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Music

Inside the friendship of Grace Slick and Janis Joplin

In terms of countercultural heroines, you do not get more iconic than Grace Slick and Janis Joplin. Kindred spirits, whose friendship was symbiotic, both were radicals who showed that not only could women keep up with men in the misogynistic world and music industry, but totally trump them in every way. 

Last year, the two’s friendship was cemented in history when Joplin’s estate released the scrapbook Janis Joplin: Days & Summers. A deep dive into her personal archives, this was perhaps the most revealing account of Joplin published since her untimely death in 1970. A collection of rarities, including photographs, unpublished letters, souvenirs and more, the scrapbook looks at her career from 1966 to 1968. 

For such an honest account of Port Arthur’s favourite daughter, it was only fitting that her old partner in crime, Grace Slick, be enlisted to pen the introduction. 

At one point, Slick recalls Janis being on stage and explained just how captivating she was: “The Janis I knew at the time was a wonderful, wisecracking wild woman who drank like I did – straight out of a pint bottle,” she said. “Why waste time with glasses? Like Otis Redding, you just couldn’t turn away when she was on. She would stomp her feet, toss her hair and go from a whisper to a full-on scream in a split second… I didn’t want to go on after her.”

In an interview with Uncut in 2019, Slick remembered her friendship with Joplin. She said: “People who write books really get Janis wrong. The woman I knew would cackle, she’d laugh so hard, and was fun to be with. Very vocal, very outspoken, very funny. Texas women tend to be like that. They called us fire and ice. I was the ice and she was the fire. But I think she is more of a symbol of those times than I. She had more style. My voice is OK, but she really pushed the envelope.”

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Following on from that, Slick also commented on her friend’s tragic death: “Trust me, you’re not trying to kill yourself – you’re just having fun. I don’t remember anyone being miserable. Sure, Janis had issues, but nobody was suicidal. You could screw anybody and take any drugs you wanted. The only downside was we didn’t measure the drugs we took. A lot of us died because we weren’t good with the chemistry. When Janis died, Marty (Balin) stopped using drugs. I’m stupid, I always thought when these people died, it wasn’t going to be me. But that turned out to be true.”

The friendship between Joplin and Slick was such a deep one that it affected the whole of the hippie movement, and it has now gone down in pop culture history as one of the most iconic camaraderies. It’s so iconic that it even influenced a segment of the lyrics of Fleetwood Mac’s ethereal 1982 hit ‘Gypsy’. 

During a 2009 interview with EW, Fleetwood Mac frontwoman Stevie Nicks revealed a heavy dose of nostalgia was involved in penning the song’s lyrics. In them, she mentions a shop that the pair frequented in San Francisco, the cultural home of all things hippie. 

Remembering her two heroes, Nicks said: “That’s the words: ‘So I’m back to the velvet underground’ — which is a clothing store in downtown San Francisco, where Janis Joplin got her clothes, and Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane, it was this little hole in the wall, amazing, beautiful stuff — ‘back to the floor that I love, to a room with some lace and paper flowers, back to the gypsy that I was'”.

It’s a brilliant friendship that is perhaps the most enduring of the counterculture, and it’s just a shame that there’s not more information regarding the hijinx the pair used to get up to. I’d wager that Grace Slick has a few anecdotes to tell.

Watch footage of the pair hanging out in San Jose below.