to the songs, watching the footage that exists. I remain dumbfounded that what we have from Monterey Pop was from a second set they weren’t even supposed to play, but played the next day when Janis realized it was a monumental error to not have been filmed for the movie. And also about her love of Otis. And how she paid for Bessie Smith’s grave to have a headstone. And and and. Goddamn it. Goddamn.

I was in the Bay Area at the beginning of the month, before the lockdown, before, well, everything. I saw Patti Smith at the Fillmore for two nights and I am pretty sure I will do that for as long as there’s a Fillmore and Patti’s playing at it. Just walking up those stairs and into that room with the chandeliers and taking a deep breath at the history and the vibrations and everything that happened inside those walls. I’d only been once before for some reason, despite having a very good friend who lived in Oakland; I came down from Seattle to see Chris Cornell’s first solo show post-Soundgarden. I think at the time my thought process was that surely I would be there a million times in the future, but I did go to the poster room and I did take an apple.

I was lucky to be there with my pals for whom the Fillmore (THE ACTUAL FILLMORE, not whatever theater in your down LiveNation has slapped that name onto) is their local venue, who had chairs and coolers and knew where to park and how to get into the venue as quickly as possible to get the best spots. That first night, once we’d settled in and I’d calmed down, leaning up against the stage, I thought of everyone who had ever graced that stage, but most of all, I thought of Janis. I could see her in my mind’s eye, microphone in hand, hair flying, sending that voice reverberating up into the lights. It’s going to sound crazy but I could close my eyes and see her there, more than anyone else that ever graced that stage. She was there, I would swear to it.

My last newsletter was in September and I’m honestly not at all sure how I sent one given it was less than a week after I had to say goodbye to my cat and a little more than two weeks before I packed up my stuff and moved to Detroit. The short answer as to why I left is sustainability, and I’m here because it was the best of the options that supported that goal and that I also felt comfortable in.

Some stuff I’ve written between then:

This will not be a prolific year because I (still) have a book to finish, deities willing.

Take care of yourselves.