Monday, January 12, 2015

On the Road with Janis Joplin

In his role as Janis Joplin’s longtime road manager, John Byrne Cooke came to know and understand that often out-of-control blues and rock star as well as anyone has ever managed to do it.  A relationship that started out simply as one between an employer and her employee soon evolved into one of mutual respect and love.  Janis Joplin needed someone like Cooke on her team, and in a way, Cooke needed someone like Janis in his life.  Even though saving Janis from herself was probably an impossible task from the beginning, it is easy to see that his failure to do that still eats at Cooke to this day.

In On the Road with Janis Joplin, Cooke shares the intimate details of the role he played in the life of Joplin right up to when she died in Los Angeles.  It is not always a pretty story, of course, but that will not surprise longtime Janis Joplin fans.  What might surprise them is how deeply her story and her loss can still impact their emotions. 

Janis was destined to be a misfit; it just had to happen.  Born into what can accurately be described as a “redneck” community (I can say that because I was born there, too), by the time she reached high school her biggest ambition was to live her life as a beatnik.  That was not going to be easy in the Port Arthur, Texas, of the early nineteen-sixties.  After emotionally suffering her way through high school at the hands of most of her classmates, Janis moved to Austin, a more liberal environment for sure, but still one that was not ready for her.  How else to explain her being voted “Ugliest Man on Campus” during her brief stint at the University of Texas?

John Byrne Cooke
It was in San Francisco that Janis Joplin finally found her people.  There she caught on with a group of musicians of average skills and Big Brother & the Holding Company was born.  John Byrne Cooke arrived just in time to help Janis reach the peak of a promising career that was cut tragically short by her drug abuse, a habit attributed by most who knew Janis to the emotional insecurities formed early in life.

The Janis Joplin story is a sad one, and Cooke tells it here the way he saw it and experienced it with her, including an inside look at the terribly sad tenth high school reunion appearance Janis made in Port Arthur.  But, despite all of her emotional pain, Janis Joplin was a groundbreaker.  By becoming the first big female rock star - and opening the door for all those female rockers who would follow her- she forever changed the face of rock music.

Her fans will not want to miss On the Road with Janis Joplin.

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