“Janis, Her Life and Music” author tells story behind Joplin pages

Published 12:14 am Friday, December 27, 2019

One of the closest living figures to Rock and Roll Queen Janis Joplin is a woman that had never seen nor met the icon in person, but spun a riveting tale of her life and her music, nonetheless.

Holly George-Warren is a two-time Grammy Award nominee and author of “Janis, Her Life and Music.” Warren’s obsession with the rebellious rockstar started in her early teenage years. Little did she know she’d be chronicling her life decades later.

“I have been a music fan all my life, since like the third grade,” she said. “I grew up in North Carolina in the era of AM radio. I discovered Janis when I was 13-14 years old and I got ‘Pearl’ as one of my first albums.

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“In a sense, discovering music when I did was a wonderful influence for me, and it drove me to move to New York to become a music writer. I played guitar and things like that along the way, but it was all just for fun and it helped me as a writer to be able to experience a musician’s life firsthand.”

With a sigh, George-Warren says she gave up on her musical “career” due to one small detail — “I can’t sing,” she joked.

George-Warren’s journey as an American music writer began to intertwine with Janis Joplin’s life as she delved deep into Joplin’s talent, world of angst and rebellion, unearthing stories of young middle-class Janis growing up in Port Arthur to her future as the first female blues-rock icon.

Holly George-Warren

George-Warren built a bond with her remaining relatives — brother Michael Joplin and sister Laura Joplin — who shared their sister’s scrapbooks and correspondence.

“I’ve immersed myself in music my whole career,” George-Warren said. “I became interested in Janis’s early musical journey, and Southeast Texas has so many incredible performers who possibly influenced her. As a writer, I got very intrigued about Janis’s artistic path and wanted to track her journey and how she found her calling in life.”

Starting in Janis’s hometown of Port Arthur, research led into the archives and exhibits in the Museum of the Gulf Coast, digging out old journals and newspaper clippings, and into Janis’s childhood home.

“I’d read Port Arthur News clippings in Janis’s scrapbooks,” George-Warren said. “She would write her parents letters and ask if her career achievements were being covered in The Port Arthur News. She wanted to know what they were writing about her in the newspaper and things like that. Her hometown really mattered to her and she wanted to matter to them.”

George-Warren discovered so many aspect of Janis’s life that not many people realize.

“Janis was very good at creating a persona and image of herself,” George-Warren said. “She painted this picture to the press as this wild woman who appeared fully formed on stage and all her fame just happened. She claimed that she just fell into this rockstar status, but the reality was quite different. She worked very hard for many years to become the artist that she was.

“She was also a huge bookworm and an amazing writer. The letters she wrote to her friends and family were so beautifully written, articulate and funny. It was all these aspects that she kept on the down low. There was this completely studious hard-working side of her that I discovered.”

George-Warren said when she finally began to sit down and write the biography on Joplin’s illustrious life, she fell more in love with the Janis behind the curtains.

“Janis was fearless,” she said. “She had so much courage to do the things that she did. She wasn’t afraid of going up against traditions at the time. She really believed in taking a risk to be her true self, even though it wasn’t really socially acceptable at the time. She was someone who was willing to break down barriers in the music business to become the first woman rock and roller.”

If there is one thing George-Warren said she wants people to know when reading her book, it’s to focus on the life and music of Janis Joplin and not her tragic ending.

“My focus was on her music and journey as a musician, while so many other books are on her road to a short life, but I wanted to focus on her real life,” she said. “We know, horribly, the end of the story, but I wanted it to be her life, her approach and her discovery of music. I wanted the excitement of her life to be the focus.”

After publishing “Janis, Her Life and Music” on Oct. 22, George-Warren has set out on a book tour that has taken her from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Austin, New York City, and Boston, Mass.

“Now that the book is out, I love going to places and doing book events and meeting people who got to see (Janis) perform,” she said. “There are people who come to my book signings that got to see her perform in the 1960s and 1970, and these people talk about it like it was last year — they never forgot the experience.”

George-Warren will make stops in Houston, Georgia, Arizona and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, while also making her way to Port Arthur in January.

George-Warren said she wants to personally thank those from Southeast Texas who helped her discover the life behind the image, including Ray Solis, Michael and Laura Joplin, and staff at the Museum of the Gulf Coast.

Holly George-Warren, accompanied by Michael Joplin, will visit the Museum of the Gulf Coast from 2-4 p.m. Jan. 11 for a special book signing.

For more information, visit museumofthegulfcoast.org.