In her short 27 years of life, Janis Joplin marked the culture of the 20th century, as a reference for innovation, talent, and excesses. On January 19, 2023, if she had survived her chemical dependency and alcoholism, she would have turned 80.
Having left us so young, the questions of ‘what would it be like’ multiply on the dates we remember. She had many dreams, not least because she feared losing the only thing that put her off the pariah lists of a caste society, her voice. And it was not only recorded with films and records, but by the passion of its fans, many like me, who only discovered it long after it left us, in October 1970. Her legacy? Authenticity. There was no one before her like Janis Joplin.
After being bullied at school and college, being branded as a misfit, unhinged, and “weird”, it was only onstage where she released her pain with transparency and fervor that she felt accepted. Today it is more common to talk about mental health and to place yourself as more important than expected standards, but when Janis was growing up, in the 1950s, having a creative personality like hers was seen negatively and she suffered a lot for it. Defined as a wild, vulnerable, extroverted, and needy person, she lived rock, drugs, and blues with all possible intensity.
The film The Rose, from 1976, tried to show a little of what life was like for a star like Janis. All addictions were encouraged if the artist was physically able to stand up and sing, which accelerated the process of self-destruction for a person as damaged as she was. Its authenticity came with a high price, but although it was loved worldwide, it never managed to win over those who most rejected it. As she described it in one of her letters to her parents: “Please believe me, you can’t want me to be a winner more than I am.” And it was Janis, you were.