Nearly five decades since its version by Janis Joplin topped the U.S. singles chart, the song “Me and Bobby McGee” remains as popular as ever. For some, it evokes of a time when days were more straightforward and more relaxing. For others, it told of a period of unique lyricism and musical style.
But what do you know about the song? Do you know there are a lot of useful and entertaining tidbits of trivia about this soul and blues classic?
If you are a fan of the song, an admirer of Janis Joplin, or just plain music buff, here are top thirty fun facts that you may not know about “Me and Bobby McGee.”
A Well-loved Cover
Written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, Roger Miller initially sings “Me and Bobby McGee.” Later, other performers made their versions of the song, including Kristofferson himself and the Grateful Dead, which regularly made a cover of the song from 1971 to 1974.
In 1969, Miller’s version peaked at number 12 on the country’s country chart.
Photo by Bettmann / Getty Images
The next year, Gordon Lightfoot’s cover of the song landed number 13 on the U.S. Pop Chart. It even became the top country song in Canada, his native country, that year. The song was also considered a top 10 song in South Africa the next year.
However, the song became much more popular when Joplin’s version of the song became number one in the singles chart in the United States in 1971.
What made Joplin’s version became more unique was that the cover topped the charts after her death. This song became the only second posthumous single that topped in the history of U.S. charts. The first one was Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”
Kristofferson previously said the song was not written for Joplin, but the truth of the matter is, the song has become associated with the legendary singer.
Joplin’s version became the country singer’s only number one single. Fast forward to 2004; Rolling Stone ranked Joplin’s version at 148 in its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
The song’s original version depicted Bobby as a woman. However, Joplin, who was a good friend of Kristofferson (some even speculated she was his lover) when she was starting as a singer until her untimely demise, changed Bobby’s sex and also changed some lyrics in the version of her song.
The title of the song actually came from Fred Foster, noted music producer and founder of Monument Records. One day, he called up Kristofferson and suggested that the title be “Me and Bobby McKee.” Kristofferson thought he meant “McGee.”
Kris Kristofferson Playing his guitar. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
If you are wondering who Bobby McKee was, she worked as a secretary of Boudleaux Bryant, who at that time was with Fred in the same building. Kristofferson later learned that McKee was a she.
The original song talks about two drifters in a road story, the narrator and his girlfriend, McGee. In Joplin’s version, McGee was her boyfriend. The narrator in the song talks about a diesel truck and then later singing with its driver as they travel. The narrator and his girlfriend travel all the way to California, becoming more intimate along the way and helping each other as they struggle through life’s hardships. By the final verse, McGee gets tired of their lives on the road and ultimately chooses to settle down.
McGee then amicably separates with the narrator in the song. The narrator continues his road lifestyle, and while his life may never be the same without her, the narrator says he would consider trading his life to be with McGee even for just a day.
Joplin, the Queen of Psychedelic Rock
Joplin was an American singer-songwriter who started her fame in the late 1960s. She was the lead singer of the Big Brother and the Holding Company, a psychedelic acid-rock band. She later became known as a solo artist, with her first-ever dominant public performance staged at the Monterey Pop Festival. Her stint led her to become one of the top draws at the Woodstock festival as well as Festival Express train tour.
She was prominent for her unique ability to sing and perform various instruments. Her fans described her stage performances as “electric.” During the peak of her career, fans called Joplin as the “Queen of Psychedelic Soul.”
Photo by Malcolm Lubliner/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Known as “Pearl” among her loved ones, Joplin was also a dancer, music arranger, and a painter. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked her number 46 in its “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list. In 2008 list, the venerable magazine listed her as number 28. In 1995, the legendary country and blues singer was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
If you do not know what psychedelic rock means, it is a unique style of rock music that is inspired, by psychedelic culture, which revolved around hallucinogenic drugs that altered perception. Psychedelic rock is meant to replicate and even improved the mind-altering experiences one can get from psychedelic drugs, most especially LSD.
Originating in the 1960s among American and British musicians, the sounds and style of psychedelic rock reflect LSD’s three core effects: dechronicization, depersonalization, and later dynamization; which essentially detach a user from the reality.
Musically, the effects can be displayed using electronic or non-Western sounds, novelty studio tricks, disjunctive song structures, as well as longer instrumental segments. Advocates of the earlier psychedelic rock showed musicians showing influences based in jazz, the blues, and folk, while some featured Indian classical influence that critics called “raga rock.”
