Any Port Arthur In A Storm
© 2002 Dave Archer - All rights reserved
I met Janis Joplin in mid to late 1961. We were friends for most of our twenties, until she moved on to Mahalia Jackon's choir on the other side of Jordan, and let's hope we all get to be at THAT show someday.
"I got treated very badly in Texas.
They don't treat beatniks too good in Texas.
Port Arthur people thought I was a beatnik,
though they'd never seen one and neither had I".
I was doorman at "The Fox and Hound" coffeehouse in North Beach, in San Francisco in the heart of the beats. I'd come there from my home town of San Luis Obispo after seeing a photo in our local paper of "beatniks," a photo that included quite a few of the players of the day, perhaps twelve. The photo was in conjunction with a story about Allen Ginsberg's obscenity trial over "Howl". I was attracted to the photo more than the story, as I wanted to be around other artists. It was as if I simply could not wait to go there and join up. Janis must have seen something similar in Port Arthur as it was a national story at the time. She was also quite a reader of books, so I'm sure "On The Road" was a factor. For some of us young artists, North Beach was THE magnet of the day, it's pull, irresistible. We simply had to go there. The thing is, when we got there, most of the beats had already left for fame and fortune in other areas of the country and world. I'm nearing 70 now, and some years ago, writing about this, I coined the term: "wannabeatniks", which is what we were really.
I remember meeting Janis at the door of the Fox and the Hound, because she was alone and her cheek was plugged with a fat cigar and we roared with laughter over it. I mean a Goodyear BLIMP cigar. Women didn't smoke cigars then. Well, I never saw one before her, that's for sure. Nowadays she'd be on the cover of "Cigar Aficionado Magazine" like Demi Moore, only Janis' amazing chipmunk cheeks would put Demi to shame.
That night Janis was dressed in Levis and a brown leather sheepskin vest over a chambray work shirt. No makeup. Brown hair, plain, to her shoulders. Her vest had white fur showing at the armholes, and her boots were plain brown cowboy boots. She dressed that way a lot when she first came to North Beach.
And, she looked anything but famous that night, and wasn't. Still, I'll bet most people who met her before she was (famous), still remember their first meeting. The woman was utterly charming, radiating a wicked girl streak that you just wanted more of, right away, period, like chocolate and whiskey. If she "turned it on," that stunning charm, just for you, I swear, people would do anything for her.
I don't remember the whole conversation, but I remember her first two lines, with that cigar in her cheek.
She said, "I hear you hire sangers!"
"Sangers? Where are you from?"
"Port Arthur, Texas, but you don't want to know about it".
I must have told her something like, "I don't know about HIRE, the boss pays two bucks a night and a hamburger for sangin', but you can pass the hat".
Recently I saw a big-budget biography of Janis on tv that said she started out in San Francisco at the "Coffee and Confusion".
Actually, that was later.
First Janis sang at Lee Fraley's, "The Fox and Hound," the exact same place, where also around the same time, Hoyt Axton played the first professional set of his life, (I was doorman for that too) which included a version of "The Ballad of John Henry" so roaring loud the audience just sat there stunned, eyeballs bulging, mouths agape, gasping for breath before giving him a standing ovation, possibly because they thought if they didn't, Hoyt might come off the stage and hurt them.
Anyway, Janis left town for awhile, then came back after "The Fox and Hound," had changed owners, plus names, to: "Coffee and Confusion". I was doorman there too so I know this stuff.
I remember, Janis was great friends there, with Morris Lafon, coffeeman supreme, later actor on Broadway in New York. Ten blocks or so up Telegraph Hill from the coffeehouse, stood famous Coit Tower. One night Morris and Janis were up there drinking and singing to the full moon and barely got away from the cops, by diving down the steep hillside, through half an acre of ornamental pine trees and hedges, trying to keep their gallon of Red Mountain Burgundy from getting broken, and the cops shining flashlights and yelling, "Halt!" and them screaming in laughter. Morris still lives in New York on Times Square with a window overlooking the main action, in a rent-controlled apartment, one in fact, that had the only working phone in NYC (okay, there were a few others) during the last power outage, because Morris never changed from the old rotary dial phone. I mean, the really, really OLD phone, right. See, bohemian artist that he was, when they came to take his antique phone out, Morris talked them into leaving it. Ha! And now you know I'm a digressive writer too.
