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Janis: Her Life and Music

By Holly George-Warren

(Simon & Schuster, October 2020)

Longlisted for the 2020 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction

This extraordinarily intimate and “gripping” (Vanity Fair) biography of Janis Joplin establishes the Queen of Rock & Roll as the rule-breaking musical trailblazer and complicated, gender-bending rebel she was.

Janis Joplin’s first transgressive act was to be a white girl who gained an early sense of the power of the blues, music you could only find on obscure records and in roadhouses along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. But even before that, she stood out in her conservative oil town. She was a tomboy who was also intellectually curious and artistic. By the time she reached high school, she had drawn the scorn of her peers for her embrace of the Beats and her racially progressive views. Her parents doted on her in many ways, but were ultimately put off by her repeated acts of defiance.

Janis Joplin has become a legend known as a brash, impassioned soul doomed by the pain that produced one of the most extraordinary voices in rock history. But in these pages, Holly George-Warren provides a revelatory and deeply satisfying portrait of a woman who wasn’t all about suffering. Janis was a perfectionist: a passionate, erudite musician who was born with talent but also worked exceptionally hard to develop it. She was a woman who pushed the boundaries of gender and sexuality long before it was socially acceptable. She was a sensitive seeker who wanted to marry and settle down—but couldn’t, or wouldn’t. She was a Texan who yearned to flee Texas but could never quite get away—even after becoming a countercultural icon in San Francisco.

Written by one of the most highly regarded chroniclers of American music history, and based on unprecedented access to Janis Joplin’s family, friends, band mates, archives, and long-lost interviews, Janis is the “significance-establishing project Joplin appreciators have been waiting for” (The New York Times Book Review).

****

“[Janis] performs a service by stripping away a lot of the noise around Joplin . . . and telling her story simply and well, with some of the tone and flavor of a good novel.”
The New York Times

“In encapsulating Joplin’s dual nature so concisely, George-Warren delivers the definitive portrait of one of pop culture’s most misunderstood martyrs…. [In] dwelling so sympathetically on her tangle of talents, contradictions, and mythology, Janis brings one of rock’s most enduring legends down to earth while holding her justly up to the light.”
NPR.com

“[Janis] is sober and thorough, and it amounts to the last word on a brief candle of an existence, a life whose peaks and valleys make your average mountain range look as flat as an acre of Texas farmland.”
The Washington Post

“Never before the revelatory new book Janis: Her Life and Music has [Janis Joplin] been fully recognized as a groundbreaking musician charting a fresh course for the blues, for rock, and for women, while, at the same time, obliterating the line between the performance of a song and essence of her soul.”
Entertainment Weekly

“A richly detailed, affectionate portrait…. A top-notch biography of one of the greatest performers to emerge from a brilliant era.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

****

Holly George-Warren is an award-winning writer and music consultant. As editorial director of Rolling Stone Press from 1993-2001, she created over forty books, including New York Times bestsellers and ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award-winners. She has worked as a curator for the GRAMMY Museum and currently serves on the nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A two-time Grammy nominee, she teaches Arts Journalism at the State University of New York in New Paltz, NY.