A Song Hailed by Critics
“Me And Bobby McGee” was a well-acclaimed song. In 1971, the Grammy Awards recognized the song’s greatness with three nominations, including:
– “Song of the Year” (but the award finally went to Carole King who wrote “You’ve Got a Friend”)
– “Pop Female Vocalist” (but Carole King beat Joplin’s version with her “Tapestry” rendition)
Singer Kris Kristofferson Attends Grammy Awards. Photo by George Rose/Getty Images
– “Best Country and Western Song” (but the Grammy went to “Me and Bobby McGee” composer Kristofferson for his song “Help Me Make it through the Night”)
Joplin’s version also received a nomination for the album ‘Pearl,’ where “Me and Bobby McGee” was taken.
The film “The Last Movie” also showed Kristofferson singing a version of “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Joplin, the First Female Rock Star
Born in 1943, critics called Joplin as the U.S. industry’s first female rock star. Joplin, who lived from 1943 to 1970, came of age during the late 1950sm spanning the so-called “beat” generation as well as the hippie era. Although critics and fans called her as the first female rock star in the United States, had she lived longer, her musical talent as well as her go-to attitude on living her dream, may have brought her more recognition and even more accolades.
Photo by Tucker Ransom/Archive Photos/Getty Images
When Joplin entered high school, she entertained her by doing pitch-perfect imitations of then folk singer Jean Ritchie and folk and blues vocalist Odetta, the so-called voice and symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.
Critics often dub Joplin as the first queen of the rock ‘n’ roll music, crediting her singular voice, unique musicality, and intense live performances. Joplin was considered rough around the edges, charismatic but at the same time vulnerable during her performances, and later paved the way for women through the years to enter the industry.
Joplin, the Beatnik
After graduation from high school, Joplin immediately joined the beatnik enclave in California, defying all the unsavory remarks against her by her classmates and be “in.”
In 1962, upon her return to Texas, Joplin started describing herself a beatnik. That is a label that the singer would use to call herself all her life. Later, in 1970, she told the media, that beatniks like her would be considered the “older” generation of hippies. That was also the time when she started realizing her ambition to become a singer. She began starting out as a blues singer performing in Austin and Houston. Joplin’s style has been substantially influenced by the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith, her all-time favorite female performer.
Photo by Paul Ryan/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
In 1971, when Joplin finally began embracing her rock star image, her version of Kristofferson’s song, “Me and Bobby McGee,” immediately peaked at the top of the U.S. singles chart.
The beatniks, or beat generation, was a part of a literary and artistic movement whose works analyzed and shaped the culture and politics of the United States in the post-World War II era. Central elements of the movement involved a rejection of historical values that were considered standard and integral to American society, making a spiritual quest, an adventure of American and Eastern religions, explicit depictions of the human condition, outright rejection of materialism, sexual liberation as well as exploration, and experimentation with psychedelic drugs.
Until now, music critics discussed all the things that might have been in Joplin’s case – what would have happened if she has crossed over to western or country music?
Joplin, the feminist?
For some critics, Joplin’s metamorphosis from what other people describe as an “ugly duckling” to the country music’s peacock meant that a female musician did not have to be conventionally pretty, who suffered from acne problem and weight issues, could not only redefine her beauty through energy, sweetness, soul, and even a sense of humor. Not only did Joplin took advantage to change society’s notions of beauty and attractiveness, but she also changed them through her songs, performances, and even persona.
Janis Joplin, San Jose Pop Festival. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Myra Friedman had been the long-time public relations representative of the then fast-rising singer Joplin. She was also a staff of Albert Grossman, the legendary manager of the crooner. She recalled that in 1970, Joplin complained about the song “Get It While You Can,” saying that people thought of the song as referring merely to sex. After the untimely demise of Joplin, the song topped the U.S. chart singles. It also became a motto of the hippies, partly because the Vietnam War back then resulted in the deaths of so many young people.
Friedman recalled telling Joplin that she should not be surprised about the song’s interpretation for many people because she then had a reputation (albeit wrongly and underserved) for promiscuity. Joplin protested to her pronouncement.
