Janis Joplin was known for living her life in the fast lane and, during her short but remarkable career, she made herself an unstoppable force that was undoubtedly the voice of her generation. Joplin’s free spirit would see her live at high speed, a life path that would tragically lead to the singer losing her battle with addiction when she was only 27-years-old.
It’s well documented that just three days before her death, Joplin recorded vocals on the track ‘Mercedes Benz’. That effort is one of her most iconic numbers, a creation that becomes even more breathtaking when you realise that it was the last time she would step foot inside a recording studio. However, what’s less documented is that she also recorded a powerful tribute to John Lennon on that very same day, one which would eventually reach the former Beatle following her death.
Joplin was a true Beatles aficionado and, in a letter she even sent to her parents in 1967, it confirmed her infatuation for the group. “Speaking of England, guess who was in town last week – Paul McCartney!!! (he’s a Beatle),” the letter began. “And he came to see us!!! SIGH Honest to God! He came to the Matrix & saw us & told some people that he dug us. Isn’t that exciting!!!! Gawd, I was so thrilled – I still am! Imagine – Paul!!!! If it could only have been George….Oh, well. I didn’t get to see him anyway – we heard about it afterwards. Why, if I’d known that he was out there, I would have jumped right off the stage and made a fool of myself.”
Despite Joplin’s admiration for all-things Beatles related, the recording she created for Lennon came under Yoko Ono’s request. Ono had asked an array of musicians that John admired to record a birthday message for him, as Lennon confirmed when he appeared on The Dick Cavett Show in 1972.
In a rare television appearance, Lennon was asked by the host about his relationship with Joplin and made the revelation. “We didn’t meet, but she sent me a birthday tape on my birthday for my last birthday,” Lennon revealed for the first time. “Yoko asked all different people to make a tape for me, and she was one of them, and we got it after she died. It arrived in the post, and she was singing happy birthday to me in the studio.”
Cavett then probed Lennon about the circumstances surrounding Joplin’s death and the prevalence of artist dying from overdoses. “I think the basic thing that nobody asked is why do people take drugs of any sorts from alcohol to aspirins to hard drugs, and that question has to be devolved first before you think what can we do for the poor drug addict,” Lennon profoundly added. “Why do we and you have to have these accessories to normal livings to live. That means there’s something wrong with society that’s making us so pressurised that we cannot live in it without guarding ourselves against it. It’s that basic the problem.”
Although Lennon and Joplin’s paths never crossed, the two of them would undoubtedly have been kindred spirits who shared a similar vision of life. Joplin’s birthday message for the bespectacled Beatle is as muscular as you’d expect, but the recording carries a sense of heartbreak through it when you realise this was the final time that she’d ever set foot in a recording booth.