Morris reminded me recently that at first, the owner of "Coffee and Confusion," Sylvia Fennel, didn't like Janis at all, and didn't want her singing in there much. She thought folksingers should have an act, like the Kingston Trio. Sylvia thought Janis "looked terrible and sang terrible," and "didn't play guitar or anything, just stood there and sang while people clapped," and Morris had to yell at her, "Yea, and just look at them clapping Sylvia! They don't give a shit if she plays guitar! The audience loves her!!!"
There was a cardboard sign, that looked like it had been written by a dog with a stick reading:
"Anyone who pays Janis Joplin before the last set is fired! Any customer who gives her money is 86's!" Sylvia.
During "Fox and Hound," days, musicians worked for two or three dollars a night, which wasn't as bad as it sounds because good ones made enough from "the hat" to eke out meals and pay low rent. And rents were quite low in those days. You could get a cheap hotel room for 75 bucks or so a month, less even. This was important because although small, a room was private, a big deal in The City. A full dinner in Chinatown, including a rack of ribs, cabbage, rice and gravy, plus tea was $1.25. "Pork buns" were a dime each, with four or more made a meal to keep a folk singer "warm" for eight hours. It wasn't a good idea to look inside a pork bun. They tasted great when hot, but actually, there was no pork in them to speak of at all. If you were lucky, perhaps a piece the size of a pea. Ah, but the remainder of the bun was stuffed with fine pieces of pure white pork fat. And absolutely spiced to gourmet perfection. Each pork bun was like eating a quarter pound cube of butter inside a doughnut with bacon wrapped around it. I'll bet Andy Warhol never silk-screened a tray of pork buns. Um.
Also that first night I met Janis at the, Fox and Hound, I heard her sing, "Silver Threads and Golden Needles," strumming a borrowed guitar, and never forgot that either.
Lee gave folk singers two or three dollars BEFORE they performed, for cigarettes and beer. They were expected to sing a few sets through the evening. Two bucks would buy eight beers two doors up at the Coffee Gallery or eight packs of Pall Malls at the Chinese grocery on the corner.
Lee's burgers were legendary --- up to a pound of ground round on grilled French bread. I was the cook before becoming doorman, preparing hundreds of the monsters. On many nights, with coffee or a hot chocolate, a Fraley burger was the best meal a folk singer had all day.
I have no memory of Janis leaving that night.
After singing though, she "owned" the joint.
We all knew that.
Later, in and out of town, Janis sang both the Coffee and Confusion, and the Coffee Gallery, backed up by Larry Hanks and Roger Perkins on acoustic guitars and vocals. In fact, it was Coffee Gallery bartender Mike Kelly who "hired" Janis for her first official paying gig in San Francisco. That is, Kelly talked Coffee Gallery owner Leo Riegler into paying Roger Perkins five dollars a night to back Janis on guitar. She had taken guitar lessons from amazing musician Tom Hobson, (see Tom's story at: http://www.RaggedButRight.com) and Tom's suggestion had been that her voice was so dynamic, Janis should forget backing herself and stick to singing. I don't know what Leo paid her, but I think she still passed the hat as well, and did pretty good. People came running to hear her sing, that's for sure. Pretty much everything except serving beer in the joint stopped until her last song. All of us were just riveted every single time Janis sang, anytime, anywhere.
When I first knew her she was only doing a few blues tunes like, "Black Mountain Blues," and mostly singing jug band songs like "Stealin" or honky tonk songs like, "Silver Threads and Golden Needles".
One night, during her first trip to San Francisco, Janis sauntered up to me on the door of the Fox and the Hound and said, "hey man, when you get off work tonight what'say we split over to my place and fuck".
I was utterly stunned, popping off something like, "yea ... sure ... as long as you remember my name is Groucho and the secret word tonight is homosexual".
"Me too," she laughed --- as pure a comment on the early sixties as I've ever heard. Although, in those days, in the shrinking Beat scene we were in, we simply did not talk about ourselves in personal ways much at all. We really didn't. We just were, whatever we were, mostly unspoken. It was "uncool" to probe. The fact was, I had no idea what the heck I "was" anyway, because I'd been molested for years as a kid. After that, all bets were off. It's taken me six decades to understand that. And I don't know about Janis, but I didn't like the idea of being "bisexual". I always longed to be "settled," one or the other. I said homo that night I'm sure, because that's what I thought I was right then, and we didn't use the word gay in those days. Mainly, we were impulsive and just didn't give a shit. We just wanted love.
Anyway, I do not remember if Janis had her Morris Minor yet, (probably not) which was like a VW bug someone let the air out of. I don't think she had a car on that first trip to San Francisco. Which is also probably how Homer Davis ended up going with us. He never would have fit in the Morris Minor with us, that's for sure, so he must have driven us. Janis was living in a tiny ground level apartment on Fulton by Golden Gate Park. Except for a bed the place had no furniture and unfortunately, no heat.
