To put it simply, there was nobody who did it quite like Janis Joplin. Firstly as part of Big Brother and The Holding Company and then, later, with her band The Kozmic Blues Band, she became one of the most iconic singers of her generation, setting the world on fire with her outstanding vocal delivery and captivating performances. Although she only had a short career, what Joplin achieved during it remains a mind-blowing feat. It’s a testament to her that she is still so revered over 50 years since her tragic passing.
Having started her life in the small conservative Texan town of Port Arthur, Joplin would become one of the key figures of the countercultural movement. Moving to San Francisco in pursuit of a more unburdened life and the loose idea of the hippie dream, Joplin found comfort in the blues music of the past and dedicated many of her earliest performances to the forgotten singers of bygone generations.
Notably, Joplin championed covers over the pursuit of her artistic expression. This reconfiguration of tradition was something that Joplin espoused throughout her career, and it became one of the most instantly recognisable facets of her artistry.
Duly, what Joplin left behind is some of the most fiercely powerful music you’ll ever hear. Although she wasn’t an acclaimed songwriter, Joplin makes a strong claim to be the finest performer of her generation — and when we mean performer, we mean performer. Her hypnotic on-stage ability galvanised generations and set the stage for everyone from Stevie Nicks to Siouxsie Sioux.
Joplin’s musical ability isn’t the only reason fans have adored her. She was also a brilliant, complex personality who enraptured all those she came across. Be it the numerous anecdotes that abound about her character from close ones or from interviews, her cheery Texan disposition was augmented by acerbic wit and a profound take on the world. Given that she was such an iconoclast, Joplin also produced many moments that took us by surprise.
During her appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 1969, Joplin took us all by surprise, as well as the consistently sharp Cavett, when she offered up her take on European audiences. At the time, Joplin had just completed a lengthy European tour, hitting the UK as well as major cities such as Paris, Amsterdam and Stockholm.
After delivering a stellar performance of ‘To Love Somebody’, Joplin sat down for a chat with Cavett, as was customary for the legendary show. The host asked her how she was doing and what she’d been doing to pass the time since she’d last been on the show. Joplin said: “I’ve been working. We did Europe, I went to Europe, I played over there (for) about a month. Scared ’em to death I think”. Asked if she had fun, Joplin responded with, “No, I had a terrible time”.
Detailing further, Joplin explained: “Nobody really gets loose, and nobody rocks over there. They’re all so cerebral, they’re really cerebral, do you know what I mean?”.
Of course, the quick-witted Cavett knew what she meant. “Yes, I know what you mean,” he said. “They sit analysing the meaning of your work and not appreciating it”. Joplin interjected, adding that “they don’t get down” before Cavett went on one of his trademark tangents. He resumed: “They over-intellectualise, they cerebrate, they ratiocinate excessively. That’s what the Limeys do”.
An incredible back and forth between two of the most iconic figures of the era, I don’t think anybody was surprised that Joplin and Cavett were a formidable partnership. As for Joplin’s comments about European audiences, she was right. At that point in time, European audiences were still waiting to be transformed by the advent of punk, as afterwards, I don’t think anybody in the right mind would have posited that they don’t get down.
Watch the performance and interview below.