Part of Joplin’s high school rebellion included an aversion to the society’s standards of lady-like behavior, including crossing a river with her male friends, visiting pool halls, and drinking.
For Friedman, Joplin embodied the budding ideas of the feminist movement, especially the freedom to choose for oneself.
The Joplin-Redding Connection
For Joplin, the top inspiration for her unique singing style was Otis Redding, considered as among American popular music’s greatest singers in history. He was an American songwriter, arranger, talent producer, and talent scout. A legendary artist when it comes to rhythm and blues and soul music, his singing style obtained inspiration from the gospel music movement that preceded the genre.
Redding’s singing style shaped the form of so many soul artists during the 1960s.
Otis Redding performs at the Monterey International Pop Festival. Photo by Bob Buchanan/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Redding received a plethora of posthumous accolades. These include getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, garnering the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and being included in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Aside from “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Redding was also known for songs such as “Respect” as well as “Try a Little Tenderness.”
Critics have called Redding the “King of Soul,” and remains one of the most recognized artists of the soul genre. Redding’s open-throated singing, the manic, tremolo, and vibrato, perceived honesty, as well as his electrifying stage performances were some of his particular hallmarks, and even the use of interjections in his renditions.
Joplin, the gender-defying artist
Joplin was also very unapologetic when it comes to defying gender roles during her time. In an interview, radio host Howard Smith asked her that she seems to be so upfront sexually, bothering some people in the women’s liberation movement.
Janis Joplin in London. April 1969. Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
Joplin answered that she represents everyone, adding she feels she likes anyone whom she wants at the moment, whether it is a guy or a girl. She even asked, how can people be mad at the idea?
In 1973, Peggy Caserta wrote details of her romantic relationship with Joplin, even including snippets about their sex life. Joplin’s another long-term relationship was with Jae Whitaker, which became controversial not only because both were women, but also because it was interracial. Just two months after the two met in 1963, the singer already moved in with Whitaker. This was Joplin’s most sustained relationship, even if the romantic ties lasted for just two years. The pair, however, remained close friends until the singer’s death.
Kristofferson, the Prolific Artist
Kristofferson’s compositions are very popular, with at least 450 artists doing their versions of his songs, including “Me and Bobby McGee” and other hits such as “For the Good Times” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” which topped music charts.
Kristofferson has won several Grammy awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award four years ago (2014). Kristofferson, who is among the Country Music Hall of Fame, has recorded more than 25 albums.
Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand in the romantic film ‘A Star is Born’. Photo by Warner Bros.
But Kristofferson is not just one of the country music’s biggest draws. He is also a movie star, acting in films such as “The Last Movie,” “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “A Star is Born,” and “Planet of the Apes.”
Kristofferson won a Golden Globe for his performance in “A Star is Born” which also starred Barbara Streisand. His natural charisma and dynamic presence have become some of the memorable performances in the world of cinema.
A Road Story
“Me and Bobby McGee” is a song that depicts what most people call a “road story.”
In the song, there are two main characters, two friends or lovers, going to New Orleans despite having a lack of resources. In the song’s first verse, the two are quite tired and waiting for a train. Later, they decided to hitchhike instead. A truck driver picks them up just before it begins to rain. The truck driver takes them to the two’s destination. Along the way, the couple starts playing the blues, performing every tune the driver knows.
Photo by Giuseppe Pino\Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images
The following verse shows us the speaker reminiscing the days she spent on the road, traveling cross-country. The narrator tells us how she and Bobby shared their innermost souls and thoughts and created an incredibly intimate bond. She says Bobby made her very special and safe, through various experiences, both bad and good.
The song ends, unfortunately, on a sadder note. Bobby, who is probably tired of life being on the road, separates from the narrator, in the hopes of finally settling down and making a home. The narrator wishes Bobby only the best, as she does not want to follow his lead. The narrator continues to her journey on the road. That is even though; the narrator may no longer find bliss without Bobby at her side.
A Story That We May Have Heard Before
Believe it or not, the song’s story has been told in so many formats and times already that one cannot be faulted into thinking it already constitutes its separate genre. Details of course vary, but the premise essentially follows the same template: two intimate companions taking a road trip, searching for freedom or love of some sort, meeting strange people, and charting separate journeys in the end.