We were all freezing. I mean, no wonder Janis wanted to sleep with me. This was awful. So we all jumped around staring at the fake fireplace, jogging in place, hitting our shoulders with our fists, laughing white breaths, and of course, guzzling wine and "warming" ourselves with Pall Malls.
Homer had promised to leave after we drank the half gallon he'd brought along which didn't take all that long, then after he got drunker, he wouldn't go.
Janis entertained as best she could, spinning her collection of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainy 78's.
Her bed was smaller than a single bed, not much wider than a cot. Eventually, the two of us gave up trying to get Homer to leave and crawled in with some difficulty, completely clothed because of the cold, while Homer, with no pillow or blanket, curled up like a dog on a small oval carpet at the foot of the bed, using his fists for a pillow, a gruesome sight indeed.
About one minute after we clicked off the light, Homer started making a frightening noise. We found the light again and sat up in bed, looking down at the poor man on the carpet there, his feet crossed beneath his butt like bones on a pirate flag, scrunched into the tightest possible fetal position, ("fetally fatal," if you will), his teeth were chattering louder and faster than one of those wind-up clacking toys --- pure R. Crumb, and funny, yet truly annoying.
Well, for about two minutes it was funny. For one thing, it was astonishing that a drunk guy, even a crazy artist, no matter how freakin' frigid, could actually jack their teeth together that fast, and THAT hard, without breaking them all to pieces. And no video-cams back then either.
So, we ... attempted, ahem, "love making".
I don't know.
Call it a freezing-fullyclothed-clacking-homo-mama-mood thing. I don't know.
Ellen Harmon (All Woman) also asked me to "ball" one night when we shared a place on lower Haight Street. She put on Bobby Blue Bland and we started, on a lumpy couch. Then I giggled and poor Ellen got so mad she threw me onto the floor and never asked again. I love you Ellen, wherever you are. Peace, and love.
Rick Barton used to claim that in outer Mongolia, the word for love making translated as, "laughing together". In that sense Janis and I had a Frenchy, because we almost wet the bed giggling over Homer's teeth ... finally dropping off to sleep.
And Homer then, spent the next few hours trying to keep warm by gently lifting the covers and sneaking his icy chattering mug as far up into our feet as he could.
"Watch your toes!" we'd sputter.
Again, and again.
And every time he tried, we put our feet on top of his goon head and shoulders and pushed him back out onto the floor with a CRASH! And Homer didn't go easy, pushing as hard as only a blind drunk can push. This took team work, gripping the top of the bed, heaving together: "one ... two ... THREE!"
"Stop it man ... just fuckin' stop it," Janis would yell, "get your fuckin' face outta my feet Homer!"
So why didn't we drag him into the street and lock him out?
Well Homer was our drunk artist friend. We wouldn't do that. Hell, we might "be" him someday, and not too soon at that. So, if the bed had been bigger Homer would have been in there with us, that's for sure.
Later, when Janis was singing at the Coffee Gallery, she teamed up with a beautiful black lover named Jae Whitaker. The two met in a bar around the corner called the Anxious Asp.
My lover, Mark Rainsley, was a painter too.
Janis and Jae would take us dancing at Maud's, a lesbian bar so famous it added its own chapter to gay American history (see: "Last Call At Mauds," documentary available on video). We felt comfortable at Maud's because Janis and Jae were favored souls there.
Janis would sing along with the jukebox and everybody loved it when she did.
This was singing for beer really.
No matter what song, Janis knew the words. And that solid gifted voice would just rise above, and cut through everything. She could "steal the lead" from Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin simply because Janis was there, live, belly up to the bar, singing "in" the crowd. Always to cheering and applause, and another pitcher of beer.
Mark and I also stayed over with Janis and Jae when they lived together in the Castro, which was yet to be a gay neighborhood. This, in spite of the Chinese laundry on the corner named, "Gay Laundry," just down from Jae's place, where soon, Janis moved in.
The cottage was on a steep bank at 186 States Street where the four of us sometimes hung out. Jae in fact, still lives there, only across States Street from the old place.
One night, after we'd all gone to bed drunk, Mark and I had a spat and I hauled off and punched a hole in the wall just above his head. The door to their room creaked open about eight inches, first Jae's wide-eyed face appeared, then Janis' wide-eyed face, one above the other, filling the gap. "What's goin' on out there ...?," asked Jae.
