JANIS: Her Life and Music
by Holly George-Warren
Simon & Schuster. 400 pages, $28.99
“COME ON, come on and take it, take another little piece of my heart now, baby,” sung by Janis Jop-lin, belongs in any compilation of the popular music of the 1960s. Those of us who remember the original recording tend to hear it as a direct expression of the singer’s emotional experience, although the words of “Piece of My Heart” were by songwriters Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns. The song was performed by Erma Franklin, sister of Aretha, before Janis and her band recorded it on the album Cheap Thrills in 1968.
Holly George-Warren’s new biography, Janis: Her Life and Music, is large and immersive despite Janis’ short life. As most of her fans know, Janis Joplin was a charter member of the “27 club,” a list of rock musicians who died at that age. Janis’ off-and-on love affair with various kinds of dope clearly contributed both to her roller-coaster life and to her death, which—despite rumors of suicide and even murder—is described in excruciating detail as an accidental overdose on heroin.
The narrative begins with Janis’ ancestors and describes her parents’ marriage and the birth of Janis, their first child, in 1943. Port Arthur, Texas, the oil town where she grew up
Jean Roberta is a widely published writer based in Regina, Canada.