Photo by Bettmann / Getty Images
Does this sound familiar to you? There are so many films that follow a similar structure? From Ridley Scott’s “Thelma and Louise” to Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” there are a myriad of films that can be considered “road movies.”
What about books, you say? There are so many examples, including classic ones such as Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” but there are undoubtedly hundreds more, if not thousands.
The underlying premise has always been a successful formula in literature because it represents a thing that resonates quite powerfully in the country’s culture: expansion and discovery.
A Hippie Anthem
Even if their days are long gone, the song actually became a top anthem among young people during the sixties, especially hippies were expanding their minds and discovering themselves.
Truth be told, not all the country’s hippies traversed the American countryside unlike the people in “Me and Bobby McGee,” but the quest in a road story is a good metaphor for the real-life pursuit of an alternative, open way to live. The song talks about people who rejected accepted social norms and look for more freeing lifestyles.
Photo by Keystone/Getty Images
Joplin had a unique connection to the song because it accurately reflected her real life. Consider Joplin as America’s iconic hippie. Her entire life was like a big road trip that began in Texas and later ended with her demise by heroin overdose.
Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” version was released after her death, and her untimely demise may have been a reason why song landed directly to the top of the country’s charts.
Because of this unfortunate but significant timing, the song takes on a greater meaning; it became the last hoorah or warrior call for a martyr or free soul of the 1960s, the last cry from an amazing decade, taking a lot of idyllic dreams with it.
Joplin’s Signature Song
The dots between the song and the real life of Joplin shows us the various factors that led to the long-lasting success and power of the song. It is almost as if the song was created specifically for Joplin, which may not be entirely far-fetched, considering Kristofferson co-wrong the song.
Photo by Alan Band/Keystone/Getty Images
But evidence proves otherwise. First, the track was written originally with the speaker as a man and “Bobby McGee” as a female. Second, the song was recorded various times by other singers before Joplin made her version. Singer Roger Miller got first made a recording of the ditty, and his cover became a top country music song.
Despite the various performers covering the song, including by Kristofferson himself, Joplin’s version has stood out as the signature cover.
Maybe it is because of the unruliness and grit of Joplin’s voice as well as the emotion that came with a performance that makes her cover most believable and compelling to many people. Alternatively, perhaps her version amply reflects her struggles, since Joplin effectively channeled the personal struggles she had and made the track her very own.
Joplin was born in Port Arthur, in the state of Texas. Her mother served as a business college while her father worked as an engineer for Texaco. When Joplin was a teenager, she performed in a local choir and started listening to blues records. Joplin repeatedly said she was considered an outcast when she was in high school, partly due to the fact she was overweight and suffering from bad acne. Her artistic interests also led to some of her schoolmates ostracizing her.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Later, she graduated in 1960 and studied at what is now called Lamar University in Beaumont, in the state of Texas. Joplin soon transferred to the University of Texas. However, she did not graduate.
A few years later, Joplin moved to San Francisco, recording some blues standards. The next year, she had started a methamphetamine and heroin issue. Her friends begged her to return to Port Arthur.
Joplin, the Budding Singer
During her stay in Texas, Joplin studied again at Lamar University and started doing solo performances with her guitar. She was later recruited to go back to San Francisco and become part of the band Big Brother and The Holding Company. Joplin stayed sober for more or less a year before succumbing to alcohol use and later intravenous drugs.
Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
In 1967, her band performed during the Monterey Pop Festival, which later became considered as Joplin’s large-scale debut. Her cover of “Ball ’n’ Chain” became one of the signature moments of the festival. Her performance at the music festival clinched her and band deal with the Columbia Records, which released their debut album months after the Monterey festival.
The next year, the band’s album “Cheap Thrills” was launched, which immediately resulted in the hits “Piece of my Heart” and “Summertime.” Initially, critics were not very enthusiastic about “Cheap Thrills,” saying there were production issues. But the reviews of critics did not hinder the band’s album from landing on top of the Billboard’s album charts, even garnering double-platinum status.
Joplin, the Solo Performer
After “Cheap Thrills,” she left the band for a solo career supported by the Kozmic Blues Band, releasing an album that eventually landed at number five on the country’s charts. Later, in August 1969, she performed at the Woodstock festival. Joplin performed at about two in the morning, following the performance of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images
Arriving about ten hours before her schedule, she took heroin and drank liquor heavily. Joplin’s voice during her performance was considered hoarse. She later asked organizers against including her performance in the soundtrack or documentary. Joplin’s performances later became more unpredictable, leading to a break-up with the band at the year-end.
