Article 18

Rock On

Kozmic Blues -Janis Joplin

(Published in Times of India, Pune on 6th October, 2001)

O ne of the greatest tragedies that affected the Rock Music world of the sixties was the untimely death of some of its greatest stars. Those "make love, not war" days resulted in the indiscriminate use of mind-bending drugs and the wild, adventurous ways of these super talented musicians saw them constantly test their mortality with reckless ardor. And so it was that on October 4, 1970, Janis Joplin, the greatest white female blues singer who ever lived, passed away into the night. Exactly 31 years ago, at the age of 27, one of Rock music's finest talents was nipped in the bud as Janis accidentally overdosed on a pure batch of heroin in a motel in Los Angeles.

Janis came into my life with the release of her first album "Cheap Thrills" way back in the late sixties when I was just a schoolboy. In those days, the LP record cover played a very important part in our understanding of the artistes as there was no television and foreign music magazines were rare and out of date. The album art of the double-jacketed record was truly revolutionary as it was in cartoons and featured interesting tidbits on every song of the album. For kids like us who grew up on comic books of Disney and the Archies, the exaggerated animated figures drew me like a magnet and almost assured the total acceptance of the album! This album sure needed the spiel as it was very raw and featured the rather mediocre band "Big Brother and the Holding Company". It was a bitter pill to swallow for this young boy who grew up on the syrupy melodies of Cliff Richard. The vocalist of the band came highly recommended by my American friends and so I decided to give the album a good listen. This album featured a very young Janis in a live performance and the sheer emotional intensity of her amazing vocals was breathtaking! Here was a young white kid who sang the blues with the pain and experience of a black blues mama and she had me hooked for life. Now, if only she dropped that band!

And so it was to be, as Janis' fame started spreading like wild fire. After the enormous success of "Cheap Thrills", Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company became a huge act, playing to large audiences, for big fees. The pressures of high income and high-priced drugs soon began to take its toll and within a few months of the release of the album, Janis and the band broke up. Janis soon formed a new group and released an album called "I Got Dem 'Ol Kozmic Blues Again, Mama". Mixed reviews met the new sound from this Blues queen but the daredevil lifestyle fuelled by the large use of drug and alcohol continued unabated. Striving hard to find her correct style of white blues, she formed a third band, called Full Tilt Boogie Band. She also gave up drugs and started concentrating on her next album "Pearl" which was later to become her swan song. During the last days of recording, she starting using heroin once again which ultimately led to her accidental death. The ugly duckling of Rock and Roll was no more! Later "Pearl" was released posthumously and was widely praised both by the critics and public alike. It also contains her most popular songs "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Mercedes Benz".

Since her death, Janis Joplin has achieved legendary status and her albums have gone gold, platinum, and triple-platinum. She is currently the subject of two hotly contested biographical movie projects and this first goddess of Rock will always be remembered in spite of her relatively short career. Janis was no beauty and yet she exuded surprising raw sensuality and her gravel-voiced shrieks will always ring in my ears. Her sad, lonely death followed that of Jimi Hendrix who'd died just two weeks earlier. Jim Morrison would die within a year and Rock would take years to recover from these untimely blows as it saw some its major architects felled down in their prime by their own excessive behavior. She will always be my favorite female icon for Rock stardom in the late Sixties.

Rock on!

Nandu Bhende











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