Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for an EARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: alcohol abuse, drug abuse, overdose, violence, death.
Goodreads Rating: 3.5 Stars
“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no
And, feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin’ good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee”
Janis Joplin is THEE queen of classic rock and roll, and George-Warren does a great job collecting the pieces of her all too short career. Janis was a phenomenon during a time period where women didn’t sing the blues, let alone a white woman from a well-off family. Despite the squeaky image Janis had growing up, she never fit the status quo- always a tomboy, also marching to the beat of her own drum. As she entered high school, two years younger than those in her class (she skipped two grades in elementary), she shed the expectations of a typical 1950’s woman and stepped into the beatnik scene. Here, she fell into a fast paced crowd that not only accepted Janis for her quirks, but also encouraged her talents in art and music.
As Janis learned how to party with the crowd in Port Author, TX, she developed her singing style around blues and mountain folk artists from previous decades- huge influences being Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton. She worked her range from her church soprano to influx with grit, growls, energy, and emotion. Forming a band with a few of her friends, she started playing gigs and getting noticed. Soon San Fransisco and the Beat scene were calling her name.
From here, Janis hops on the rollercoaster that would bring her the highest highs and lowest lows of her life. Bouncing between San Fransisco and Port Author, Janis would party with some of the biggest names in the 1960s, including Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and the Beatles. She would also find her Achilles heel- cheap wine and speed. George-Warren touches on it all, making the reader feel like a part of the party and simultaniously dreading the demise of one amazingly talented musician.
Additionally, Janis is not only about the musician and her life, but it’s a transportation back to a turbulent time in history where segregation, rock and roll, and feminism were huge topics of debate. Joplin’s identity was shaped not only by nature and nurture in her home life, but also by the current events in her home town of Port Arthur, TX. As George-Warren points out, when Janis was 15, she was the only student in her class to speak out against segregation- which in turn made her a pariah in her high school, with many picking on and using racial slurs against her.
Janis encapsulates a wild period in American cultural history, and is aptly nostalgic and heartbreaking. The only thing I wish George-Warren had done was make her narrative a little more streamlined and cohesive. There were sections of the novel in which I lost track of what time frame, age, or location Joplin was in, which made for difficulties in comprehension. Yet, maybe this was also a stylistic choice- a way to simulate the whirlwind of Janis’s life. Either way, I’d still encourage fans of the artist, decade, and music memoirs to give Janis a read. Also, I highly suggest you give her music a listen- especially the lesser-played ones like Ball & Chain, and To Love Somebody.
Expected Publication Date: October 22, 2019
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
TL/DR: Janis: Her Life and Her Music by Holly George-Warren is a biography of Janis Joplin’s rise to fame.
Read it? Yes, especially for Joplin fans!
Recommend it? Yes, definitely.
Buy it? If you love the author, artist, decade, or books about musicians, this is an auto-buy.
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