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Up Beat Down South "The Outer Limits ofProbability" AJanisJoplin Retrospective BY GAVIN JAMES CAMPBELL "Ifjou cangetthem once, man, getthem standing up when they should be sitting down, sweaty when they should be decorous, smile when they should be appkudingpolitely . . . andIthinkjou sort ofswitch on their brain, man, so that makes them say: 'Wait a minute, maybe Ican do anything.' Whoooooo!It's life. That's what rock androllisfor. Turn that switch on, andman, it can all be. " —fanisfoplin, iyyo ? oo "Man, I'd rather have ten years of superhypermost than live to be seventy by sitting in some goddamn chair watching Tv,"JanisJoplin said in 1969. A little more than a year later on October 4, 1970, her superhypermost life came to a heroinand alcohol-induced end in a Los Angeles hotel room. She was 43 years shy of her seventieth birthday. The drugged escape from her own internal demons put a tragically fitting end to a woman torn apart by conflicting urges to embrace and to reject the values of her Port Arthur, Texas, childhood. AlthoughJanisJoplin adopted Southern Comfort as her drink of choice, neither whiskey nor the South brought her much comfort. Janis was southern white womanhood gone haywire: a San Francisco hippie with east Texas roots, emotionally whipsawed between her desire to be a free-lovin' mama and a refined lady. With a sense of bafflement she told one interviewer , "Well, you know, I'm a middle-class white chick from a family that would love to send me to college and I didn't want to. I had a job, I didn't dig it. I had a car, I didn't dig it. I had it real easy." She never quite understood why she didn't follow a more familiar path. Only a few months before her death she devoured a biography of the Alabama belle Zelda Sayre, whose 1920 marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald broke the shackles of her southern upbringing. Janis admired Zelda's full-tilt, hell-bent lifestyle, and she shared Zelda's inability to withstand the emotional incongruities she lived. "She was as fucking crazy as I am," Janis marveled. As witii Zelda, the competing impulses of rebellion and conformity that roiled throughJanis's psyche exploded for a few short years into vitality and creativity before descending into obliteration. "It's not easy," she told her publicist Myra Friedman, "living up toJanis Joplin, you know." It wasn't easy creating Janis Joplin either. Located on the banks of Sabine Lake near the Louisiana border,Janis's hometown ofPort Arthur, Texas, was the brainchild ofdie Kansas City railroad tycoon Arthur E. Stilwell. He envisioned die town as part ofhis plan to link Kansas City with die Gulf of Mexico, and he chose its site under the guidance of Brownie fairies. These Brownies advised him in a dream not only where to locate the town but also to name it after himself. In 1895 he began surveying the land. He envisioned Port Arthur as a busy seaport that catered both to international shipping and to wealthy vacationers, and consequendy he designed the town around wide avenues and beautiful homes. Plans and reality didn't match in the early years. Recalling the town in its youth one resident related that "at best Port Arthur was a gloomy place, the abode of hogs, mosquitoes, and cattle, and at night droves of rats took possession ofthe dark wash-board streets." The 1901 discovery ofoil at the Spindletop gusher in nearby Beaumont forever doomed Stilwell's genteel reopposite : "A middle-class white chick. "JanisJoplin, courtesy offirn Marshall, Columbia Records, Sony Music, andLegacy. Up Beat Down South ??1 sort, transforming it instead into an oil refining hub. By 1914 Port Arthur was the nation's second largest oil refining center, and die industry dominated the city. A local contest in 1937 to come up with a catchy city slogan resulted in: "We Oil the World." The 1 940 census, taken just three years before Janis Joplin's birth, counted slighdy more than 50,000 residents. A mixture of Cajuns, Creoles, Mexicans, whites, and what the 1940 WRA. city guide called "smiling coastal Negroes" made die city unique for its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 100-111
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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