cover image Janis: Her Life and Music

Janis: Her Life and Music

Holly George-Warren. Simon & Schuster, $28.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9310-8

In this excellent biography, George-Warren (A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton) paints a complex portrait of singer Janis Joplin (1943–1970). Drawing on archival materials as well as interviews with Joplin’s friends, family, and bandmates, George-Warren begins with Joplin’s life, stretching back to her childhood in Port Arthur, Tex., where she would “publicly flaunt her individuality.” She was an outsider in high school and, in 1961, moved to Austin, where she attended the University of Texas and sang black music in a segregated folk music bar. Two years later she moved to San Francisco and immersed herself into the psychedelic rock scene, where she developed an addiction to heroin—on which she would overdose in 1970. George-Warren explores Joplin’s evolution as a singer, including her early incorporation of Otis Redding’s vocal techniques into her own performances, as well as her moments of impulsive brilliance, such as her first time singing “Bobby McGee”—live in Nashville in 1969, having just learned it—which she would record only a few days before her death. Indeed, as the author points out, a lonely Joplin spent the last year of her life “trying to find a way to reconcile her ambitions as a singer with her desire for some kind of loving attachment.” George-Warren beautifully tells a moving story of a woman whose life and music inspired a generation. (Oct.)