John Lennon and Janis Joplin didn’t ever meet each other in person, but their bodies and creative output shared identical magical energy. Joplin’s life was tragically cut short just as she was beginning to step into the peak of her powers. Lennon was a huge fan of her work, and the appreciation was mutual. In fact, the final time Joplin ever stepped foot in a studio was to record a tribute to the bespectacled Beatle himself.
Like everybody else her age, Joplin was a Beatles obsessive. Even when her career started to take off with Big Brother, she still acted like a crazed teenage fangirl when Paul McCartney came to watch her perform in San Francisco. Joplin was so taken aback by his presence that she even wrote a letter to her parents telling them about the out-of-body experience.
“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.”
It wouldn’t be much longer before Joplin’s time playing local venues like San Franciso’s The Matrix would come to an end as her voice tightened its grip on America and beyond. Before her premature death in 1970, everybody wanted a piece of Joplin, including John Lennon. As it was approaching his 30th birthday, and Yoko Ono was painstakingly tasked with getting the man who’s got everything with a gift that he’d cherish, to which she turned to the arts.
Lennon had financial riches beyond his wildest dreams, and if there was any materialistic item that he wished to own, he could buy it. Yoko had to think outside the box, and she decided to contact an array of his favourite musicians to record a special birthday message for him. Joplin was one of a host of names that duly obliged, and she recorded her vocals just a matter of days before her death.
A year after she passed away, Lennon appeared on The Dick Cavett Show and revealed news of the recording. “We didn’t meet, but she sent me a birthday tape on my birthday for my last birthday,” Lennon told the gaping jawed audience. “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.”
Lennon then gave his poignant thoughts on addiction and its prevalence in society. “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 lamented.
He 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.”
Lennon knew first hand about the pitfalls of addiction and had been through a similar fight to the one that Joplin sadly succumbed to just five days before his 30th birthday. In the years that have passed since her death, that precious audio recorded for Lennon has come to the surface and proved that Joplin could even make singing the names from a phonebook sound delectable.