This remarkable book, based on Janis Joplin’s scrapbook from 1966-68, gives us a very personal insight into the process of her transformation from high school folk singer to world renowned blues singer.
Genesis Publications have produced an extraordinary book, honouring the memory of Janis Joplin in a way that reminds us of the joys and successes of her brief career. Much has been written about her and some writers have focussed on the difficulties she faced and only partially overcame. There has been an emphasis on the sex and her sexuality as well as the drugs and rock’n’roll. She was only 27 years old when she died of an accidental heroin overdose on October 4th 1970. Hendrix had died at the same age just weeks before her. Together they are part of the legend of the ‘27 Club’. It is now more than fifty years since her death.
Her younger brother and sister, Michael and Laura Joplin, have created a collector’s edition publication of her early scrapbooks, dating from a very significant time in her life and career. It’s a rich mix of a facsimile of Janis Joplin’s scrapbooks combined with commentary from those who knew her, taking us from late 50s high school days through the excitement of her joining Big Brother and The Holding Company, and her eventual solo career.
Along the way we read letters she sent home to her family, press cuttings she saved, photos of herself as her image as a blues and rock singer developed, flyers, posters, ticket stubs and souvenirs. All the ephemera of her career as her star ascends and she finds success. There is even her horoscope chart. There’s no sense of the dark side. There’s no shadow of drink or drugs, just a quote about Southern Comfort being good for her voice.
There was a Joplin family tradition of keeping scrapbooks. Her brother observes that they seem quaint and old fashioned nowadays. What many of us do now is share the same kind of information about our lives through our digital social media profiles. A physical archive like this is particularly precious. A scrapbook isn’t as private or personal as a journal or diary. It isn’t introspective. It’s a celebration of a particular period of time, with memories of significant and happy events. This is an opportunity to see an upbeat and excited side of Janis that previously only family had been aware of. She is documenting events and developments for herself, but also with an eye to the future. She and those around her might want to look back on them one day. There’s also a sense that as a vulnerable and self conscious teenager and young woman, she might be reminding herself that she was moving forward into a way of life that was going to raise her self esteem and take her self confidence to a place she wanted to be.
We know that she considered herself an outsider at high school, where a boys frat magazine voted her ‘the ugliest man on campus’. She had talent as a singer, sang in the coffee houses and took off for San Francisco as soon as she could. She got into a bad way with drugs. Her friends raised the bus fare to send her home to Port Arthur where her family looked after her with acceptance and support. The letters she sent back to her family and quotes from friends show that she was loved, cared for and appreciated. Her family didn’t desert her and she kept her connection with them. Laura Joplin tells us that they all read her letters together when they arrived.
The scrapbooks take us through her decision to join Big Brother and the Holding Company, with posters from early concerts and articles from West Coast and East Coast magazines and newspapers. It’s visually fascinating, with its hand drawn psychedelic concert posters and flyers.. There are some interesting fashion notes along the way, as she created her own unique image, with her wild hair, beads and velvet, furs and feather boas. She was seen as a hippy, but she identified as a beatnik. She even appeared in Vogue. She and Grace Slick are described as the Queen Bees of San Francisco, one fire, the other ice. There’s a real sense of her excitement at meeting Paul McCartney when he came to see her and ‘dug them’. She’s a fan as well as a star.
Alongside a record of the rock and psychedelic music scene and concerts of the San Francisco Bay area are her memories of the Monterey Pop Festival, the Festival Express train and the Monterey Jazz Festival. We also get to London and her solo concert at the Albert Hall. There are classic photos of her psychedelic painted Porsche sports car and from the shoot for the cover of Pearl, released in the months following her death. Her trip to Brazil, where she distanced herself from drugs is also documented, though not in terms of that particular personal significance.
Her handwriting and her scribbled notes give this book an immediacy that really brings her to life. The comments from friends and family on each page give us a sense of her history and the part she played in their lives, and in ours as her fans. There’s a real sense of the times and the late sixties music scene in San Francisco. Quotes from interviews with a range of journalists give an in depth insight into her thoughts outside of the ephemera she was saving and pasting into this personal record.
A facsimile of a scrapbook could have been published in a very different style. It’s a format that is very close to the aesthetic of punk fanzines. However, the family have decided to create a rare book that truly reflects Janis Joplin in the thought and care that has gone into its production. It has been created with love, respect and recognition. Financially it will be beyond the reach of most of us, but hopefully, it will be accessible in some library Special Collections.
Reading about her has reminded me of the impact she had on me as a teenager, as a role model finding her place in the world of rock music and as a singer who channelled so much raw emotion and energy through her songs. There was no one like her. She inspired me to explore her blues influences back then, and I know she continues to inspire singers today with both her style and attitude.
She has never left us. Her music and the memories of her presence live on. This book really does give us a little piece of her heart.
These limited edition books have been beautifully produced on heavy quality paper, with vegan leather bindings and a slipcase. The Deluxe Edition of 350 includes a print of a signed drawing of Janis by her friend and contemporary Grace Slick. The Collector copies take the print run to 2,000 in all. Both include a heavyweight vinyl 7” single of two tracks from the Typewriter Tape, a legendary bootleg recording Janis made with Jorma Kaukonen in 1964, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy written by Janis, and the blues standard Trouble In Mind.
Each book is signed by key contributors, Laura Joplin, Michael Joplin, Peter Albin, founder member of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Dave Getz, their drummer and Jorma Kaukonen, founder member of Jefferson Airplane. They are estate stamped with her signature.
Limited edition copies can be purchased here:
Janis Joplin website can be found here:
All words by Nicky Crewe. More writing by Nicky on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive.