The beautiful mollusks of the northern Gulf of Mexico, are a delicacy to the common folk who have inhabited this land, and have navigated these waters for centuries. They survive the rise and fall of the tides, as well as the turbulent storms, both natural and from the whims and fancies of man. These simple creatures withstand the pressures of the deep, and their rough exteriors, although seemingly impenetrable, sometimes allow matter to find its way into the inner chamber of their hearts. Through patience and love, they hold onto this inner beauty, and let it grow strong and uncrushable. They layer it with experience and wonder, until when the muscle is too tired to contain it, it releases this treasure into the world - a pearl.
Janis Joplin grew up in Eastern Texas in the shadow of the blues and jazz that came teaming out of New Orleans and the deep south and at the dawn of the era of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Although white and middle class, her crew of adventurers would race over the border into Louisiana to hear music, drink beer, and raise hell. Although she had a crew of people she ran with, she always maintained the identity of an outsider. Most of her childhood and into college, she was ridiculed for her outward appearance. She was bullied by those who didn’t see her for her talent and only judged her by her outer shell. She was deeply hurt by other’s shallow opinions of her, yet she was resilient and believed in herself. She had an affinity for the blues, and from early on, spent her time belting out the classics of Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. In the early 1960s, her music took her west, first to college in Austin, and then to the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. She joined up with a group of musicians who called themselves Big Brother and the Holding Company. This energetic group became a mainstay of the Fillmore West, and set the music world on its edge at The Monterey Pop Festival. There, with other electrifying performances by Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and fellow 27 Club members Pigpen and the Grateful Dead, Janis brought the new found freedom of the hippy movement, and the psychedelic world of the underground, into the mainstream of American popular culture.
Her band signed a record deal with Columbia Records, and set off on a whirlwind, but grueling tour across the planet. Although she loved and pursued her dream of playing music, this lifestyle often left her alone and vulnerable. She used alcohol and drugs as fuel to keep up with the demands of a rigorous career. She had a tough shell for an exterior, but her inner musician was struggling to break free of the shell she was lost in. She eventually left her band, and pursued a solo career that focused on her roots as a blues singer. As a solo performer, she continued to electrify audiences around the world and even performed at Woodstock. Janis became one of the first true female artists of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and was known to leave all of herself on the stage after each performance. Her final album titled, Pearl was released shortly after her untimely death in 1970. The album climbed to number one on the Billboard 200 and held that spot for nine weeks. It was an accomplishment she never was able to celebrate. Janis died of an accidental heroin overdose. She was just 27 years old.
Janis Joplin’s nickname was Pearl.
Pearls are formed when a parasite works its way into an oyster, mussel or clam. As a defense mechanism, a fluid is used to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed.
The bullying Janis experienced throughout her life was cruel and affected her deeply. To protect herself from the hate that surrounded her, she developed a hard exterior, while trying to maintain her inner sense of self and beauty. She believed in herself and went deep within to bring forth the talent and raw emotion we all came to know her for. Similar to the way a pearl is formed, Janis derived strength and expression from the hurtful words that were intended to crush her spirit.
This piece is a call to protect ourselves and those around us of the hate and discrimination some of us often feel in our daily lives. Bullying is certainly an issue amongst our youth, but it’s something that continues to haunt people into adulthood. We can all use a reminder of our worth and with the support of one another, we all have the ability to be the greatest versions of ourselves.
Like a pearl within an oyster, we all have a light within us that needs nurturing to develop. We can all help each other shine a little brighter.
“You got to get it while you can.” -Janis Joplin