"Shit, man...I'm sorry. I just got mad at Mark and punched a hole in your wall."
"Well, don't go punchin' no holes in Mark ... and don't worry about the hole," Jae said, "I'll hang a picture over it tomorrow," then closed the door.
Among the few personal mementos I have of those days is an 8 x 10 photo Janis gave me below. Why didn't I have her sign it. I asked Grace Slick that once and she said, "we forget to ask friends".
One from a series of portraits from the early 60's when she first came to San Francisco, by photographer Karl Siegel. The unknown Janis is posed with a guitar and wearing jean pants and a dark sweatshirt with no makeup. Years later, after the Monterey Pops Festival, she came over to my studio in North Beach and during our visit, asked if I still had the picture, saying she wanted to rip it to pieces because it made her look so bad. We looked through boxes of stuff together and couldn't find it. Sorry for putting it up here Janis, but I love it and I'm sure other people do to, which is why we probably couldn't find it that day, and anyway, other photos from the same Siegel series, slightly different poses from the one she gave me, appear in "Buried Alive" by Myra Friedman and "Love Janis XX" by her sister Laura.
Karl Siegel is not credited for the photos in either book and I can only assume that Myra and Laura did not know who made them. It isn't their fault.
Karl Siegel was in his nineties when he photographed Janis.
Evidently at one time he'd been a well respected photographer, at least he always carried copies of ancient press clippings and printed brochures in his bulging pockets, rife with quotes from famous people.
The only quote I remember was from Somerset Maugham who said something along the lines of: "Karl Siegel makes photographs with the painter's eye of vision".
We always wondered if Karl hadn't perhaps written it himself.
Siegel was a North Beach regular.
A sideshow character.
For one thing, MOST evidently, the man simply did not shower, ever.
He could bring tears to your eyes like some terrible cheese in the back of the refrigerator.
On the street we always stood upwind of Karl Siegel. There he would be, and there would be our little group and we would all end up sort of bunched together, upwind, looking over each other's shoulders. Oh yea.
In the five years or so I knew him, Karl always wore exactly the same thing, which we assumed he slept in as well: a black suit, with a black shirt, and a black string tie. And always a heavy black overcoat, even on the hottest summer day. Karl wore a black beret that extruded white angel hair to his shoulders. I mean hair so fine and pure it was exactly like the stuff mother used for Christmas decorations. His black shirtfront was dotted with bits of dried food and his shoulders were snow banks of dandruff, definitely not part of mom's display. Arte Johnson's dirty old man character from "Laugh In" always reminded me of Karl.
I only saw the man sans beret: twice.
Once when a strong gust of wind blew it down the street. While one of our rag-tag group ran after it, the rest of us couldn't help noticing a large flake of dirt, or something, on top of Karl's bald spot. It was like a black scab the size of a commemorative stamp, and seemed to be peeling up off of his scalp a little, as if another good gust of wind might just blow it off down the street after Karl's hat.
Over a year later, the same group of us appeared in court lending moral support to a hooker friend named Julie who'd been arrested for streetwalking. When we entered the courtroom, Karl removed his beret and there was the same exact flake of dirt, only a little more peeled up.
Karl was the quintessential dirty old man in more ways than one. When Morris and I had Julie as a roommate, she posed occasionally for Karl's so called, "photo classes," one morning bringing home a series of pictures she'd stolen from the old coot after coming out of a blackout and finding them all over the darkroom. In various shots, she was posed with a salami, a dill pickle and a bottle of beer --- this was no picnic.
Around 1964 (could have been a little earlier) I moved into the building of artists studios called the Goodman Building at 1117 Geary Street, next to Tommy's Joynt. I recommended the place to Janis and she soon lived in a room across the hall from me, a tiny box with a sleeping loft.
Her room was on the East side of the rooming house with a small window looking down on the roof of Tommy's Joynt and Van Ness Avenue.
Janis lived in the Goodman Building for awhile with a young English guitar player who wore a black leather jacket and rode a motorcycle. When they broke up, Mike Kelly was just leaving his room, so she moved into it, a little larger place, one flight up, where she lived with a woman named Linda Gottlieb, (later Wauldron, after marrying Malcom Wauldron). Janis and Linda hunkered down up there, sitting up in bed, day and night for weeks, making hundreds of ink drawings which ended up drying, all over the floor and the walls. I used to draw with them, all of us cranked to the tits. I still have one drawing by Janis. It's a face, mouth agape spewing wavy lines, as if singing.
