Janis Joplin’s Sister Gives a Piece of Her Heart to Fans With Book, Play : Music: The rock legend’s letters home form the basis for years of wondering, researching and writing. Fan reaction has been gratifying.
During her play’s five-week run in Denver, Laura Joplin attended 15 performances, watching audience reaction and listening to comments made at intermission.
Before that, she spent five years working on the book by the same name, “Love, Janis,” about her sister, Janis Joplin, the rock legend who died of a heroin overdose in 1970 at the age of 27.
“I keep thinking, well, that’s done,” Laura Joplin said. “But it’s never done.”
Her sunny Denver house is decorated with pictures of her daughter, glass art by her brother and paintings by her sister, Janis.
Laura Joplin grew up in Port Arthur, Tex., and was 17 when her sister left home. She has lived in Denver for 18 years.
Joplin has a Ph.D. in education but has spent most of her working time since her daughter’s birth managing Janis’ estate and writing “Love, Janis,” a biography about her sister published in 1992.
If anything, it seems as though engaging with her sister’s short life so intensely these past seven years has made Janis’ life and times more vivid for Laura, instead of laying it to rest.
Janis Joplin left Port Arthur when Laura was a junior in high school. She headed to California, where she burst onto the music scene with a performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
Some of her biggest hits included “Piece of My Heart,” “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” “Cry Baby” and “Get It While You Can.”
Since her death, Janis Joplin has become a legend, one of the live-hard, die-young ‘60s rock icons like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. Hendrix died only weeks before Joplin, also of a drug overdose.
“People look (at the 1960s) and say, ‘I’m glad that’s over.’ It’s not over,” Laura said.
She recalls a trip to California with her family after Janis’ Monterey performance, which had been written up in the national newsmagazines.
“We got there and realized there’s a whole new world out there, a new energy,” Laura said.
But far from being over, the “new world” of the ‘60s and many of its lessons are still intact, she believes. Among them, she said, are feminism and lessons in peace, collective decision-making and education.
Also far from over is Laura’s need to explore the person behind the legend of Janis Joplin.
“It was time for me to look back, just like our culture is looking back at the ‘60s,” Laura said.
Her decision to write the book was not a momentous one, Laura recalls. It began at a January, 1988, ceremony in Port Arthur to honor local musicians, among them her sister. The event drew huge crowds, which came by the busload from as far as Canada to pay tribute to a woman who had nothing nice to say about her hometown when she was alive.
When asked about the book project, Laura has one word to sum it up: “Long.”
“No matter how much research you do, you always want to do more,” she said. “Initially, I thought, ‘I was there.’ But you don’t remember. I had impressions and memories and feelings.”
Once the book was done, Laura pushed to turn it into a play. The play closed at the end of May after five weeks of good reviews and record-breaking attendance.
“People are fans of Janis for various reasons, and for whatever reason, the show brought it back and allowed them to revisit,” Laura said. “I wanted people to re-appreciate her music; I wanted people to learn something about her as a person.”
The play served both goals, with Janis played by two actresses. One sang and performed, portraying the public person. Another actress portrayed the private Janis, sometimes scared, sometimes depressed, but always bubbling with intelligence and energy.
Laura enjoyed watching those who attended.
“There were a number of families,” she said. “There were people who are young and hip today bringing their parents, and there were people who went through the ‘60s who would bring their kids or their parents and say, ‘Can’t you see, finally?’ ”
Laura hopes the play, which she is working to bring to other cities, will strike the same chord it did with audiences in Denver, who gave every performance a standing ovation.
“The audience’s feelings were real important to me for resolving something--I don’t know what,” she said.