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Dear Janis Joplin

What if you were alive now at 80?

Janis Joplin — Pixabay

Your skin was turned inside out. Raw is the adjective used for you. Raw emotions. Raw voice. Raw talent.

But you were starting to learn to control your voice, so it could last many years. I saw a couple of pictures, too, where your hair looked — styled. Oh, still wild and untamed, but definitely styled. You could have worn a short, layered look in your 40s and later.

You would be eighty years old now.

You went to rehab and learned that you did, indeed, have something to lose, and many people loved you. Not just the performing you, the real you. It was hard to go from the adrenaline of the stage and lights and drums and reverberating applause to an empty hotel room, but you could have figured that out. Heck, at 27, I had a lot to figure out.

By the way, I love the song “Me and Bobby McGee” but I hate the lyrics “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” You believed them.

Drug addicts are most at risk when they’ve been clean for a while, and then start using again. Their tolerance is lowered and they use a dose too much for their system. The last time you had some pretty pure heroin. But then, no dose of street heroin is safe.

I identify with your need to get out of Port Arthur, Texas.

Many of us grew up in towns too small or too small-minded to become ourselves. You needed to be someplace that sold boas and velvet tunics and floppy hats.

Your vocal range probably dropped at least an octave from all the smoking. Joni Mitchell’s voice did. Along with going through rehab, making peace with yourself, and getting sober, you needed to cut back on smoking. Maybe not quit entirely, but cut back to three cigarettes a day.

You didn’t have to quit cigarettes cold turkey. Just one less. Then one more less.

Marijuana is legal now.

You could relax with a toke or two or three at the end of the day or an edible. It’s the hard stuff, the drugs and the booze that killed you. You didn’t need it.

You were enough. But you didn’t know that in your core, yet.

You had a beautiful house in the trees in northern California. That wouldn’t be your forever home, but it was a good start; a place you could retreat. I would have loved to hear you with Grace Slick and Stevie Nicks doing a Women Who Rock tour, the three of you.

Maybe by the 80s, you would have stepped back from the music business, found some other passions that fed your soul. It’s OK to turn it down a notch, to not boil at 212 degrees all the time.

You could have had comeback years.

You could have been backed by comeback bands and got together with different musicians. Sorta like the Traveling Wilburys, a supergroup that revived a career or two.

When you sang you mostly sang with guys. Singing with a couple of strong women would have given you a new sense of your own power, collaborative power.

You wouldn’t have become a mother, but maybe a stepmother. You had at least one long relationship to experience, clean and sober. You always retained that childlike sense of wonder and exuberance. You would have been great with kids.

Your hair would be short and shaggy and gray, maybe with colored streaks in it now. You’ve been eating mostly vegetarian for some decades, and like mucking around the garden, though arthritis is a bitch in the fingers and knees.

Maybe you would have answered a fan note, from me.

Maybe you would have written on social media, and had a blog site.

We could stop thinking of you as young and dead, and think of you as old and comfortable, an artist relaxing in her own skin, getting together with friends and veteran musicians at your northern California house. You would pull out a guitar, laughing.

I mean, it’s how other heroes and sheroes have done it. Maybe chance, maybe destiny, I don’t know. I’ve seen documentaries of old rock musicians who have no idea why they are still here, and others aren’t.

You’re present, but you aren’t, and it would be fun to see you at eighty. Still rocking. Still growling. Still shaking your hair and smiling that big grin, framed by crow’s feet and wrinkles.

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6 Responses

  1. Lost Cajun
    | Reply

    Just a quick story from my family’s past. Mom found herself a widow with nine children at the age of 35, having little to no work history. You can guess what the future looked like as we, the children, graduated from high school. My older brother and I escaped directly into the military. My younger brother had suffered polio when he was younger (at the same time, coincidently, as my father lay dying) and did not have that option. He literally ran away with the carnival two months after graduating! Those travels led him to California, and word filtered through the family that he was making a living in entertainment. He wrote his own music and strummed on a guitar throughout high school so that kinda tracked.

    Years later, we had a family reunion. I’d been sailing the high seas for a few days, and my older brother enjoyed the tropical weather in Vietnam for a week or two. (Late 70s or early 80s for the reunion?) The three of us are sitting around enjoying a brew, discussing the high and low points in our lives. When it came time for the younger brother to “tell all,” there was a lot of moaning and groaning. My older brother pushed him. “Okay, but what about the high points?” The younger one looked our older brother in the eye and declared, “Well, there was the time I opened for Janis Joplin.” He said it in such a matter-of-fact way, why would you not believe him?

    Now, we were all kinda known for our BS, but none of us were prone to outright lying. I was convinced there was a grain of truth in there somewhere. I won’t even try to guess how many beers it cost me to hear the whole story. Apparently, my younger brother had won a music competition in high school and was selected to represent his school in a regional competition. Alphabetically, the competitor from Beaumont High (my brother) performed before the competitor from Port Authur High (Janis Joplin). Heck, what do I know? Beaumont High might be the first school on the list! He may have, in fact, opened the competition. And, no, he did not claim to have won. He just opened for her!

    It’s sometimes hard to remember that even great people have humble beginnings.

  2. Kathryn C. Custer
    | Reply

    What a great thought process about Janis Joplin.

    • Sharon Johnson

      Thanks, Kitty, I loved her spirit.

  3. SingingFrogPress
    | Reply

    This is such a wonderful piece, Sharon. Thank you so much for imaging a better future for Janis than what she managed for herself. Every word hits a sweet spot and does justice to what she gave us as well as helping us really sense what what she and we lost.

    • Sharon Johnson

      Thanks, yeah, it’s difficult to think she could still be with us.

  4. Vicki
    | Reply

    Sharon, I LOVED every single word you wrote here….I’ve always loved Janis Joplin and secretly in another life I wanted to come back as Janis….without the drugs but with ALL the fire:)

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