Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company – Live at Winterland ’68 – Review

Janis Joplin

Live at Winterland ’68 (Columbia)
by Nik Rainey

The Adventures of Nik Rainey

Semi-Hemi-Demi-Professional Critic
Episode Two: “Use Your Allusion”

Intro: Next Exposition, Please

I’ve been hanging in a state of languid flux for weeks now – what the Catholics used to call “Limbo” before they closed it down, claiming all the bending backwards was too hard on their backs. Whatever sense of purpose being a music critic once held for me was lost, elusive, and as hard to grasp as a greased supermodel. All my efforts to expunge the worthless and overwrought parts of my syntactical psyche had merely left me hoarse, confused, and with paper cuts the size of the Marinas Trench from trying to speed-read my thesaurus in search of the fabled Lost Synonym for “Throbbing Bassline.” My pseudonym wasn’t much help – he pretended to indulge my misdirected soul-searchings for a few pages, then dropped me like a hot potato salad in the lobby of who he claimed was one of the world’s foremost authorities on critics’ block before ellipsing into oblivion in the back seat of a newspaper taxi with the crossword puzzle already done, incorrectly and in indelible ink, no less. Truthfully, that’s not exactly what happened, but I don’t care and I haven’t seen Jimmy crack corn in some time, although his half-brother Marty has been spotted around town breaking peas. Oh, Christ… get me out of this intro, somebody…

All right, then… the first one is Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company Live at Winterland ’68 (Columbia/Legacy). You like Joplin?”

“I don’t know, you naughty boy, I’ve never joppled!”

“I am still holding the paperweight, you know.”

“Okay, okay, no need to double the dose. Yes, I used to like her quite a bit. Your standard doomed white blues mama, the hands-down winner of the competition between her and Jim Morrison to see who can blow their voice out to a fine wheezy rasp first – hell, what’s not to like? Vulnerability crossed with a paint-peeling wail, a rare distaff stone on the Texan misfit trail somewhere between Roky Erickson and Ross Perot… this kinda stuff’s in short supply today, I’ll tell you whut.”


“Well, try and imagine her on one of those trendy all-chick package tours. Two measures of ‘Piece of My Heart’ and Meredith Brooks’d be reduced to bone meal. They’d be calling Ethan Hawke in to identify Lisa Loeb’s glasses. B


y the second encore, all that’d be left of Pierced Labia Nation would be a smoldering hank of close-cropped hair and a charred Birkenstock.”

“And you’re sure this isn’t residual sixties nostalgia on your part? Some rose-colored reminiscence of how good things were when you were still a gamete?”

“Well, I do still think the Summer of Love was best experienced without a fully-formed spinal column… but let me finish. Listening to Janis and the best backing band she ever had – and please let’s not think of Big Brother in any other terms; the overlong vocal turns by the guitar and bass players serve exactly the same function as allowing Ray Manzarek to butcher the blues on the Doors’ live albums, that is, as embarrassing-white-guy sorbet in between courses – at the peak of their abilities certainly has its appeal, not to mention the thrill of hearing a Gershwin song (“Summertime”) with a little strychnine in its teeth. But it’s like both Thomas Wolfe and my mother said: You can’t go home again. It’s hard to listen to this stuff without having it tainted with the knowledge of what was soon to come.”

“Her lapses into drunkenness, depression, and 

drug abuse? The subsequent death of the sixties dream?”


“No, Leonard Cohen. You’ve heard ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2,’ right? That line about what she did to him on the unmade bed while the limousine waited in the street? First of all, I have it on good authority it was double-parked; secondly… ewwwww! Cohen’s a genius and all, but gawd, no wonder she drank so much! It’s gonna take a lotta Southern Comfort to wash that depressive Canadian singer-songwriter paste off your palate! Forget heroin, Jack – that shit’s the real killer! I mean, what’s Rebecca DeMornay done lately? Hah? And don’t think Columbia will let you forget it, either – a little subliminal advertising for big Len’s new album four or five years from now, perhaps – why else would the one song that appears twice on the album be ‘Down on Me,’ hmmm? Another entendre over here, barkeep! And make it a double!”


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