BOOK REVIEW: Love Me Please: The Story of Janis Joplin By Nicolas Finet, Christopher and Degreff

janis joplin

Affectionately known as Pearl, this outsider who was bullied and abused for being different was able to rise above the cultural barriers of her hometown and period she lived in to become an international star with a lasting legacy.

The Texan born Janis inherited her voice from her mother, Dorothy. The latter sadly got sick when Janis was a young child and required a throat operation which resulted in her losing her vocal abilities. With Dorothy’s voice, the family piano went too. This did not stop Janis.

From the outset of this graphic novel, we learn how Janis searched for everything that would inspire her and enable her to be great. Joplin refused to accept a pre-packaged definition of what she should be, inspire to or be good at. Whilst her pre-mature death to drugs was tragically earning her an honorary seat at the 27 Club, the challenging journey Janis took to find herself is superbly documented in Love me Please.

The reason Janis had a lasting impact was her uniqueness. As a teenager, Janis was a Tom Boy who, at one point she was the only girl in class who wanted to be an artist.  Janis aimed for “a nomadic lifestyle. Always on the move. Like the Beats…” Unsurprisingly she was a fan of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”.

The teenage Janis growing up in the 1950s wasn’t an Elvis fan. Despite having open contempt for her hometown Texas where the people are “so conventional and square”,; Janis became a local music solo celebrity and lead singer for The Walker Creek Boys band when studying at the University of Texas.

The spark that prompted Joplin’s own “On the Road” exodus out of Texas was an appalling event where hecklers at a gig in 1962 sold their story to The Daily Texan, and the headline described Janis as the “Ugliest Man”. An already self-conscious Janis described as a “bit chubby” quit university and headed to San Francisco.

Whilst in some respects as this graphic novel asserts that Janis “found her world” in San Francisco; Janis also became consumed with alcohol and drugs, which got her into trouble in the penal system, sleeping rough and requiring the help of the Salvation Army.  Thankfully Joplin’s friends clubbed together and bought her a bus ticket home to her folks so she could get clean.

In the early, to mid-1960’s it looked as if Joplin’s musical career, along with her drug-taking, were over as she undertook training to become a school teacher. However, with the encouragement of music promotor Jim Langdon and despite Janis’ mother’s discouragement, Janis returned to music and by 1966 entered “the limelight”.

Whilst international acclaim came quickly when Janis joined Big Brother and The Holding Company, who were one of the top acts at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967 (whose debut and only LP Cheap Thrills sold one million copies in the first month), Janis’ drug addiction returned and although she tried to fight it; she finally lost this battle in 1970.

Love me please adroitly depicts Janis’ drug use throughout the simple illustrations from injections to fantasy octopus tentacles consuming her. This graphic novel also sees Janis dwell upon the negativity of being an outsider where she feels “unfit for everything” and how her artistic lifestyle will guarantee her “death… but this (normal) life… is an even worse death”.

Many promoters, despite seeing Janis’ talent, were reluctant to sign her because of her addictions and capriciousness. Despite these challenges, Joplin would gain an international live solo reputation across Europe, New York and play Woodstock in 1969. This Tom Boy would also eventually cultivate a stylish, relaxed look after meeting stylist Linda Gravenites who made purses for her big enough to hold one book and one bottle of booze.

Janis was a fan of and influenced by many African-American blues singers, including Bessie Smith and Billie Holliday, who Janis saw also didn’t fit in. Not only did she have their talent and pay homage to them, but Janis also went further by carving out her sound fused with blues, rock and soul. Love me, please explicitly, with no holds barred shows Janis chronologically when she peaked and when she was vulnerable. As well as paying homage to Janis, many musicians, including Leonard Cohen, Jim Morrison and Otis Reading, feature along with many others, including Peggy Caserta, also referred to as the “Evil Genie”. So many people impacted Janis’ short twenty-seven-year life the authors included a well-researched forty-three character gallery appendix.

With many song lyrics from the songs Janis sang and the artists she loved, Love me please rightly puts Joplin on a pedal stool whilst also indirectly heeding a warning about the challenges outsiders like Janis faced and still face. Nicolas Finet has harmoniously brought together the happy and the sensitive sides of Janis, Christopher and Degraff, guaranteeing Janis’ spirit and music live on.

 

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