I’d like to sing a song of great social and political import

26 01 2012

I missed her birthday.

Not that she’d know, given that she’s been dead for over forty years, but I used to know and celebrate the day Janis Joplin squalled her way into the world.

I think I’ve written this before, but what the hell: My friend K. and I taught this to a half-busful of Forensic [speech, not mortuary] Society high schoolers on our way back from some tournament or another. It was dark, the bus was old, the trip long. And if our high-volumed rasping pissed off the faculty adviser, all the better.

Janis was like that: the big personality you could hide behind.

I fell for Janis in high school, aping her in drink (Southern Comfort, when I could afford it) if in nothing else: I couldn’t sing like her, had no appetite for heroin, and was never as outrageous as I would have liked to have been.

Janis was too much, in every way. She was too loud, too drunk, too high, and way too sexy for someone who in no way fitted any conventional notions of sexiness.

You could see that, too, in those old photos and reels of her performing. She knows she’s performing when she sticks out her tongue or her chest or when she struts across the stage. She’s covering.

She never thought she was enough, but man, when she snugged that mic up beneath her lip, her voice spilled out and over her and everyone who heard her and then all her too-muchness was just as it should be. No cover, then.

There she is, in all her feathers, a few months before her death.

Of course, that she died was part of the fascination for my teenaged self—she suffered for her art!—but it was the fight in her, even more so, even if back then I could only valorize the suffering-unto-death, not that she suffered in the fight to stay alive.

I was listening to her recently, and came across a line I used to write on notebooks and bathroom stalls: Tomorrow never happens, man, it’s all the same fucking day, man.

Janis Joplin, absurdist. She would have been 69.

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