Janis Joplin’s Self-portrait
Janis and Robert Crumb
Drawings by Robert Crumb
“Yeah, Janis, she was my buddy—poor thing. She was a very talented, gifted singer, but she got sidetracked by fame and her life went into a disastrous tailspin. In her last days she was surrounded by sycophants and music business hustlers just full of bad advice for her. She was young and, in spite of her tough, hard drinking exterior, she was innocent. She just wanted to please the crowds, who got excited when she screamed and stomped her feet and carried on histrionically on stage. The crowd loves a good show. The drawing of her that you have here is a remake of an earlier drawing I did of her back in 1969 when she was still alive. It presents this screaming showbiz Janis as she came to present herself to the public, the Janis that sweated blood to please the crowds. But personally, I think she was a better singer years before that, when she sang old time Country music and Blues in small clubs. She was great then, a natural born country girl shouter and wailer in the good old-time way. Just my opinion.”
Robert Crumb. November, 2008
“Sad case, very sad case. She tried to act like she was hard and tough, but she wasn’t at all. She was soft and vulnerable. She drank a lot, and got a lot of bad advice. She was surrounded by vultures and vampires and scoundrels, and they just did her in. She finally ended up face-down in her own vomit alone in some hotel room; too much heroin and alcohol, 27 years old.
Fame killed her. She couldn’t handle it. It was awful. The last time I saw her alive she had just bought this big fancy redwood mansion somewhere in Marin County. She had this big housewarming party and she invited me and Wilson. So we show up and there are hundreds of people there. And I didn’t even get to talk to her because, guess why? Because she had this circle of people around her that was impenetrable. A circle around her so tight, I could only stand on my toes and wave to her and she waved back and that was it. That was the last time I saw her.
Gilbert Shelton knew her when she was completely obscure in Texas, when she was still singing old time music. She was great at that! Gilbert played these tapes for me once of Janis singing with this country band, and it fit perfectly with her style, I thought. Because she’s a real redneck shouter, you know. But much later, after Big Brother and Holding Company, I think she was getting some bad advice in the music industry. They wanted her to sound more like, you know, Aretha Franklin, or I don’t know, somehow more sophisticated and black or something. But she still screamed and hollered because that’s what the audience liked. And she really wrecked her voice doing that.
When I first met Janis in the spring or summer of 1968, she was already a big deal in the Bay Area, I don’t know about the rest of the country. But it was easy to be around her. She was a regular gal, you know, and she was kinda homely. I mean, I was always extremely intimidated by beautiful women, and since Janis was like this plain, regular gal, she wasn’t intimidating to be around at all. I didn’t see her all that much. She liked to drink too much, and get high too much. She hung around this group of girls – not when I first met her, but like a year or so later – this group of women who were really hard-assed and scary. They sort of attached themselves to her and they were into, you know, hard partying and drinking. They were sort of rough and tough and challenging, a little bit feminist but with a tough girl attitude. Like, ‘What can you show me? What kind of man are you? Can you out-drink me? I bet you can’t. I bet you’re just a pussy.’ That kind of thing. They were kind of intimidating. There was this one girl named Sunshine. She was a hard case. Another one named Pattycakes. [laughs] And Janis had this other friend who was kind of her bodyguard, this big girl who looked rather masculine, but she was the nicest one actually. She was sort of Janis’s valet after she got famous. But these people just attached themselves to Janis like leeches. But that’s what happens when people get famous. And Janis, she was kind of innocent, she didn’t know what was going on completely. She was young and naive, insecure and all that stuff. But you had to like her because she was very vulnerable kind of person. Not a tough person really. But you know, like I said, she tried to act tough, but she really wasn’t. But those other people around her, they were tough, hard cases; hustlers, hangers-on, opportunists.”
CRUMB ON OTHERS, Part Three
Crumb’s comments on the famous and infamous, compiled by Alex Wood.
Janis and Kris Kristopherson
Kris Kristofferson did not write Me and Bobby McGee for her friend and lover Janis Joplin. In the original version of the song, performed firstly by the country singer Roger Miller, Bobby was a woman. Sex and a few of the lyrics were changed in order to Janis’s cover. Kristoferson states that he drew inspiration from the film La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954).