Alex Blaze

Queer music Friday - Janis Joplin

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 22, 2009 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Janis Joplin, queer music

Since a gender-bending, sexually ambiguous rock singer just lost American Idol, I thought it would be appropriate to feature another gender-bending, sexually ambiguous rock singer here on QMF that had lots of success back in the 60's: Janis Joplin.

I consider her one of my favorite singers of all time - her range, her deep, soulful, bluesy rasp, her song interpretation, and her ability to show deep pain in her voice, and set her apart from most of the vocalists of the 20th century. Her performances were rugged and real, never over-the-top, energetic, and engaging. Her banter that often included her asking the audience if they were stoned and calling everyone "man." She was a hippie through and through, dismissed in high school as a freak, and dead at age 27 from a heroin overdose. There was never any question about whether her public personality was a performance to increase speculation about her private life or just her, authentically.

Here's her "Crybaby," and more live performances from her after the jump.

Here's her cover of The Chantel's "Maybe," which also happens to be one of my favorite songs. I found it on YouTube just a few weeks ago and was blown away with her performance of it. It's very different from the formidable Arlene Smith's doo-wop version:

And here's the most haunting performance of George Gershwin's "Summertime" that I've ever heard, a year before she died:

She also wasn't afraid to tackle religion and politics in her music. One of the best-known original Janis Joplin songs is "Mercedes Benz."

And who can forget "Piece of my Heart"?

About her bisexuality, well, I'll just give the floor to Teresa Theophano:

Although Joplin took numerous female lovers, she never openly identified as lesbian or bisexual. Instead, she considered herself beyond categorization: she was simply sexual.

Her friends mainly referred to her as bisexual, yet the press has long loved to heterosexualize her past, while lesbian culture often claims her as one of its own.

The truth is that Janis maintained long-term relationships with several women, including Peggy Caserta, whose controversial 1973 memoir Going Down with Janis documented their affair and mutual drug addiction. At the same time, Joplin was also on the lookout for "one good man" with whom to settle down. Twice engaged, she never did marry.


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The younger generation have no taste whatsoever and they shall be harshly disciplined on a daily basis for not giving continuous homage to my sweet Janis.

I've always loved Janice. She was embodiment of the 60's rock, drug culture. Thanks for putting her up!

The gender-bender Adam's 'lil sister, 16 year-old Allison Iraheta (this year's American Idol 3rd runner-up)did a fantastic job with Cry Baby in her last appearance on the show.

Rick Elliott | May 23, 2009 2:24 AM

Wow! Alex, what a nice trip down Memory Lane. I can still hear Janis and "Me and Bobby McGee." I remember dancing to a band called Sweet Grass who had a pint-sized singer who had the soul of Janis, but not the voice. I wish Janis could have sung Danny's Song.
Janis came from Port Arthur, Texas--a refinery town for Spindletop. The town's rusting away--no downtown, fast dwindling population. It's a little like Janis--it had its moment in the sun.
The rasp in Janis's voice was her vocal chords singing two notes at the same time possibly leading to a condition that would have reduced her to a whisper. Or it might have been nodes on her vocal chords--like June Allyson. Her voice couldn't have lasted much longer even if she had lived. And I can't picture a doddering Janis in a nursing home all alone except for her memories. It may be kindness that her career stopped at its peak.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 23, 2009 7:51 AM

And her good fans, myself included, showed up to her concerts sporting our bottles of "Southern Comfort," her favorite drink, as gifts. Alex, you amaze me with this one, and no, I did not need to click a single link. This is a dimension in you I had no idea existed. (I usually completely overlook the Friday music choice)

She is forever young, vital, outrageous and a trailblazer for other female stars with the "cohones" to deliver. Her appeal was well beyond our community and mother's milk was to the raw, real courage that it takes to live free. That is what made the end of her life to heroin all the more stupid.

Next week I dare you to do Billie Holiday! Listen to some of her stuff and you will be amazed.

Janis lives. One of those performers I'll always regret not being able to see live (I was in grade school when she died). Janis was an icon of her time and her influence continues long after her death. You can only wonder what she might have accomplished if she'd lived longer.

Just amazing. Raw and real, always. Janis was so great at making feeling bad, sound sooooo goood.

Nice piece. Always loved Janis as a singer and as an interesting person who had trouble accepting herself.

Thanks for all the comments and I'm glad you all liked the videos!

Next week, back to bands no one's ever heard of. :)