Janis Joplin
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Big Brother & The Holding Co (1967), 6/10
Cheap Thrills (1968), 6.5/10
I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues (1969), 6/10
Pearl (1970), 7/10
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Janis Joplin fu uno dei grandi miti degli anni '60, e ancor piu` dopo la sua morte. E` uno dei casi in cui vita e arte si confondono ed e` difficile giudicare l'una senza tener conto dell'altra. Joplin fu senza dubbio una grande cantante, dotata di una voce che e` rimasta uno degli archetipi del canto blues. Joplin fu invece una pessima musicista, incapace di scrivere brani memorabili e limitata a eseguire cover d'autore.

Janis Joplin fu fedele nello spirito, travagliato e disperato, nel destino, emarginato e fatale, e nel canto, vibrante e passionale, ai grandi bluesman del Delta: "un incrocio fra una locomotiva a vapore, Calamity Jane, Bessie Smith, una trivella e un liquore disgustoso", com'ebbe a dire un critico del tempo.

Janis Joplin era nata in Texas e aveva avuto un'adolescenza turbolenta nonostante fosse di famiglia abbiente. Nel 1963 arrivo` per la prima volta a San Francisco e comincio` a esibirsi nei club alternativi. Nel 1966, nel pieno dell'era hippy, trovo` impiego in pianta stabile come cantante dei Big Brother & The Holding Company.

Il loro primo disco, Big Brother & The Holding Co (Mainstream, 1967), orrendamente registrato, diede gia` la misura del blues-rock del gruppo, ma fu la loro esibizione al festival di Monterey del giugno 1967 ad attirare l'attenzione su quell'indemoniata cantante. La leggendaria potenza dei loro show venne meglio immortalata sul secondo album, Cheap Thrills (CBS, 1968), ora che le chitarre di Sam Andrew e James Gurley erano maturate e fornivano l'adeguato accompagnamento all'istrionismo della cantante. Joplin era gia` un personaggio, che sul palco mette in vista esibizionismo, auto-commiserazione, e una scandalosa volgarita`. Univa un temperamento emotivo e una personalita` insicura, una disastrosa vita sentimentale, una precoce assuefazione agli stupefacenti, alcoolismo da angoscia e solitudine. Sfogava le sue nevrosi nei concerti. Davanti al pubblico le sue terribili tensioni esplodevano. Joplin vomitava senza ritegno l'agonia lancinante che le divorava le viscera. La sua voce roca, deteriorata dall'alcool e dal fumo, strillava con forza disumana e bisbigliava con tenerezza struggente. Piu` che "cantare", Joplin gemeva, rantolava, delirava. Ogni canzone era un rituale di auto-distruzione in cui Joplin elargiva tutte le proprie forze. Al termine di un concerto disse che si sentiva come se avesse fatto l'amore con migliaia di persone e fosse tornata a casa sola. Stravolta e struggente, la sua voce dialogava con le chitarre violentemente distorte e cavalcava la ritmica epidermica. In Pieces Of My Heart (scritta da Ragovoy e Berns) sembra veramente che le stiano strappando il cuore quando grida sgolata "take another little piece of my heart". La lunga, strascicata litania di Ball And Chain (il classico di Big Mama Thornton) divenne un po' la metafora della sua vita.

Lasciati i Big Brother, Janis Joplin incise poi I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues (1969), un disco molto meno spontaneo. Joplin sembra volersi inventare una nuova carriera come cantante soul, ma riesce sempre meglio in blues tormentati come Try (ancora di Ragovoy).

Era gia` arrivata al capolinea. I suoi atteggiamenti da primadonna irritavano tutti. Si stava disintossicando ma nell'ottobre del 1970 ebbe una ricaduta che le fu fatale: mori` sola in una camera d'albergo di Hollywood.

I discografici misero insieme le ultre registrazioni e pubblicarono Pearl (1970), che e` il suo album piu` maturo. Invece della strega oltraggiosa Joplin si rivela una creatura vulnerabile, che si esprime nei blues melodrammatici di Half Moon, Move Over, Cry Baby, My Baby e Get It While You Can (le ultime tre ancora di Ragovoy). sposando la propria ruggente voce ora a un boogie da saloon e ora a un gospel accorato. E finisce per commuovere quando canta a cappella Mercedes Benz, senza sapere che la ascolteranno come un requiem.