The Goodman Building was filled with artists and musicians on two boho-floors, with two classic painting studios taking up the third. One of our friends was Byron Hunt who lived a few steps down the hall.
In his mid-sixties he had been making art and writing poetry all of his life, yet had never shown in a gallery because he couldn't stand the thought of anyone saying anything bad about his work.
Byron was happy man.
Knock on the door of his room and he often answered completely nude, and stayed that way throughout the visit --- like Hotai, with a big grin on both ends.
Byron was also a walking encyclopedia of San Francisco bohemian history.
"Allen Ginsburg got 'Moloch' from me!," he would chortle, repeating the same stories from visit to visit.
"He used it in Howl you know. And he never gave me credit for it, I mean in person. Allen should have thanked me for Moloch. Good poets credit their sources, at least personally, to other poets. In fact, Allen claimed that 'Moloch' was all his idea, but I remember exactly when he got it from me. We were walking over Nob Hill together one morning just before he wrote Howl, and when we reached the top of the hill we stopped to look out over the city, and right then, I pointed to the financial district below us and yelled, look Allen, 'Moloch! Moloch! Moloch!' I was even jumping up and down waving both arms. So he took it and used it. Allen was a horrible person that way. Some poets are like that".
Byron, poet, artist and retired postman, walked the city everyday for miles.
Whenever any car --- the bigger the hood the better --- pulled over the crosswalk blocking his way, limber as an acrobat from walking San Francisco hills delivering mail for thirty years, the man would giant-step up onto the hood of their car and plomp! plomp! plomp! right over it, then PLONK! ... a giant step down, and just walk away in the downtown crowd, never looking back.
Byron said it was more fun not to look back; to imagine the looks on the driver's faces. I mean, this was world class hood-denting in league with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. It was also at a time when people were not packing pistols.
Watching Byron was so funny that artist Harold La Vigne once followed him around with a movie camera, recording his antics for posterity.
One day Janis told me her family was coming from Port Arthur to visit her at the Goodman, and Linda and she needed to "straighten" the place up in preparation. In other words, pick up eighteen hundred weird drawings from the floor, and off the walls. The plan was, that Linda would help Janis "makeover," from beat chick on major drugs and alcohol to "semiprofessional Beat about town" without stepping on any thumbtacks in their bare feet.
I ran into Janis in the hall one day, dressed for a test run, her hair pinned into something "semi-stylish," wearing makeup, plus a nice skirt, with sensible flats.
"Don't laugh motherfucker," but Janis was already laughing the hardest.
I don't know if that's what she finally wore for the visit, or if I was witnessing a rehearsal. It will always be one of my fondest memories of her though. Standing there in that preposterous get-up, with that smirk, and then laughing like a ventriloquist using a witch puppet.
She was such a good little devil.
Later, when Janis lived in the Haight Ashbury, she returned to North Beach often with her dog George to visit friends.
One day on such a visit, George ran off and Janis showed up at the studio I shared with Larry Treadwell, also the site of Harold La Vigne's, "Running Elk Gallery," at the junction of Upper Grant and Columbus Avenues.
Janis was in anguish and tears.
Soon we were all searching the streets and back alleys for the dog. We must have walked the whole area ten times calling out, "George! George!," until she had gathered a group of fans, some wanting autographs, others helping in the search, fanning out, so to speak, then meeting back up.
Depressed and defeated we said goodbye to the search party, and headed back to the studio. Janis was living with Country Joe McDonald. She called him crying and told him what had happened and he came over to help her look for George again.
Later that night at the Avalon Ballroom, when she left the stage after her performance, she almost socked me in the eye. That's what it felt like anyway.
The dressing room was not backstage at the Avalon, but across the dance hall. As she headed there --- a distance of fifty feet or more --- the good good-natured hippy crowd spontaneously parted, clearing a path for her.
Near the door to the dressing room I stepped up to Janis asking if she'd found George. She was entranced from the stage. "Did you find George?, I yelled louder and she recoiled as if to punch me saying, "What The F...!" ...then "saw" me and burst out with a war whoop and hugged me.
"Yes!," Janis yelled in a voice husky from singing. "George went all the way back home to the Haight Ashbury... fuck man! All by himself! Can you believe it?! George was waiting for us in front of the door when we got back home!"
See, I think this simple little story tells as much about the heart of Janis Joplin, and of where her values were, even in a crowd of adoring fans, as any I've heard, and I've heard a lot of them.
