Freedom' Just Another Word - - -


"Me And Bobby McGee"
Janis Joplin
Columbia 45314
March 1971 • Billboard: #1

She was a bawdy, hard-drinking Texas mama who swore like the boys and savaged her white vocal chords to sing the blues. When friends suggested her health could not withstand her rowdy lifestyle, she replied, "Maybe I won't last as long as other singers, but I think you can destroy your now worrying about tomorrow." Janis Joplin will never have to worry about tomorrow. She was found dead in her room at the Landmark Motel in Hollywood on the evening of October 4, 1970, a victim of a heroin overdose.

She hadn't completed recording her Pearl album when she died. Released in January, 1971, it yielded the second posthumous number one single of the rock era (Otis Redding's "[Sittin' On] The Dock of the Bay" being the first). "Me and Bobby McGee" was written by actor, singer, Rhodes scholar and songwriter Kris Kristofferson, who tagged along with his freind Bobby Neuwirth to what Myra Friedman, in her Joplin biography Buried Alive, calls "the great Tequila bash" in the spring of 1970. Kristofferson stayed to become Janis' beau for a short time and left behind his song for his feather-boaed girlfriend.

Janis Joplin was born January 19, 1943, in the conservative oil refinery town of Port Arthur, Texas. "I was a sensitive child," she revealed in David Dalton's biography, Janis. "I had a lot of hurts and confusions. You know, it's hard when you're a kid to be different, you're full of things and you don't know what it's about."

In addition to her posthumous #1 hit "Me and Bobby McGee," Janis Joplin's Pearl featured "Buried Alive in the Blues," a track missing the vocals Joplin didn't live to complete. Pearl first charted on Jan. 30, 1971, was the #1 album in America for nine weeks, and spent a total of 42 weeks on the chart.
To Rolling Stone she elaborated: "I was always outrageous. I got treated very badly in Texas. They don't treat beatniks too good in Texas." Her earliest artistic interests were painting and poetry, but those were quickly abandoned when a friend introduced her to jazz at 17 and she sent away for some Leadbelly and Odetta records. She would head out to nearby New Orleans where she would sing free at various French Quarter bars.

Her stay at college, where she learned to be a keypunch operator, was brief. Her refusal to bend to the middle-American norm sent her running off to the West Coast where she finally landed in a Haight-Ashbury rehearsal pad, right in the center of the 1966 San Francisco hippie culture. Unhappy in California, she went to Austin, Texas, and sang with a country and western outfit.

Back in San Francisco, the house band at the Avalon Ballroom was looking for a female singer. A friend of the group remembered Joplin and contacted her in Texas. She returned to California in June, 1966, to join Big Brother and the Holding Company.

An album on Mainstream, highlighted by the single "Down on Me," brought the group some attention, but it was their explosive performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 that cemented their national reputation. Signed to Columbia Records, they released the Cheap Thrills album and a single, "Piece of My Heart," that went to number 12 in the autumn of 1968. Before the year was over, Joplin exited the band along with guitarist Sam Andrew. Her first solo album, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! was released in September, 1969. A brief semi-retirement followed, then Janis put together the Full Tilt Boggie Band to work on the album that would become Pearl, Janis' nickname.

Her death in October, 1970, was the second loss for the music world in a three-week period. On September 18, Jimi Hendrix died of an accidental overdose in London. Joplin and Hendrix were both just 27 when they died. Both left behind musical legacies that will survive the changing trends of pop music. Janis' live performances have been captured on film for those who missed the real thing; both the Monterey Pop documentary and the Janis biopic are cinematic proof of her raw talent.

- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.

When Kris Kristophenson wrote, and Janice Joplin recorded, this famous ballad Jennifer had no idea what it truly meant. This is odd, considering that Janice was only one year younger. The two had been brief acquaintances when the now dead singer was singing the blues in New Orleans before her eventual fame.

Jennifer asks her partner, many years later in life, exactly what he thinks the words to the song actually mean. He explains that if you don’t have your freedom, what else is there? Jennifer accepts his explanation, although it does not ring personally true to her.

Years later she stands in front of her mirror brushing her long graying hair when this song comes to mind. As so often in life, a flash enters her brain like “Duhhh” and she intrinsically knows what she has yearned to comprehend for the last quarter of a century. As age finally descends, apparently out nowhere - perhaps from the corner of a closed closet, it catches us completely off guard. Finally accepting our years, most of us acknowledge our fates, and see that wisdom has actually emerged despite our wishes to the contrary.

She smiles at the realization, contemplating on her most superb and emotional love affair with Dale – and she has had many. Having thought the sensual stage of life was over and long behind her, no one was more surprised than she when she met and seduced, this younger man with no thought as to the consequences. Still amazed at her bravado and dumbfounded by her follow-through, this single act brought to her a totally new and vivid understanding concerning the meaning of being truly alive.

A person who is daily amazed at the wonder of life, Jennifer recognizes her artistic self - conservative by nature, liberal in politics and thoroughly eccentric in lifestyle, she obviously thinks of herself as free. However, standing in front of the mirror, with Janice blaring out in her mind, she realizes, for the first time, that freedom is just another word for realizing the opposite - that none of us is essentially free - not really - even those who think they are.

Chains come in many fashions - mental, physical and most definitely emotional. Here she is, in a long term relationship having just enjoyed the most passionate affair of her life. She has one ex-husband, a wealthy entrepreneur who was shocked when she left him, three adult children and seven adorable grandchildren ranging in age from teens to infants. As the brush separates the long naturally streaked tresses it finally occurs to her that what Kris wrote and what Janice sang is what we all strive for and yet cannot possess outside of our minds.

 “Freedom IS another word for nothing else to lose – you ain’t nothing honey if you ain’t free”

She thinks of her ex-lover and a smile crosses her face – he was more than even she ever counted on – a man who fulfilled every physical lust she could try to imagine. Standing at six feet three, without an inch of fat on him, he could have posed for Esquire, anytime, in the nude. He was the most sensual man she had met in years – a quality that was totally secondary to his great understanding of people and of what makes them tick. Jennifer realizes that she learned more from him, in five short months, than in years of numerous jobs and graduate school.

Somehow, as the writer in her kicked off, she began writing short stories of their time together. These narratives started quite casually – she would simply return home, after hours of saturation from the greatest physical loving she had known in decades, and start writing. It became surreal. She didn't ask him to read these stories as there was no neccessity in that – she had an obcession in writing them, not only the effort to relive what she had felt, but to put words onto paper – just as she was inspired to paint, cook or listen to reggae.

Something about the hours and intimacy that they shared together gave her the compulsion to write. Dale became her muse. And when the affair ended, almost as suddenly as it began, her desire to write also terminated. Despite the sadness she feels over her loss of Dale, her wisdom whispers to her how really lucky she was to celebrate such physicality - even for a few months - and to escape the danger involved - of being discovered by their mates as well as their community: at this age that would have been no fun at all.

Realizing that she was lucky to experience such a high, surging with self confidence, even if it is over now, Jennifer realizes that freedom actually is nothing left to lose. That such freedom is a feeling - just like love and lust. She may no longer enjoy the treat of Dale and the hours they spent embracing, but she does have the freedom to return to those scenes mentally for the rest of her life - both through her memories and through the writing of these times upon her return from physical passion. Somehow she perceives that this will help her through her final years. Truly she is free – free at last.

"Me, me, me and Bobby Mcgee"

kris and janice