Joplin stayed for a few months in South America. There she tried avoiding drug use. But when she returned to the United States, she returned to her old habits. At this time, Joplin formed the Full Tilt Boogie Band, which would become her final group. The band performed with her during Canada’s Festival Express train tour.
Joplin, the Music Legend
In 1970, Joplin debuted the song “Mercedes Benz,” after writing the song earlier during the day in a nearby bar. She and the band later headed to Los Angeles to start a new “Pearl” album, which would showcase her biggest track, “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Photo by © Ted Streshinsky/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
During the band’s recording of “Pearl,” she failed to return for a recording session in October 1970. The road manager of the band went to the motel where the singer was staying and found Joplin dead on the floor just beside her bed. The official cause of her death was a heroin overdose, which may be compounded by alcohol. Joplin was 27 years old. In 1995, Joplin was inducted into the country’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Foster, the Co-Writer
Fred Foster, the co-writer of the song “Me and Bobby McGee,” is a noted record producer, songwriter, and founder of Monument Records.
He was born in Rutherford County, in the state of North Carolina. He struggled to help his mother, following his father’s death. When he was seventeen, Foster eventually moved to Washington, D.C., working for ABC-Paramount Records and Mercury Records.
Fred Foster with Fred Carter and Willie Nelson. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
In 1955, while he was working at Mercury Records, Foster unsuccessfully tried to egg Fred Talmadge, then the label’s Marketing Director, to recruit the 20-year-old Elvis Presley, who was still at Sun Records but had competing bids from both RCA Records and Atlantic.
Mercury, like Atlantic, offered 30,000 dollars but RCA outbid both companies by offering the then-burgeoning Presley the amount of 40,000 dollars.
As Presley later sold about 10 million record units the following year, one can say that RCA was able to recoup its investment on the singer in 24 hours or less.
Foster, the Consummate Producer
In 1958, Foster used the life savings he had and formed Monument Records with the help of minority partner Buddy Deane, a disc jockey working at WTTG.
The next year, Deane returned his stock to Foster. A year later, Foster relocated his label to Hendersonville, Tennessee. He remained active with his label all the way until 1983. He is credited with the popularity of Roy Orbison’s career, launching many of his top hits, including: “Only the Lonely,” “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “In Dreams,” “It’s Over,” “Blue Bayou,” and “Mean Woman Blues.”
Fred Foster with pop singer Kathy Linden. Photo by Elmer Williams/Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum/Getty Images
He also played a huge role in the early career of country music legend of Dolly Parton, signing her to Monument Records in 1964, quickly after her Nashville’s arrival, as well as managing her recordings, which landed with her first top country hit, “Dumb Blonde,” later in 1967.
He also produced various recordings for various singers and artists. These included Billy Grammer, Kristofferson, and Larry Gatlin.
Foster, the Blues Producer
In 1963, Foster expanded his company, creating the soul and R&B group label Sound Stage 7.
The company’s roster of artists boasted the Dixie Belles, Joe Simon, Ivory Joe Hunter, and Arthur Alexander.
Kris Kristofferson, Fred Foster and Willie Nelson. Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images
Foster later produced the 2006 Grammy Award-nominated “You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker” as well as collaborated with the 2007 album of “Last of the Breed,” with Merle Haggard and Ray Price.
In 2009, Foster became part of Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. Three years later, he became part of North Carolina’s Music Hall of Fame.
Miller, the First Performer of the Song
While the song will forever be associated with Joplin, it was American singer and songwriter Roger Dean Miller Sr. who first covered the song. The musician and actor was popular for honky-tonk-inspired novelty songs as well as his various country and pop hits such as “Dang Me,” “England Swings,” and “King of the Road,” which all became prominent during the mid-1960s.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
After being raised in Oklahoma and serving in the military, Miller started his career by writing songs during the late 1950s, penning various hits.
He later started a recording career and became popular in the mid-1960s. He continued to record and do music tours well into the 1990s, making his final country ditty “Old Friends” in 1982 with Willie Nelson.
