Friday, January 19, 2024

Celebrating Janis Joplin's 81st Birthday with gratitude

Janis Joplin's unexpected death on October 4, 1970, was a turning point in my life and in the lives of many of those in our generation.  I had wanted to be just like her and now I just wanted to be alive.  I had just had my 21st birthday a few days earlier and could drink legally.  Upon her death, I had the thought that perhaps drinking wasn't was a particularly good idea for me.  I told myself I would be more careful than Janis had been with alcohol and would not use any hard drugs.

I know I've told these stories before but need to keep telling them because each time I tell them I realize something that didn't occur to me on the previous telling.

At the time of Janis' death, R was in the last months of his year serving as an Army helicopter mechanic in Vietnam.  Jimi Hendrix had died unexpectedly a few weeks earlier on September 18.  

In the early morning hours of December 7, 1970, the day R returned from Vietnam, we took some LSD that his older brother (also an Army veteran) had given to us and drove west in my Volkswagen to Half Moon Bay where his parents and seven younger siblings lived.  R was the third oldest in that family of ten children and the last to serve in the military.  His father had been in the Navy in Pearl Harbor when it was bombed on December 7, 1941.  As we approached Crystal Springs reservoir, I heard the heartening sound of an acoustic guitar followed by Janis Joplin's clear voice coming from the car radio.  She was singing in a way I hadn't heard before but her voice was unmistakable.  That was my introduction to "Me and Bobbie McGee." 

It was also the beginning of a nightmarish period in my life.  My living nightmare eventually came to an end.  R's nightmare went on and on until he died at age 58, having spent his last months in a VA hospital after suffering a brainstem stroke as a result of his drug and alcohol use.  It's occurring to me that R and Janis Joplin had much in common in the suffering that alcoholism and drug addiction brought to their lives and in their unmet desire for peace of mind and heart.

I've had two vivid  two dreams about Janis Joplin since she died.  In one, she was in recovery from alcoholism, celebrating life in the company of other recovering alcoholics.  In the other dream, just before the turn of the century, Janis Joplin looked at me in a thoughtful way and said, "Please kiss the 21st century for me." 


Elizabeth Zharoff was born 16 years after Janis 
Joplin died.  She had not heard Janis' voice until 6 months ago.

Thank you, Janis Joplin.  Your extraordinary voice is still with us.  


Barbara Rogers said...

A heart felt commemoration to such a talented musician. Thank you. I also was around many people who suffered from the addictions' lives. I count myself very lucky. So glad we're both here to listen to the music still.

Joanne Noragon said...

How I loved Janis Joplin. Thank you for remembering her birthday.