For starters, it's a dog story. And anyone in the Avalon Ballroom that night would have done anything to hang out with her, to have taken George's place. They loved her beyond words. Still, less than thirty seconds after a completely amazing performance, where as usual, she "tore out her heart and passed out the pieces" to a crowd that saw her as nothing less than, "The Goddess", she was back, whap. Just like that. Janis Joplin was a loyal, decent, good person, period.
That was her.
"Guess what, I might be the first hippie pinup girl!"
Another time she showed up at my North Beach studio as happy as could be. Two steps inside the door she flashed proof sheets. "Look man! They're doin' a poster ... of me! Bob Seidemann's this cool photographer and I posed for him man! What do you think? Should I do it? Look at these".
Janis was pictured completely nude in some.
In most of the photos she was shot with her boobs showing, in a long sleeved black dress covered with sequins and about ten beaded necklaces covering her chest.
"Your tits are showing for crap sake ... for a poster?"
She was laughing, "should I ... should I?"
Janis always did this, that is, ask everyone she knew for advice. She was always excited about anything new, and presented it to you with an enthusiasm that was never like bragging, but included you in her excitement.
"What do you think man? What do you think?"
I suggested photo's that made her nipple appear to be one of the beads, saying it was in "better taste" than some other photos in which she was completely nude, although I've seen those photos in magazines since.
I saw Seidemann interviewed and he said he chose the photograph for the poster, due to Janis' eye. It's true. Her eye is astonishing.
Hey, I still like to think we chose it together that afternoon. Anyway, let an old man have his memories.
God, I loved that woman.
The last time we shared a bottle in "our" alley was after Janis had performed at the Monterey Pops Festival and become quite famous. The Coffee Gallery was crowded that night. Having made a quick tour of the place, and not seeing anyone I recognized, I headed once again for the door.
"David!,"came Janis' high twang soaring above the jukebox.
I don't know how I missed her, because when I turned back, there the woman stood, nothing less than a full-blown Port Arthur, Texas, Hollywood VISION appearing out of a monster cloud of cigarette smoke, swathed in an outrageous fur with feathers in her hair, bangles, bracelets, and fifty beaded necklaces, her arms wide for a hug. Then as we held each other laughing I soon became aware everyone in the joint was looking at us, with blank stares like they were watching baseball on TV.
"Where did you get this coat?"
Janis laughed and said, "I called up Southern Comfort and told the motherfucker's they owed me something and they gave it to me".
The whole bar was our laugh track. It was too weird for both of us. The Coffee Gallery had a darkened side-room, not yet opened for the evening. It was just off the main bar, so we went in there to sit and catch up.
Our friend Sunshine was waiting tables and brought us a couple of beers.
We sat at the end of a long table, actually three tables together, end to end.
Janis wanted to know what I was up to.
I told her in a couple of hours I was headed over to the Josephine D. Randall Junior Museum to my regular monthly meeting of the San Francisco Mycological Society, a mushroom study group. That the group went on field trips for gathering, and we were having a lecture that night by a man who had just spent the last twenty years on his hands and knees in the Amazon jungle, collecting what he called "psychedelic mycophyte," nearly microscopic hallucinatory mushrooms.
Janis wanted to go with me but was also due somewhere in a couple of hours. Not that she liked psychedelics, even though we certainly wouldn't have been taking any that night. She was interested in seeing the slide show and hearing the guy talk. Janis told me many times that she didn't like psychedelics. We smoked pot together a few times, but mostly she said, "naw, none of that mystical shit for me man, just give me a beer".
Until that night it had never occurred to me what it meant for Janis to be famous. As we visited, the chairs at our empty table soon filled, then, somehow the room lights ended up on, until a baker's dozen of denizens sat with us, strangers every one. We ignored them, using the loud jukebox to cover our conversation.
"Everybody just stares like this?," I asked
"Yea, everywhere I go man. It's a fucking drag".
Of course, she loved it too, or she wouldn't have been hanging out in a toilet of a bar dressed like a showgirl from the, "Inn of the Styx Happiness".
Then some long haired wino fool at the far end of the table yelled, "So WHEN is the big ROCK STAR going to set up the table with some beer?"
Janis motioned Sunshine over, and through clinched teeth ordered a couple of pitchers. As soon as the beer arrived we glanced at each other and ducked out, headed for our alley. No one followed because they had free beer to drink and they weren't about to leave it no matter who she was.
We stopped at the corner grocery and bought quart of Red Mountain Burgundy for fifty two cents. Then ensconced on our stoop again, we were home, as only two Class D drunks can be, singing along with the Anxious Asp jukebox across the street, Janis in her Southern Comfort fur coat and gold lame heels, and I in my Navy P-coat and Red Wing boots.
