Little Girl Blue , Where Are You?
Just finished watching Amy Berg’s “Janis: Little Girl Blue,” a documentary about Janis Joplin featuring a narration by Cat Power. (Then I went home and realized after a ‘net search that the film had actually come out in the rest of the country three months ago…) Oh well, I guess I don’t live in a hotbed of theatrical (or otherwise) activity. Things happen here months—sometimes years, or even decades, after they’ve already occurred everywhere else.
But I’m grateful that the film did finally screen in my town, enjoyed viewing it, and thought I’d write a short blog about it. So here I am. And here are my rambling thoughts for your reading pleasure (or not!)
Like Janis, I too come from a rather conservative area. Though not quite so conservative as Port Arthur, my city is a place in which new ideas are frowned upon. A clique controls the status quo, and heaven forbid that you are different from anyone else, and you are not a part of The Clique. Conformity is key! Know your place! Like independent films, it seems that new ideas will spread around the world, eventually get accepted around the world, and then after many years of being accepted elsewhere, they may be discussed as possibilities over here. (Not implemented, mind you, but discussed…) Nope, I’m not exaggerating. Things move s-l-o-w-l-y out here, if they move at all.
But I digress.
Janis was bullied in school for having the same qualities that made her a success—the courage to be herself. She was unique, not only as a strong and outspoken woman, but as a white woman who could sing the blues, moving outside of racial and socioeconomic (as well as gender) boundaries. How did a rich white girl get so good at singing the blues?
I don’t know because I never had a chance to meet Janis. (A shame, because I’d love a chance to talk with her now as an older, wiser woman who, most likely, would have an interesting perspective on the music industry today.)
From watching the film, I got the impression that Janis was passionate about music and about singing, that she may have spent hours listening to her favorite songs and singing along with them until one day her own voice (like her rebellious spirit) just came out of the closet.
Funny how some of us are born in the wrong time and place. Had Janis been born into a family of musicians she may have had a completely different experience. But in a way the lack of support she received from her family may have been the very thing that pushed her toward being as good as she was. She had to impress them—the family and the schoolmates both who had rejected her so long ago.
Sad that she succumbed to drug addiction. I believe that is what killed her in the end. Possibly, the rejection of her early years led her to drug abuse but once she became addicted no amount of fame or fortune could cure her. No amount of money can take away our humanity. For better or worse, we are people, regardless of celebrity or financial status. Addiction, like any illness, can kill. Of course, I don’t know Janis Joplin personally and never will. But my guess is that the “stress” of fame wasn’t her problem. I’ll bet she enjoyed her popularity, enjoyed her fans, loved making music, loved the support she’d finally gotten from the world around her. But by then it was too late. She’d already developed an addiction. We all have problems that we’d rather avoid, and we have no choice but to deal with them. The addict is different from the rest of us. She has an easy escape from even her most serious problems: the guaranteed high she gets from drugs.
As I watched the soft-spoken Dick Cavett speak about his relationship with Janis, I felt sadness, a sense of longing for that time, so long ago, when a soft-spoken, quiet, polite and sensitive man could host a TV talk show. In this age of loudmouths like Bill O’Reilly, I wonder what happened to the thoughtful, introspective Dick Cavetts? At the end of the documentary, John Lennon speaks with Cavett about the stress of contemporary society’s possibly causing people to turn to drugs and creating the problem of addiction.
Wow! Such intelligent, thought-provoking discussion coming from a rock star! (See 1:40 in the above video.) I really can’t imagine Katy Perry or Justin Bieber making a statement like that on national television. (Though, to be fair, I believe I heard comedian Russell Brand speak of addiction from a similar point of view.) For the most part, though, pop stars would be derided as snobs if they spoke this eloquently. Thinking is snobbery these days. As a nation, we’ve lost a lot of our integrity since the sixties.
But maybe I’m glamorizing an era that I’d never intimately experienced. While I feel a sense of sorrow that the documentary ended, as did Janis’s life and the sixties era itself, I remind myself that while I missed out on that time of thoughtful discussion, peace, love, and hippiedom, I also missed out on the dark side of the sixties—experimentation with harmful and highly addictive drugs, unsafe and sometimes abusive sexual activity, sexism and racism.
It’s not quite enough consolation though. I still feel as though I missed out on a time that existed long before the Internet but when people needed to talk to each other face-to-face, and freely–without surveillance, without a fear-based atmosphere. Perhaps one day an era of love and peace and freedom of speech will return (warts and all!) somewhere, someday, but it won’t be in my lifetime and it won’t be in my town.