“Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue” shows different side of PA native

Published 6:49 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2016

“Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue,” which aired as part of PBS’s American Masters series on Wednesday, shows a different side of the blues icon from Port Arthur.

Oscar nominated director Amy Berg brought Joplin’s life to the screen with the help of Chan Marshall who read Joplin’s letters and narrated the film along with interviews with former band members, record producers, family and friends. The film shows her many insecurities and drug and alcohol use but also her role in the cultural and musical revolution of the 1960’s, according to pbs.org

“She was one of the first Caucasian blues singers. There had been other blues singers, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Odetta,” Sam Monroe, president of the Port Arthur Historical Society and president emeritus of Lamar State College Port Arthur, said. “Her style was ground breaking that way.”

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Monroe, who was also a classmate of Joplin’s, viewed the film Wednesday night.

“It was a good documentary. It was balanced,” he said. “There were interviews with the people who were involved in her career, band members, people in the music business. This was a new take on the subject. I thought it was good.”

The fact that Joplin was the focus of an American Masters episode shows her significance and her legacy, something very few artists can attest to, he added.

The Museum of the Gulf Coast, located at 700 Procter St., is home to a permanent exhibit dedicated to Joplin. Monroe wasn’t involved in her career but was involved in recording her legacy at the museum.

“We have some of her original artwork and some other personal possessions, jewelry, photos, gold records that were earned posthumously and little piece of info you wouldn’t expect,” he said. “A note she wrote to her mother on the occasion of Janis’ birthday and lot of other interesting tidbits. Her mother once told me that she (Janis) had to make a choice between art and music and we all know what she decided to do.”

While at Woodrow Wilson school in Port Arthur Joplin was editor of The Driftwood, a school publication, which showed she had writing skills. The museum has two pen and ink drawings and other artwork of Joplin’s in addition to a replica of her painted Porsche.

The museum also has one of her early painting, done by numbers that was popular decades ago, of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“The painting was of Jesus kneeling in the garden that she painted as a child,” he said. “It was found at a church basement. She had signed her name on the back.”

In Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue, her sister Laura Joplin tells of how her sister received the social acceptance she had always wanted and that that just propelled her even further.

Janis, she said, not only opened doors but also kicked them in and made people sense their own personal challenge.

In the documentary, musicians Melissa Ethridge, Juliette Lewis and Alecia Moore, also known as Pink, spoke of how they can relate to how Joplin might have felt after a big performance.

“You’ve been dancing with god for two hours,” Pink said in the documentary while describing how it feels on-stage as opposed to off-stage. “And you’re feeling everything and it’s all ok and then you jump on the bus and it’s quiet. And there’s nobody. And they’re left a bottle of wine on the table for you and there’s a candle lit and you’re like this (hand trembling). You have to calm yourself down, you’ve got to some sleep and you’ve got to do it all again tomorrow.”

Ethridge spoke of one of Joplin’s famous comments — how she “made love to 10,000 people every night and went home alone.”

“She was making real music and there was nothing else in her life that was working. Nothing,” Ethridge said.

Lewis, who is drawn to Joplin’s “raw, electric energy,” believes Joplin was trying to keep the stage persona going off-stage.

“She was trying to live it and you can’t, you cannot live what you are on stage in normal world,” Lewis said.

The full episode of the documentary is available at pbs.org

Information about the Museum of the Gulf Coast and Joplin’s exhibit can be found at www.museumofthegulfcoast.org

Email: mary.meaux@panews.com

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