It’s the 50th anniversary of The Summer of Love and because I was there in Golden Gate Park, whose entrance opened like a rabbit hole at the end of Haight Street, I’m thinking about Janis Joplin this morning. I saw her with Big Brother and The Holding Company many times. But the first time I watched her do her thing on the back of a flatbed truck seems like the day before yesterday. Maybe even yesterday!
Here’s an excerpt from my book, Under A Tie Dye Sky, showing (as opposed to merely telling) you Janis. The following passage is written about the day I arrived in San Francisco, with flowers in my hair of course.
“Standing on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, I realized people were migrating in the same direction. “Hey, Kurt,” hailed a few passers by, “you coming down to The Panhandle? Happy Sunday, man. Janis is singin’!”
Janis belonged to a band named Big Brother and The Holding Company. My friend took my arm, to stop me from turning in circles. He led me down the street to that part of Golden Gate Park known as The Panhandle.
We entered the outskirts of a crowd staring up at the flat bed of a long truck. Looking for where the noise came from, I picked out a whirring generator next to the truck. As we walked closer, I turned my head to see what was on the improvised stage.
Under no circumstances will I forget my first look at Janis Joplin. She stood there in back of a microphone, a funky grand lady, small, but commanding. She wore a short scruffy blue jeans skirt with a peasant blouse hanging off one shoulder. Scores of bracelets encircled her wrists and arms, scores more necklaces around her neck. Her mop of hair had a life of its own. Long, frizzy, untethered, it moved and shook around her broad face. This mane was on a leave of absence from standard hair care.
Freedom drenched her persona. Freedom from what? From tired norms. From lies. From fear. From despair. Freedom from hate. Freed to find individuality, where truth, faith, hope, and Love stood a chance.
Grinning and jiving with the company, this outlandish Raggedy Ann became my new groundbreaking off–the–wall hero of girldom.
Love saturated the soft candied air in the globe. The congregation breathed it in and blew it into the open when Janis hit her first note. Somehow she gathered that Love and sang it out to us in a way that changed lives.
Janis, charitable to a fault, held nothing of herself back, saved nothing for some future rainy day.
I said Janis Joplin changed lives. Her willingness to give till she collapsed added new meaning to the concept of selfless generosity.
Of course I’d been exposed to selfless generosity in reading true stories and hearing about saints on earth like Mother Teresa and in the Bible. My mom and dad were my supreme examples in this world.
But Janis was visceral and in my face.
I stood in front of a living extreme, a real person in front of my eyes. I’d never seen anything like this before. Nothing even close. ACCESSIBLE, she let us enter her soul, as she reached into ours. Turning herself inside out, raw and vulnerable along with graciousness, she returned our overwhelming Love.”
OH, JANIS . . .