I discovered the music of Janis Joplin in the late Spring of my first year of university. I’d just spent the night with a woman and decided to reward/console myself with a purchase from a disorganised record store on the way home. That purchase ended up being The Best of Janis Joplin.
Stumbling homewards in the famously cruel Welsh morning light, a paperbag-packed CD clamped in my aching right hand, I blinked, walked, cried, fell, into my hall of residences and under the shower. This was in the days of my burgeoning love affair with caffeine. Dressed, fresh, a naive Nescafé steaming next to my already half-broken budget laptop, I slipped Janis into the CD drive and listened to the fan kick in as I ripped the songs across.
I was young, ignorant, foolish, back then. I hadn’t yet developed my palate enough to realise that instant coffee tasted like excrement (or perhaps it is instead that, five years on, my excrement literally tastes of instant coffee), and for that I hate myself. But nothing could take away from the beauty of my new relationship with Janis. Her voice stirred me, gripped me, caressed me, pulled me up from a deep and very personal point somewhere around my prostate. The energy with which she sang, the sexual hunger with which her voice dripped… The songs I’d heard before and never known the singer; songs like ‘Summertime’ and ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ that I knew in other versions, here belted out with such force, emotion, vigour…
In short: I was in love. Over the course of that week I bought all but one of her studio albums (the last I downloaded whilst pissed on Tuesday evening, hence this resurgence in interest), I read all about her, was impressed and jealous of the lovers she’d had, was saddened by her death, at 27, from a heroin overdose.
She was angry, she was sexy, she was talented. And she was ugly. Which made her all the more appealling. She’d sucked off Leonard Cohen, she’d had an affair with Kris Kristofferson, she’d played Woodstock, she’d been bitter, she’d been self-important, she’d been a waster and she almost certainly would’ve fucked me if we’d met. She was fun.
But my romance with her was short lived. A few weeks and I was tired of her bluesed up, smacked out, late sixties ways… And so we parted. But then, drunk in Islington many years later I remembered that connection, remembered the way she used to make me feel. Janis Joplin was wonderful. And I’ve been a fool to ignore her all this time.