All summer, Europe 1 looks back at the artists who played the Woodstock revolution in 1969. In this eighth episode, Jean-François Pérès is interested in Janis Joplin, unique incarnation of the crazy 1960s.


There was a before, there was an after. Fifty years ago, the Woodstock wave swept the world. Europe 1 makes you relive, at the time of the festivals of the summer, the history of this revolution, not only by what it brought, but also by those which incarnated it. Today, Janis Joplin.

Drown her freak in alcohol and heroin

It is she who probably embodies with a unique intensity the crazy 1960s. Janis Joplin, the pearl as it is nicknamed, arrives at Woodstock haloed with glory. Two years earlier at the Monterey Festival, she had burst the screen while her first album was not out yet. Two years later, ever freer, more transgressive, not to say scandalous, she landed in Woodstock by helicopter.

From the sky, the crowd is gigantic. In shock, the young (26 years old) singer drowns his jitters for hours in alcohol and heroin. When she finally starts her concert on the night of Saturday the 16th to Sunday the 17th of August 1969, it is 2 am and she is clearly not on her plate. But the scene is her kingdom and she will prove it again with a very high-flying Work Me Lord.

Work Me Lord is the last title of Janis Joplin's third album, I Got Them's Old Kozmic Blues Again Mama, which will be released just after Woodstock. It will be the last out of his life. A short existence, often sad, with music as an outlet and excesses of all kinds as hobbies.

The revenge of a teenager evil in his skin

Nothing, however, destined the little Texan Janis Lyn Joplin to this life of bohemian and self-destruction. His mother is an administrative manager in a faculty, his father is an engineer in oil at Texaco, both very religious. The singer also has two little sisters without history. But right from high school, acne, she is mocked and humiliated. We treat her as "sow", "monster", we say "love of negroes" because she listens to blue ... and already sings it very well. It is not good to leave the herd then, in some southern states. At Austin University, she is voted "ugliest human being on the campus".

Exile is then inevitable. At 19, Janis Joplin heads to California and San Francisco, where she settles in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. It will soon be the mecca of the hippies, and the girl hopes to break through as a singer or musician. For better or for worse, the experience will change his life. She discovers high-dose alcohol, Bourbon in this case, she will not let go, and heroin. She loses 40 pounds, looks more and more like a zombie. So much so that her friends are financing her return to Texas to her parents for shelter.

Cheap Thrills, quality thrills

The parenthesis with a job, a fiancé and a life row will last only a few months. Janis loves music too much. She probably also wants to take revenge on those who have done so much harm. The young woman decides to try her luck in San Francisco a second time, promising herself and swearing to her relatives that it will be drug free. A commitment quickly impossible to hold, especially as success finally arrives. And with him, the money and the temptations that accompany it.

Janis Joplin's second album with her original band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, is called Cheap Thrills. "Chills cheap", in English, and force to note that it carries badly its name. Number one in the United States, with a cover of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb become cult, it contains one of the greatest hits of the singer. A piece created by Aretha Franklin's big sister, Erma Franklin. We are in August 1968, and here is Piece Of My Heart.

In Cheap Thrills, we also find an amazing cover of Georges Gershwin's Summertime, or the famous Ball And Chain.


Janis Joplin is at the peak of her career. The world of music is ecstatic about his incredible vocal performances, the world just reaches out to him. She is invited on the biggest TV shows, where she gives free rein to her exuberant personality.

But the singer is still unstable, multiplies the lovers and lovers of a night, darkness at nightfall driving his colorful Porsche 356 with psychedelic colors. Above all, Janis Joplin is no longer in control of heroin use. We are talking about the current equivalent of 1.000 euros per day, with in the center of this infernal spiral, a damned soul, Peggy Caserta, former stewardess and fashion designer, all at the same time friend, lover, dealer and companion syringe.

Nothing will do, not even a brief love affair with a globe-trotter met in Brazil. On October 4, 1970, while recording her new album, her manager found her dead in her hotel room in Los Angeles. The one who worked hard to the end is the victim of an overdose.

Flamboyances and miseries of rockstar

A few weeks later, the posthumous disc is in the bins. His name is Pearl, as Janis Joplin's nickname. And a title will quickly prevail: a cover of the country singer Chris Kristofferson, also former lover of the singer. This Me And Bobby McGee will be number 1 in the United States.

The ashes of Janis Joplin have been scattered over the Pacific Ocean. In her last will, modified two days before her death (which raised many questions about a potential suicide), she had left to her friends a large sum of money to celebrate in her memory. "That way, they will be able to have fun when I'm gone."

Janis Joplin was 27 years old. Like Jimi Hendrix, who died two weeks ago, like Doors singer Jim Morrison, Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, or Big Star guitarist Chris Bell. Like Kurt Cobain from Nirvana, or Amy Winehouse more recently. This curse haunts the history of rock. She says a lot about the suddenness and brutality of the rockstar condition, with its flamboyances and its small or big miseries.

Find all the other episodes of our series "Woodstock, 50 years later":

> Episode 1: The origins of the most iconic festivals

> Episode 2: Richie Havens, the story of a fate that topples

> Episode 3: Tim Hardin, dubbed by Bob Dylan, destroyed by drugs

> Episode 4: Joan Baez, the consciousness of a generation

> Episode 5: Santana, and the legend was created

> Episode 6: Canned Heat, as long as the blues live

> Episode 7: Creedence Clearwater Revival, the essential casting error