Janis Joplin, Janis

Lenny Kaye

By Lenny Kaye

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

The soundtrack to the 1974 film of Janis Joplin's careen through popular music not only highlights the incendiary way she wrapped her legs around a song and didn't let go until implosion, but provides docu-drama evidence of a break-just-like-a-little-girl on her way to discovering a new way to sing the blues. At the core of the album are performances in Austin, Texas, captured on a home recorder circa 1963-4, long before she lit out for San Francisco, a stoning's-throw from Port Arthur where she gawkily grew.

A legend discovers a new way to sing the blues

Coffee-house intimate, she takes a classic roots songbook — "River Jordan," "C.C. Rider," "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" — and uses it to find her voice. She knows it ain't pretty, but she will make it sing like no other, a range that can move from deep howl to a falsetto that seems to split into octaves, learning song by song.


Janis Joplin

The biopic will near its end by the time she returns to the verité of "Port Arthur High School Reunion," arriving bespangled to show how far she's come, the sugar high of revenge. In between are snippets of interview (her exchange with a clearly smitten Dick Cavett) and performances with an unruly and unrepentant Big Brother, the high-stepping Kozmic Blues Band, and, given the confidence and come-to-terms nature of the truncated Pearl, the glass-half Full Tilt Boogie Band, a "Maybe" which ended her life on the might have.

She was, and always will be, a magnificent creature. I was so enamored with her, a fan boy's crush, that after her Central Park show in 1969, I followed her and her entourage as they exited from the back of Wollman Rink and walked through the park to their limousine, she in a tight blue silk dress, probably on their way to a party somewhere exotic like the Chelsea Hotel or Max's, and I wished I could take her hand, for just a second, to let her know how much she was loved.