Miller also wrote and sang some tracks for the Disney film “Robin Hood.” He also wrote the music, penned the lyrics, and acted in “Big River,” a Tony-award winning musical in 1985.
In 1992, Miller succumbed to lung cancer. Three years later, he became part of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Roger Miller Museum in Oklahoma honors his musical legacy.
The Bittersweet Inspiration Behind the Song
“Me and Bobby McGee” draws inspiration from the seminal 1954 film “La Strada” (literally translated as “The Road”) directed by Federico Fellini. Recognized as one of the most influential and greatest filmmakers of all time, Fellini co-wrote the screenplay with Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli.
Scene from ‘la strada’ starring Anthony Quinn, Guilietta Masina. photo by john springer collection/corbis/corbis via getty images
The movie is about a young woman named Gelsomina (portrayed by Italian actress Giulietta Masina) who was bought by a strongman Zampanò (played by Mexican actor Anthony Quinn) her mother. Zampanò later takes Gelsomina with him as they travel on the road.
Initial reaction from critics on the film was harsh. When it was screened at the Venice Film Festival, a bitter controversy turned into a brawl between the film’s detractors and Fellini’s supporters.
But later, the film “La Strada” has become one of the world’s most influential films, according to the American Film Institute. In 1957, the film clinched the first Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film. In 1992, the British Film Institute placed the film fourth in its directors’ list of top ten films.
Modern Takes on the Song
As musical styles changed in the Eighties and Nineties, song covers generally died down. However, songs like “Me and Bobby McGee” proved they can pass the test of time, making a resurgent comeback during the late Nineties and early 2000s. Popular artists during the period, including LeAnn Rimes, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Anne Murray, Pink, as well as legendary country music star Dolly Parton did their takes on the classic ditty.
LeAnn Rimes performs in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images
Aside from Hollywood pop icons, international singers have also covered the song, even translating its lyrics into other languages, such as Hebrew, Afrikaans, Swedish and Italian, making the song a global classic. The incredible volume of performances and covers that pay tribute to the song show how beloved and timelessness the song is, even though the song will always be associated with Joplin.
Joplin’s death stunned fans and critics worldwide, and shocked the music industry, especially since it came just weeks after the death of Jimi Hendrix, who died at the age of 27 like Joplin. (Some people would later find a supposed pattern to the death of celebrated musicians and singers at the age of 27, the so-called “27 Club.”)
Photo by Gems/Redferns
Music historian Tom Moon said the blues singer had “a devastatingly original voice,” while The New York Times music columnist Jon Pareles said she was an “overpowering and deeply vulnerable” artist. Author Megan Terry likened her to pop icon Elvis Presley, given her capacity to enthrall the audience.
A book about the singer by publicist Myra Friedman was excerpted and reported in many newspapers.
Critics pointed that Joplin was among the first singers that opened a lot of opportunities in the rock music industry for future female singers.
Joplin, the Avant-Garde Artist
Joplin’s body art became an early moment in society’s later acceptance and embrace of tattoos as art. Her wristlet and a small heart tattoo on her left breast, made by noted tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, became an inspiration to many.
Photo by Malcolm Lubliner/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Some critics say, Joplin is the first tattooed celebrity or at least the one that sported the art in the public eye. While the technique has been around for centuries, it was only during the Seventies when a big-time pop icon like Joplin publicly showed a tattoo.
Today, tattoos, have become an everyday part of our culture. More and more people from various walks of life, prefer to adorn their bodies with different kinds of beautiful ink.
Another Joplin’s trademark that became popular was her flamboyant and unique hairstyles, which usually included colored streaks, as well as accessories including beads, feathers, and scarves. Every time she went to New York City, Joplin, usually along with actor Michael J. Pollard, she visited Limbo on St. Mark’s Place. Joplin, who was very familiar to the employees of the boutique, made a habit of setting aside vintage as well as out-of-this-world garments she preferred donning on stage and off.
Tribute to Joplin
Folk-rock vocal group The Mamas & the Papas paid tribute to the blues singer with their 1971 song “Pearl.” Other tributes to Joplin included Leonard Cohen’s ditty in 1974, “Chelsea Hotel #2,” Jerry Garcia’s 1972 song, “Birdsong,” and Mimi Farina’s 1972 composition, “In the Quiet Morning” (most prominently covered by Joan Baez).
