Thursday, February 17, 2005

Janis Joplin and Port Arthur, Texas

Southeast Texas is the home of many famous musical entertainers. Most people know about Mark Chesnutt, Tracey Byrd and George Jones. My home town of Port Arthur is also the home of Johnny and Edgar Winter and Janis Joplin. The Big Bopper was from Beaumont and there are many more that I will save mentioning for future posts. I recently read that there is a proposed reality show called "Search for the Pearl" in which singers will compete for the chance to headline a tour with Janis' old bands.

The article reminded me of the way Port Arthur is portrayed in anything you read or see regarding Janis Joplin. A huge deal was made over the reaction of the locals when Janis came back to Port Arthur for her ten year class reunion in August 1970. In 1970, I was 15 years old and listened to music constantly but I had never heard of her. I remember seeing Janis on the local news with the wild feathers and outrageous attitude and, along with everyone else in town, wondered, "Who the hell is that?" Me and Bobby McGee wasn't released until after her death and no one, except her classmates, knew who she was. In fact, outside of San Francisco, most of the country didn't know who she was.

I know people who went to school with her and they describe her as quiet and not so much of a rebel as her biographies would have you believe. I don't doubt for a minute that there were people who treated her badly in school and left her traumatized. However, on the whole, no one had an opinion on Janis Joplin one way or the other. Janis came back to town for her reunion to provoke a reaction and I've always felt it was unfair for Janis' fans to judge the people of Port Arthur for having the exact reaction that she was trying to provoke.

By 1971, however, everyone knew who Janis Joplin was. I even had a class with her brother although I'm sure he doesn't remember me. I was a freshman and he was a senior and he was only present in class in the academic sense of the word. Actually, from my observation of him in that class he wasn't interested in academics at all and he most definitely had no interest in Ms. McEwan's view of world history. He seemed like a nice guy though. He slept a lot. However, Janis would be glad to know that her little brother was a hero (even if he wasn't aware of it) to those of us who had finally discovered the amazing voice of that strange girl with all the feathers.

Each year, Port Arthur has a huge musical celebration on Janis' birthday in her honor. I'm not sure if she would be glad about that or not.

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