Posted by Billyjam, March 18, 2009 05:07pm | Post a Comment
Janis Joplin & friends partying on the Festival Express train
There is a tragically telling scene near the end of Festival Express, the 2003 rockumentary about the 1970 rock festival tour by train across Canada. In it, Janis Joplin is on stage with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead between music and before the closing set by Joplin of the final date of the exciting railway tour that also included the Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band, Buddy Guy, and Sha Na Na. As much as it was a concert event, it was equally a traveling party, with one railway car ("the bar car" - as in video clip above) specifically set up for drinking and partying -- a place where Joplin apparently spent a fair amount of time. 

In the film's final scene, Joplin, whose legendary hard partying ways would lead to her death not too long after this very concert, is seen onstage and seems a bit buzzed but still functional. She proceeds to present the two main organizers of the unique railway traveling rock tour, Ken Walker and Thor Eaton, with a heartfelt, two-part thank you gift. She first presents them with a model train "to remember" the tour, and then, smiling widely, presents them with a case of tequila "to continue" the party. In return they gave Joplin a gift of her favorite poison, a bottle of Southern Comfort, which obviously pleased the singer, who passed it off stage for safekeeping and proceeded to jump into an inspired rendition of "Tell Mama."

That song and concert would be one of the last performances ever by the singer, who was found dead in LA a short time later on October 4th, 1970. Joplin, whose official cause of death was an overdose of heroin possibly combined with the effects of alcohol, was only 27 years old when she died. Watching the legendary Joplin in this film clip is bittersweet since you can't help but enjoy seeing/hearing such a truly gifted and spirited artist, but you also can't help but curse the self-destructive behavior that led to her unnecessary premature death. Nor can you help but wonder what if she hadn't got caught up in hard drink and drugs? What greater artistic accomplishments -- albums and concerts etc. -- might she have achieved in life? If she were still alive today she would be 66 years old and could well be touring, as many blues and rock greats still do at that age.

For more on Janis Joplin, the best place to start is by listening to her music. Look in Amoeba for both her solo work (including the posthumously released Pearl) and her music as a member of BIg Brother and The Holding Company.  Additionally, there have been several books written about the legendary artist, janis joplinincluding Ellis Amburn's. Pearl: The Obsessions and Passions of Janis Joplin-- A Biography (Warner Books, 1992). And, of course, as well as the many documentaries and concert footage out there featuring Joplin, there is also the great 1979 film The Rose starring Bette Midler that was loosely based on Joplin's life.

From the all the things that I have read and learned about Joplin's life, one that always stuck in my mind was the fact that the very first song that she ever recorded, a rough home recoding in December 1962 while still in her teens, was the song "What Good Can Drinkin' Do." Hmmm. Well, the answer to that question is no good can drinkin' do, since drink and drug abuse, which are so often romanticized when it comes to great authors and musicians who get caught up in their deceptive web, merely take away great art and artists from the rest of us. R.I.P. J.J.

Relevant Tags

Women's History Month Series (1), Festival Express (1), Janis Joplin (6)