In 1979, the movie “The Rose” talked about a story that is loosely based on the singer’s life. The film’s original title was supposed to be “Pearl,” which is Joplin’s nickname and the title of the singer’s last album. However, her family begged off from producers who had requested to use the rights to her life story. Actress and singer Bette Midler later earned a nomination for the Oscars for Best Actress because of her fantastic performance in the movie.
Bette Midler in a scene from the movie ‘The Rose’ Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images
In the late Eighties, the Janis Joplin Memorial was erected in Port Arthur, Texas. The monument was a multi-image sculpture of the artist in gold.
In 1992, Joplin’s younger sister Laura published the first major biography of the singer in two decades. In the “Love, Janis,” Laura said her sister enjoyed performing on the Dick Cavett Show. She also wrote that Joplin had difficulties with some of her schoolmates in Texas, but not the entire institution. Laura also wrote Joplin was very enthusiastic after singing at Woodstock in 1969.
Joplin and Her Legacy Today
During the late 1990s, Randal Myler created and directed the play “Love, Janis” with the help of Laura and guitarist Sam Andrew. Opening in 2001 and originally slated for just some weeks of performances, the play won acclaim from critics, packed houses, and was staged over several times.
Washington’s Arena Stage featured production in 2013 of “A Night with Janis Joplin,” which starred Mary Bridget Davies. In the production, Joplin puts on an event for the audience, while at the same time telling snippets of her past musical inspirations including Aretha Franklin, Odetta, among others. The production went on tour three years later.
Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin during the opening night of ‘One Night With Janis Joplin’. Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images
In November 2013, the singer was given the 2,510th Hollywood Walk of Fame star for her positive contributions to the world of music. Her star can be found at 6752 Hollywood Boulevard, which is in front of the Musicians Institute.
In August 2014, the Postal Service launched a commemorative stamp that honored Joplin, which was included in the agency’s Music Icons Forever Stamp series.
In December 2015, Amy J. Berg launched her biographical documentary film about Joplin. It immediately became a Critics’ Pick of The New York Times.
A Lasting Influence
Joplin had a profound influence on the singers that followed her. For instance, musician Florence Welch said she had learned from Joplin about female blues singers and the power to bridge between soul and psychedelic blues.
Janis Joplin at the Monterey Pop Festival. Photo by © Ted Streshinsky/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
Welch said Joplin showed vulnerability and power at the same time while performing. For her, the blues legend was so free and was not afraid to wail during her performances, immediately connecting her with the audience.
Stevie Nicks also considered Joplin among her idols. She described Joplin as somebody who had powerful and deeply emotional ties with her audience.
For Nicks, Joplin performed in the wonderful tradition and trademark of the rhythm and blues singers, but at the same time brought her own adventurous, captivating rock and roll edge. Joplin inspired Nicks to find her voice and style.
Joplin of the “27 Club”
Music fans often describe Joplin as part of the so-called “27 Club,” which is a list of artists, actors, and musicians who died when they were 27 years old. Some claimed there was a “statistical spike” for the demise of artists at that age, but research has repeatedly disproved this. But this does not stop from becoming the idea as a cultural meme, especially with performers who died due to drug and alcohol abuse.
Graffiti Tel Aviv, Israel. Source: Wikipedia
The so-called “club” has been periodically mentioned in various music magazines, newspapers, and journals. The idea has also made its way in films, plays, and novels.
The idea started with the deaths of Joplin, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison between 1969 and 1971. But the theory crystallized with the 1994 demise of rocker Kurt Cobain at the age of 27.
Music critics point to media’s growing importance and an interview with Cobain’s mother (who inadvertently implied Cobain intentionally timed his passing so he could become a member of the “27 Club”) for the rise of the theory.
In 2011, Amy Winehouse passed away at the age of 27, resulting in another swell of media attention about the club anew. Three years earlier, Winehouse had expressed some fear she would die at that age.
The theory is even referenced in various songs, including Eric Burdon’s “27 Forever” on his 2013 album.
Magenta’s album, “The Twenty Seven Club,” also references the club. Every track in the album is a real tribute to a supposed member of the club.
Fall Out Boy’s song “27” also paid homage to this the elite but fictitious club of musicians and artists. The song talks about the glamorous and wild lifestyles that are often associated with rock and roll musicians.