There was a popular song we loved at the time by April Stevens and Nino Tempo called, "Deep Purple". The Anxious Asp played it a lot, and we loved to sing it because it had this goofy harmony part: "When the deep purple falls ... over sleepy garden walls, and the stars begin to twinkle in your EYE-eye-e-eye-eye ..." It was those: "EYE-eye-e-eye-eye's" that got us every time. We used to laugh like loons singing that song.
The last time I saw her in person Janis was living on Noe street in an apartment, before she moved to Marin County, her final home. One day I dropped by with an old family friend, Donnie Barbarus, who was visiting from out of town. Janis' mailbox was so crammed with fan mail that some of it had fallen on the floor of the entryway. We picked it up and took it up with us.
I should have called first.
She was alone and answered the door in a robe, hair wrapped in a towel, and I sensed right off she was not real happy to see me.
Never visit a musician in the morning.
Breakfast for a saloon singer is around six in the evening, with late supper at sunrise.
The three of us sat at a small table in her kitchen Donnie and I, reading R. Crumb comics given to Janis by the man himself. They were so brand new that R. Crumb himself, wearing a trench coat, was selling them out of a baby carriage near City Lights Bookstore for awhile.
I'd brought along a six pack of beer of course.
Janis declined a drink at 11:00 AM and sat going through her mail.
Every third or fourth piece contained an official check of some sort. She would open each envelope, then if it held a check, glance at the amount, make a "tisk" with her tongue and place it on a growing pile to one side.
She opened the fan mail with great enthusiasm.
One person had sent her a well drawn, colorful, hand-painted scroll, an Asian fold-out book that stretched five feet or more and had dozens of scenes of her performing at different shows. Janis loved it.
At one point she reached out and grabbed the four or five checks in her hand. Then Janis looked at us saying, "What in the fuck am I supposed to do with all this fuckin' money!," and tossed them over her shoulder onto the kitchen floor behind her.
Her way perhaps of saying, "fame hasn't really changed me".
It was weird though, because her fame made me nervous in a way I hadn't expected.
I knew her before, and after. It changed her music, not her spirit. I'm a dinosaur who thinks Janis might have been happier if she'd never left Big Brother and the Holding Company, or gone back, even though I know life is movement, and on we all go: "deal the cards aaaa-gain ... oh won't you deal the cards again!", thanks Hoyt. I'd love nothing more than if the original Big Brother group was still together to this day. Janis missed so much of life it makes me cry. Imagine the fun she would have had with Bette Midler. And you know they would have. And WHAT a show that would have been. Twin ROSES, not to mention Ray Charles, Willy Nelson, and the Chieftans. I'd better stop.
At the door leaving Janis started wiggling like a puppy and said, "hey, wait a second, you gotta see this new shit I got man it's so cool I have to show you ... !," then ran off down the hall snickering like a Leprechaun.
Soon she was back with, "Ta Da!!!," none other, than a large bottle of the first version of KamaSutra Love Oil.
Janis uncorked the bottle with great ceremony, then purring, got some onto her finger and rubbed oil on the backs of our hands and told us to blow on it, which brought this spicy warmth radiating into our skin, and we all stood there laughing ... and laughing ... ah, the unspoken possibilities.
Now, I don't know if the KamaSutra Love Oil Company has changed the formula since then, but there was a time that my old friend Martin van der Kamp was the original, one and only, National Sales Manager, for KamaSutra which, if I recall from Martin's story, began in a humble garage somewhere in Marin County in a fifty five gallon drum, being mixed with a canoe paddle. When Janis showed us one of the first bottles, I had no idea Martin was involved in the fledging company. Later he told me the secret formula, but I forgot. Ha! Thirty years later I asked him again, and he forgot. All I remember is, it had chocolate it it.
My last living memory of Janis Joplin is in that hallway, laughing together the way we did the first time we met.
I was married and living in a cabin in the woods, in Woodacre, California, when I got the news Janis was gone and I cried for days.
From that day, and for over two decades I avoided her music because it would just break my bones. When "Bobby McGee" came on the car radio I would switch stations, half unconsciously. Once in a park in Sonoma, before I found sobriety, I was drinking Thunderbird with some local "farmers," when one of them, a girl, sang "Bobby McGee," and I mean, like she was being auditioned for Wino Idol. It was terrible. When she finished "singing" I mentioned that I had known Janis and she got madder than Courtney Love and started yelling I was lying, and four jerks, including her, kicked the crap out of me, right there in the sunlight and dog mess, on the lawn in the park in front of all the tourists. Then they left and I got arrested for drunk walking in public. Jeeze.
