“I’m one of those regular weird people.” ~ Janis Joplin
This week was the anniversary of the passing of the queen of rock and roll: Janis Joplin.
I still remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I was in 11th grade and getting ready for school that morning when it was announced on the radio.
I played my radio every minute of every day as long as I was allowed. In the angst of my teenage years, music was the gateway to processing my rollercoaster ride of emotions. And Janis Joplin was my drug of choice.
Man, that woman could wail!
She could be hard and throw it all down without regret. She could be the painful edge of a blunt razor. And her tender side made you wrap up in a ball on the floor and cry till your soul was drained.
The pain in her heart exploded into a raging, soulful voice that was and still is like no other.
I found a black satin ribbon that fateful morning and wore it as an armband for my 30 days of mourning. I could not be consoled. My hormone-charged body and melancholy soul had lost its soulmate.
I didn’t know then and probably never even thought to consider why this wild, unique woman and her uncanny blues voice touched me the way it did.
As I sit here on the 52nd anniversary of the day she left us, reading all the tributes on my social media feeds, I think I have a better grasp as to why she is still the artist I go to when I need to heal and why her life influenced the woman I became and the qualities I still gravitate toward when I need to remember who I am at my core.
Janis did Janis without apology. She desperately wanted to be loved but would not compromise herself for that love.
She was not ashamed of her pain and uninhibitedly shared it with the world in hopes that it would help soothe the pain of others.
She could be tough as nails in one moment and as fragile as butterfly wings in the next. She unashamedly displayed it all through her unconventional voice and eccentric style.
She was not afraid to be seen.
Some will read this and wonder how I can be so worshipful of a heroin addict. Yes, it is tragic and was the medical cause of her untimely death. Some might attribute her addiction to the times she lived in. It was, after all, the era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
I have watched all the live footage that exists of her. I have read every word written about her and watched all the documentaries. And I have listened to that voice and every word she ever sang.
I believe she had a hole deep in her soul that her love of the blues and even the love of her adoring fans could not fill. I believe I can empathize with that endless ache that is so deeply felt, not just in the dark moments but that also quietly whispers in your ear in the joyful times, reminding you the laughter will never be enough to ease that pain.
Even her laugh—some would call it more of a cackle—could make me smile, even though it resonated with her underlying sorrow.
We all have our ways, our go-tos if you will, to try and ease the sadness we carry within us. Some choose alcohol or drugs. Others prefer excessive shopping or loveless sexual encounters. For others it’s food.
I have tried them all at one time or another. But I always come back to music. It is the drug that I share with Janis. The one that helps me feel it all and work my way through it.
Did she leave us way to soon? Of course.
Do I understand and forgive her for her fateful mistake on that unfortunate day. Of course.
Her beautiful spirit and soul-healing voice lives on—and that will have to be good enough.