"Drinks Are On Pearl" - The Overdose Death Of Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin (January 19, 1943 - October 4, 1970)
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 never had 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.
After recording on the evening of the 3rd, she and band member Ken Pearson were sucking down screwdriver's at Barney's Beanery. Just after midnight, they drove back to the Landmark Hotel at 7047 Franklin. Inside room 105 she shot up her last fix of heroin. She returned to the hotel lobby to get change for a five dollar bill. She chatted casually with the hotel clerk, who later said she seemed perfectly natural (and he didn't know who she was). When she returned to her room she collapsed beside the bed, almost breaking her nose. She was wedged against a bedside table with a cigarette in her hand.
John Cook, one of her band members, became alarmed when she didn't show up for the recording session the next morning and after unsuccessfully trying to reach her by telephone, he went to the hotel, broke down the door and found her dead. She was 27 years old.
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 friend 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."
During her early teens Janis developed a host of crippling insecurities fueled by her pudgy body, acne-pocked skin, and hair, once smooth and shiny, that had become tufted and mousy brown. As a result of her unpopularity with fellow classmates, Janis chose the path of hard-swearing and beer drinking, which made her hip with the older boys but out of place with others of her gender. Janis was just looking for acceptance.
Even though she was extremely shy and reserved about singing in public, Janis joined her church choir during her high school years. Following graduation from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1960 she enrolled in Lamarr College in Beaumont, Texas to study art, as her first love was painting. Joplin often traveled to nearby Louisiana to hear blues cover bands and occasionally perform at places like Threadgill's, now a popular chain of restaurants.
By 1961, Joplin grew restless and dropped out of college. She then explored Houston and L.A.'s music scenes, but eventually moved back to Texas in 1962, finally settling in the capital city and music mecca, Austin.
While in Austin, Janis was introduced to Chet Helms, who took her away with him to North Beach, California in 1963 – considered the West Coast's answer to Greenwich Village. While in California she performed in bars and coffeehouse – anything to make a buck. By 1964 her musical career had stalled, but her drug fascination was full-tilt. She started shooting up Methamphetamine and excessively drinking.
Helms came calling Janis again and hooked her up with the San Francisco band Big Brother and the Holding Company. Along with all the members of the band, their wives and girlfriends, Janis lived in a rented summer place in Haight-Ashbury where they worked on their act and began performing live. But in very short order Janis would be back on drugs and booze. She began to throw bisexuality into the mix as well. Big Brother and the Holding Company began to make a name for themselves, eventually becoming the house band for The Avalon Theater.
August of 1967 marked the beginning of something big for Janis Joplin. That summer she played the Monterey Pop Festival with Big Brother. Dressed in a velvety outfit and covered from head-to-toe in pearl necklaces, Joplin blew away the crowd with her sex-charged rendition of "Ball and Chain" and the legend was born. Three months later she had the same effect on the Monterey Jazz Festival audience. These scorching performances yielded a $10,000 per performance hike, up from the $1,500 they'd been receiving at that time. Janis and the band eventually dropped Helms and joined up with Albert Grossman, one of the leading managers in the business at the time. Grossman signed them to a recording contract with CBS/Columbia Records and released their first album, Cheap Thrills. The record sold millions of copies but Joplin remained unsatisfied and discouraged due to the thrashing of her band mates at the pens of pop and rock critics.
After only one album with the Holding Company, Joplin left and joined up with The Kozmic Blues Band. They recorded the album I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama, which featured their first huge hit "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)".
By the time the 1970 rolled around, Joplin was suffering from the ravages of drug abuse, gonorrhea and alcoholism. She had put together a new band, Full Tilt Boogie, hoping to rekindle her past success. With her new band, Joplin went to L.A. to record Pearl, but surrendered to old habits once again, though friends and band mates always claimed she remained hard-working and sober while recording the album. Instead, Joplin would do the drugs in the evening and after recording sessions at her nearby place, Room #105 of the Landmark Hotel (now known as Highland Gardens). Between recording sessions Janis toured with Full Tilt. Her last public performance was at Harvard Stadium, August 12, 1970 where she growled for 40,000+ fans.
On October 3, 1970, Janis had almost finished recording her new album. She visited the Sunset Sound Studios in L.A. to listen to the instrumental track for Buried Alive in the Blues, prior to laying down the vocal track scheduled for the next day. Unfortunately, she never got the chance to record. That evening she visited Barney's Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard, had a drink or two, then returned to her room for more heroin. She injected herself by skin-popping, which works slower than injecting directly into the veins (a normal IV injection sends the drug to the brain within seconds. "Popping" the heroin mixture can take as long as 90 minutes to take maximum effect). After popping, Janis returned to the lobby to pick up a pack of smokes and then went back to her room.
What happened next is based purely on speculation and the notes from the investigation, but apparently she stripped to her panties and t-shirt waiting for the drug to kick in. When the heroin finally took effect, she was caught off guard. Unconscious, Joplin fell to the floor, striking her head on the dresser. Her body was discovered some 18 hours later, face-down, wedged between the dresser and bed. Dried blood from the blunt force of the trauma had stained her face.
True to her wishes, Joplin's body was cremated in the Pierce Brother Westwood Village Mortuary, and her ashes were strewn along the Northern California coastline near Stinson Beach. At her request, $2500 was set aside for her own wake for The Grateful Dead and other performers to provide entertainment. The shindig was held at The Lion's Share, 60 Redhill Drive, in San Anselmo, CA. The invitations, given out to some 200 special guests read: "Drinks are on Pearl."
Full Tilt Boogie finished the album. The song Buried Alive in the Blues appears on the album as an instrumental as Joplin had never recorded those vocals. Pearl is now considered Janis Joplin's most successful commercial and artistic achievement. It spawned the hits My Baby, Trust Me, Mercedes Benz, and the immortal rock-classic, Me and Bobby McGee.
Her death on October 4, 1970, was the second loss for the music world in a three-week period. On September 18th, 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. Joplin's live performances have been captured on film for those who missed the real thing; both the Monterey Pop Festival Documentary and the Janis Biopic are cinematic proof of her raw talent.
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