Joplin, piu` che uno stile, impose un personaggio emblematico di quella generazione disperata di ragazzi scappati da casa per cercare un mondo migliore, e, dopo estenuanti torture, fucilati dalla realta'.

Janis Joplin was an icon of the hippy era and in many ways remains a unique cult-singer. Her career was intense and brief. She became one of the first victims of the drugs that had been heralded as the ultimate creative vehicle. Unfortunately, her music does not fully justify her myth, as she mostly sang other people's songs and only one of her albums is a masterpiece.
(Translated by Ornella C. Grannis)

Janis Joplin was one of the great myths of the 60s, even more so after her death. Hers is a case where life and art mix, making it difficult to judge one without evaluating the other. Joplin was without doubt a great singer, gifted with a voice that to date remains one of the archetypes of blues singing. However, she was a poor musician, incapable of writing praiseworthy songs, and thus confined to covers.

In her troubled and desperate spirit, in her marginalized and fatal destiny, and in her vibrant and passionate sound, Janis Joplin remained true to the great Delta blues men. "A cross between a steam locomotive, Calamity Jane, Bessie Smith, a power drill and bad liquor" was the comment of a critic of the time.

Joplin was born in Texas and had a turbulent adolescence despite her upper middle-class upbringing. In 1963 she moved to San Francisco and began singing in alternative clubs. In the 1966, at the height of the hippie movement, she was hired by Big Brother & The Holding Company as their singer.

Their first album Big Brother & The Holding Co (Mainstream, 1967), though poorly recorded, immediately demonstrated a measure of their blues rock capabilities. However it was at the Monterey festival in June 1967 that the frantic singer got wide attention.

The legendary intensity of the band's concerts was better transmitted on their second album, Cheap Thrills (CBS, 1968), after the guitars of Sam Andrews and James Gurley became more profficient in providing adequate accompaniment to their singer's histrionics. On stage Joplin was already revealing her exhibitionism, her self-pity, her outrageous lewdness. Her emotional temperament, her insecurities, her disastrous love life, her despair and loneliness induced addiction to drugs and alcohol. On stage she vented her neuroses, her formidable tension exploding before the crowd. Without shame, Joplin disgorged the agony that devoured her. Her raspy voice, deteriorated by alcohol and cigarettes, cried with brute force and whispered in exhausted tenderness. More than "sing", Janis Joplin moaned, whispered, raved. Every song was a ritual of self-destruction to which Joplin devoted all her strength. Once, at the end of a concert, she said that she felt as if she had made love to thousands of people but had gone home alone. Agitated and ravaged, her voice engaged in conversation with the violently distorted guitars and rode the skin-tight rhythm of the bass and drums.

Listening to Piece Of My Heart (written by Ragovoy and Berns), one truly feels the pain of a heart being torn apart when she shouts, "take another little piece of my heart". The long, dragged out litany Ball And Chain (the classic by Big Mama Thornton) becomes a metaphor of her life.

Joplin left Big Brother in 1969 and recorded I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues, a much less spontaneous record. She seemed intent on a change of style, orienting herself more toward soul, but what she excelled at were heartbreaking blues renditions such as Try (again, by Ragovoy).

Her prima donna attitude infuriated everybody, as her addictions problems worsened. At the end of her rope, Joplin was undergoing a detoxification program when, in October 1970, she suffered a fatal relapse. She died alone in a Hollywood hotel room.

Discographers compiled her last recordings and released Pearl (1970), her most mature album. Instead of the outrageous witch, Joplin here reveals herself to be a vulnerable creature capable of expressing the drama of the blues, whether lending her voice to saloon boogie or heartbreaking gospel, as in Half Moon, Move Over, Cry Baby, My Baby and Get It While You Can (the last three again by Ragovoy). In the end she manages an emotionally moving a cappella on Mercedes Benz, without realizing that for her listeners, it would be a requiem.

The life of Janis Joplin embodied, more than a musical style, the fate of a desperate generation of runaways, who left their homes in search of a better world, and were caught, tortured and ultimately executed by reality.

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