Sunday, August 29, 2004

A Force of Nature

Zelda, Trish and yours truly went to the movies this afternoon and saw the film, Festival Express; a documentary that chronicles a tour of some of the royalty of 60’s music that traveled on a private train through Canada during the summer of 1970.

The troubadours of this traveling road show included The Grateful Dead, Sha Na Na, Delaney Bonnie and Friends, The Band, and Janis Joplin.

Janis Joplin. Good god, has there ever been a talent like this before that has seen the light of day --- a woman who bared her soul on stage every time and who sang as if she literally were giving her audience every little piece of her heart?

Some have come close, but I don’t think anyone has done it with the veracity that the Port Arthur Texas native did.

There are two moments in the film when we see Janis perform. The first time she is singing, “Cry Baby”, and when she winds up and let’s go with that banshee wail of hers, it produces goose bumps. Later on we see her tough-talking-self along with Jerry Garcia thanking the men who made the Festival Express such a big success; a few moments later, she grabs the mike and tears through the song, “Tell Mama”. During this number Janis is bedecked in her trade-mark feathers and boas and dozens of bracelets and necklaces. She shimmies and shakes and jerks and thrusts and looks like a Hippie version of Mae West. This performance, in a word, amazing.

It is also the last image we see in the film until the credits roll.

Earlier on in the movie we see Rick Danko, Janis and Jerry Garcia and some other musicians singing and laughing. It’s a very candid moment. None of the musicians seem aware of any cameras. I turned to Trish and whispered to her, “Look at Janis, she looks like a kid playing dress up.” And she did. Her big purple glasses and her tight red t-shirt and vest and tons of necklaces; a little kid that got into her mother’s closet and just went to town. And then she started jibing with Garcia; and that voice! She sounded like a little old lady telling off color jokes. Finally Garcia turns to her and says, “You know, I’ve been in love with you since the first time I every saw you.” With that, she turned back into the little girl, beaming as if a teacher had just praised her for an A Plus paper.

Janis died several months after the tour ended of a heroin overdose. She was twenty seven at the time of her death.

Luckily her image, and more importantly, her voice is preserved; a little girl who, when she willed it, seemed to be a force of nature.

Hurricane Janis, a force never to be seen again.




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