Saturday, February 16, 2013

Janis Joplin's City Migrations


North Beach Nesting Instincts

Most people who have an inkling of Janis Joplin associate her with the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, the throwback hippie-colony of the 1960s. And it is true, the misfit girl from Port Arthur, Texas, who would become rock and roll’s iconic queen did live in the Haight-Ashbury during the greatest few years of the counter-culture era. But when Janis Joplin arrived in San Francisco in the early 60s, she first alighted in North Beach, the Italian district of quiet streets and salty air wafting up from the Wharf, bustling Italian restaurants and cafes, lofty church spires and such famous Beatnik writers of the previous decade as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

I spotted this poster in the window of a vintage shop along a very quiet street in North Beach. Joplin’s energy seemed to reach across the decades, into the 21st century and through the paned glass straight to me. I suddenly had a feeling of what it must have been like during the Summer Of Love in San Francisco, when people were focused on different things than they are now. When folks were happy just hanging out in the park, reading poetry and listening to all of the new music which would become classic.

That particular “flower-child” energy still drifts here and there in the city. Wisps of it can sometimes be felt on a warm, sunny day in the park, when everyone is lying around taking a break from the hectic world and just being mellow.

Recently, I did a more in-depth search of Janis Joplin and started listening to her music, watching documentaries and viewing concerts… and what a woman! All of her songs truly stand up to the best in pop music today. Her influence continues to reverberate through the decades, as Florence and the Machine will attest:

"I learnt about Janis from an anthology of female blues singers. Janis was a fascinating character who bridged the gap between psychedelic blues and soul scenes. She was so vulnerable, self-conscious and full of suffering. She tore herself apart, yet on stage she was totally different. She was so unrestrained, so free, so raw and she wasn't afraid to wail... I think she really sums up the idea that soul is about putting your pain into something beautiful."

~ Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine

from Why Music Matters

Joplin did not even really need a band, in my opinion – her voice and her energy were that powerful. To read about her incredible yet tragic life or watch a documentary about her music is to experience what she gave to our culture. Her amazing spirit was so exuberant – and even now breaks all of the usual boundaries of space, time and sound.

She was more than a hipster… She was a hippie, a rock and roll goddess, and certainly the first female singer/song-writer of her kind… but I think now she is an angel of light-years.

This is a much later poster for The Grateful Dead, but Joplin did tour with the Dead and other bands in the summer of 1970 for a Canadian rock festival.

In 1969 Joplin toured Frankfurt and London, playing the Royal Albert Hall, which is said to be one of her very best performances. Conversely, at some point, the English band Cream performed in San Francisco. Evidently you could see the band for $3.50.

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