Anyway, one night in the mid-90's my daughter River loaned me her CD boxed set. For some reason, maybe because I wanted to cry, I put it on, turned up the volume and just "let her rip".
And I started painting, what else: "The Janis Series". My student Vincent Stone, began cleaning and supplying me with large pieces of glass, which was a great support as I worked through the night, past sunrise, Janis singing over the top, of a million volts of flashing electricity.
She would have loved it.
I finished the pieces over the next couple of months. Seven passionate space paintings were completed with unusual colors and design. There was an eighth one, a large triangle for "Piece of My Heart" which was unsuccessful in execution, therefore never finished, and finally destroyed. Each painting represented a single personal favorite Janis song, as it cut the studio air, played repeatedly while working on the electric part of the painting.
And boy, do I wish now that I had been listening to the James Gurley recordings of her, singing as I first knew her, and not with all the razzle-frazzel production on her later recordings after Big Brother and the Holding Company. I knew James for many years in North Beach before he was the lead guitar in Big Brother. He used to be the entertainer at the Romona House, a tiny bar Lee Fraley got after the Fox and Hound. I was bartender there, and James would play sets on guitar and sing blues. You really had to be there to see Gurley's frustrated genius answer idiot audiences who talked and joked while he was playing, treating him like a jukebox with long hair --- by singing, "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey" AT them, in Donald Duck talk. I mean the whole, long song in perfect Mel Blanc voice, every frickin' verse. And it was amazing because people just never "got" how he was ridiculing them, thinking it was part of his actual act, sitting there listening, and even clapping for him a bit ... politely of course.
Anyway, James made a recording of Janis way back when, and I've heard it through a Janis fan (the mysterious "T") on the internet, and it's a work of beauty, truth, love and genius. What more could anyone ask for. Thank you St. James Gurley and "T". Gurley and friends (and son) added brilliant back-up playing, letting Janis' voice come through exactly the way all of us who knew her then remember.
See, actually, very few people ever really heard the "real" Janis Joplin sing from the heart. And that truly is an actual sad fact, right there, period. So, for those of us who were privileged to actually be there, James' heartfelt work is just stunning. From the first moments of her young ('65) voice saying, "This is Janis Joplin" ... it just melted my heart all to hell. Actually, if I'd tried to do those paintings to James' recording, I might not have made it through. Anyway, it would be years before I even knew of Gurley's work, which didn't "come out" until 2001. He presented it to the Joplin family and they rejected it. James got mad and released it to the net.
I didn't show the pieces for some time because my old North Beach artist's ethic had me feeling quite sensitive about them. We were a bohemian tribe that thought it was totally "un-cool" to exploit each other personally, so I wanted to make sure in my heart that anything I did in her name and spirit was simply RIGHT, so I did expect to do something with the work someday. As I said, we never even asked for autographs in those days because it never occurred to us, or I would have had Janis sign the photo she gave me. I feel the same way about this document. In writing it, more than anything I want to give flavor and aroma to the times, and some of the artists and characters Janis ran with for awhile, a very special time in North Beach in San Francisco. I've worked on this piece for a long time and think she would approve.
Eventually, I did have one quiet public showing of the pieces in San Francisco, in North Beach, as part of another show I was doing. The paintings hung in their own area of the gallery, with a sign, and a written explanation of how they came about and why they were unique in color and heart.
A few months after the show a collector flew out from Texas. David Monroe was combing my studio and after an hour I mentioned the Janis Series, stored in one corner and covered over with plastic sheeting. He was stunned by the unusual colors and designs and bought the bulk of the grouping at once.
The night of the opening it was gratifying to see those seven pieces up on walls, well lit, in their own special space. And I quietly toasted Janis' flaming spirit with 7UP, wishing it was a quart of Red Mountain "Burr-gone-dee," and she were there and we could sing like we did in 1961 when I first met her:
"Put your arms around me like the circles round the sun,
I want you love me baby like my easy-rider done,
You don't believe I love you,
Look what a fool I've been
You don't believe I'm sinkin',
Look what a hole I'm in,
I'm stealin' ... stealin'
Pretty momma don't you tell on me
I'm stealin' back to my same ole used-to-be".
Home Page Artist's Gallery Art Galleries And Museum Shows Star Trek
Magazines Machines Bookcovers Dave Archer's Story Writings Art Links
Web Design By Bruce Johnston
Copyright, Dave Archer, All Rights Reserved