My American Idol

March #SOLSC17 Day 20


March 20, 1969, 48 years ago today, Janis Joplin and the Kozmic Blues band opened at Winterland in San Francisco.  Two days earlier, Janis appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. She had just left Big Brother & the Holding Company and was beginning her journey with a new band.

I’ll never forget the moment I heard “Piece of My Heart” for the first time!  It was a crisp Saturday morning in late September of 1968.  I was 10 years old.  I was at my friend, Kim’s house where I hung out regularly.  We were running through her kitchen where the radio was playing, heading up to her room when I heard “Come on, come on, now take it… take another little piece of my heart, now baby.”  I stopped dead in my tracks.

I had never heard a woman’s voice sound so rough and so bold.  A female rocker?  I ran to the K-Mart four blocks away and bought the album, Cheap Thrills.  That October, the album reached number one on the Billboard charts and remained there for eight consecutive weeks.  I listened to it over and over again.  My friends and I sang in front of the mirror with a makeshift microphone.

As the months passed, Janis became my favorite singer.  I never got to see her sing live. I was young and unfamiliar with the concert scene.   I am not sure if Janis ever even performed in Chicago.  It is also a pretty safe bet that my mom would have never allowed me to go to her concert anyway.

However, I watched clips of her performances on television.  On March 18, 1969, Janis made her debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.  That was when you knew someone made it to the big time.  That July Janis appeared for the first time on the Dick Cavett Show.  Again, my eyes were glued to the TV set. After all, everyone in America watched Ed Sullivan and Dick Cavett. Remember, there were only a few stations.  It wasn’t a hard sell.

On August 17, 1969, Janis took the stage at Woodstock at 2:00 A.M.  I watched the news clips later that week.  There was no one like her.

In 1970, she appeared two more times on Dick Cavett.  I was 12 years old and in the 7th grade.  I heard her tell Dick that she was going to go to her ten-year high school reunion in Port Arthur, Texas.  She said that she was despised by her classmates and town residents.  She was extremely mistreated, so she looked forward to going back as the person she was now.  How could anyone not adore her?

I never saw such an “in your face” woman before.  Janis became my idol.  I didn’t know about her drug problem.  I only knew that she was different.  She looked tough.  She exuded confidence.  She had talent.  She didn’t follow the stereotype of what a woman was “supposed” to act like.

On October 4, 1970 Janis was found dead at the Landmark Hotel in Los Angeles by her road manager.  I remember sitting at home on the couch, drinking a bottle of Coke, and eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (which would explain my weight problem today) when I heard the news report and felt the devastation run through my body.  My idol was dead.  How could this happen?  She was so young, so incredible!

Four months later, Janis Joplin’s album Pearl was released.  The record included, “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Mercedes Benz,” and “Get It While You Can”.  Again, her album was at the top of the charts for more than two months.  Once again, I made my usual trip to K-Mart to buy Pearl.  I listened to it over and over again.  Over the years, I repeatedly bought all of her albums on 8-Tracks, cassettes, and CD’s.

Still today, I belt out Janis’ songs as I drive down the road.  I wonder what it would be like if she had lived.  I know that I would have finally been able to see her in concert.  If I had the chance, I would have purchased a meet-and-greet.

I’ll never forget how she changed my view of women and their possibilities.  Janis helped me develop into an independent woman with confidence and drive.  Observing her on stage helped me break the image of a woman as helpless and dependent.  I wish that she were alive today so that I could tell her she impacted me.



3 thoughts on “My American Idol

  1. This is a beautiful post. “Piece of My Heart” and “Me & Bobby McGee” both give me chills every. single. time. I hear them. What a wonderful and positive affect her strength and irreverence had on you.


  2. You reminded me how I walked to Zaire to buy albums. But I never got attached… I don’t remember the albums. I enjoyed reading how you enjoyed the music. Glad when you were so young you didn’t know about the drugs. I think of many greats we could have seen so much more of and how they would have been when they were older if we could get rid of the scourge of drugs.


  3. Sonja Schulz says:

    Janis was one-of-a-kind. I loved your post—she has always been both an inspiration and a heartbreaking realization of brokenness to me.


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