Janis: Little Girl Blue


The new documentary about the life of incendiary 1960s blues singer Janis Joplin, by director Amy Berg, has opened in São Paulo this week. Contrary to the classic biography on the singer – Buried Alive, written by Myra Friedman, and first published in 1973 – the documentary chooses to show a less torturous and painful facet of Janis, who comes off in the movie as an intelligent, charismatic and sensitive human being. An extremely talented woman, way ahead of her time, who looks to fame and acclaim to fit in and be loved, Janis’s short and intense life is celebrated, rather than mourned, in this mind-blowing film.

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Born on January 19, 1943, into a conservative and suffocating family, who wanted her to become a teacher, Janis grew up an outcast, the target of frequent bullying at school in the backward Texan city of Port Arthur. Unconventional, outspoken and aggressive, Janis broke the mold of what was expected from women in those repressive years of the 1950s and early 60s.

San Francisco

When zitty-faced and overweight Janis found out she would never become one of the curvaceous and cute models who leapt from the covers and pages of the women’s magazines everyone read when she was a teenager, she left home and headed for San Francisco. The neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury welcomed Janis with open arms. She had found her soulmates. She felt totally at home and could finally blossom as a woman and artist.

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Janis Joplin belonged on the stage. She would rip herself open in front of an audience. Her performances – many of which feature in the documentary, but can also be found on YouTube– are raw and soul-wrenching. Audiences – both in the live presentations depicted in the film and the one watching it from the comfortable seat of a movie theater – look on enthralled and silent – experiencing a jolt of pleasure, pain and self-realization, through the music emanating from this force of nature.

When I sing, I feel like when you’re first in love. It’s more than sex. It’s that point two people can get to they call love, when you really touch someone for the first time, but it’s gigantic, multiplied by the whole audience. I feel chills, explains the singer.

The movie narrates Janis’s story from her childhood in Port Arthur to her untimely death due to an overdose of heroin at a hotel in Hollywod at age 27, covering in detail all the phases of her meteoric career. Janis struggled with drug abuse from the very first years in San Francisco; the problem only got worse as she became more popular.

Monterey

The addiction, however, did not stop Janis from exploding to notoriety during the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, when she debuted as a full-fledged blues singer, mesmerizing the audience with a legendary rendition of Ball and Chain (see video on YouTube).

From then on, many doors started to open and Janis never stopped climbing the steps of success and recognition, as one of the best blues singers of all time. Stardom, however, which she had sought for most part of her life, proved elusive and unsatisfactory, after all. On stage I make love to twenty five thousand people; and then I go home alone, complained the lonely diva. She could never shut out her personal ghosts, insecurities and anxieties, unless she was working.

Career

Although, Janis Joplin recorded only 4 albums in her 4-year career: Big Brother and the Holding Company (1967); Cheap Thrills (1968) ; I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (1969) Platinum and Pearl (1971, released posthumously), her fame is enduring and she continues to captivate new fans with songs such as Cry Baby, Summertime, Mercedes Benz, Maybe, and Me and Bobby McGee (her best selling single).

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Janis Joplin – Little Girl Blue, the documentary – will surely enlist a new wave of fans. After all, many young people can’t wait to find music which is not as innocuous and washed-out as most pop songs they download from the Internet today.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

6 Myths about Art Most People Share


Art tends to be surrounded by awe and respect. Museums resemble cathedrals in the way people move around the halls speaking in hushed tones and looking humbly at the works on display. Art or Hight Art – as it’s sometimes called – should be regarded in a more natural and intimate way by the viewers. The lack of great museums in the region makes the contact with art a particularly formal  experience for us Latin Americans. But things are changing as more and more people go abroad, frequent museums, and substitute pleasure and fun for the old sense of respect infused in them when they stood in front of a famous painting or sculpture not many years ago. The myths we are outlining below concern more that kind of art you find in museums and galleries: the visual art produced by the great masters.

1. Art is usually spontaneous and organic. The legend says the talent lies dormant in the artist until it’s suddenly awaken by the muses. In fact, the development of artistic skills is a long and hard path, involving a lot of academic learning, Of course, there are more or less intuitive artists, and mentors may sometimes replace art schools. Formal learning, however, is integral to the process and only practice makes perfect.

2. The best art has idealized versions of  mythology, history or biblical themes as its subject matter. This tradition started being disputed around the time the pre-Impressionists, such as Manet with his mundane and realistic nudes, and the social art of Courbet. Their fight against tradition and academicism was taken to a whole new level by the Impressionists, especially by Monet, who understood art as the apprehension of fleeting moments in time such as the effects of light bouncing off trees, water and plain people in everyday situations. That was what mattered and deserved registering.Colors became bright and more vibrant.

Argenteuil, c. 1872-1875, by Monet.

Argenteuil, c. 1872-1875, by Monet.

3.  The best art is realistic. Fauvism, Cubism and Modern Art in general showed that there was not much point in replicating what film and photography had  started doing so well as of the XIX century. Art couldn’t and shouldn’t compete with them. So art needed to change. It should remain an expression of what is human, including reality, but as seen through the eyes, emotions, neuroses, and obsessions of the artistic self. Art was a personal way to express the artist’s inner world. Unlike previous painters,  the sense of perspective developed since the Renaissance and the concepts of beauty and balance taken as tenets by the artistic community underwent an earthquake which  shattered those ideals to pieces. This is still going on.

Young Girl Reading a Book on the Beach, by Picasso.

Young Girl Reading a Book on the Beach, by Picasso.

4. Art dealers and critics are the experts and they know it all about good and bad taste. We all know how the Impressionist group struggled to have their works exhibited in the tradition-dominated Salón in XIX century Paris. There are no absolutes in art and if you read Tom Wolf’s iconoclastic The Painted Word – which I strongly recommend – you will laugh widely and be infused by  a sense of liberation as he dissects and analyses ironically the American art of the XX century. There is also a hilarious chapter in  his latest book, Back to Blood,   which mocks merciless the Modern Art World of contemporary Miami, with its dealers, experts, artists and stupid billionaire clients. A must-read.

The Connoisseur: Rockwell's sarcastic take on Modern Art used as the cover for Tom Wolfe's THE PAINTED WORD.

The Connoisseur: Rockwell’s sarcastic take on Modern Art used as the cover for Tom Wolfe’s THE PAINTED WORD.

5. You have an innate predisposition to love, hate or be totally indifferent to art. Not so simple. Just like marmite – for those who have had a chance, like me, to live in he UK for a while and see this initially disgusting jam-like spread sitting on the breakfast table every morning,  or even Japanese food,  whose ever-present ripe odor coming out of restaurants may put you off getting in at first – art is an acquired taste. You don’t have to like it right away, but you may grow to love it by exposure. There is no need to enjoy every famous artist either.  Be selective. Art grows in people. And I strongly defend that by offering  history of art as a subject in the secondary and high school – not very common in most schools in South America –  or by parents exposing their kids to art books at home or visiting museums, young people’s taste will get more refined and we will see a growth in art appreciation over time.

6. Art is for older people. The younger you are the more appealing iconoclastic  and unconventional art will look to you, especially if you have a rebel streak (who doesn’t?) in you. Therefore your initial interest for the drama and violence in Caravaggio,  as you grow more mature,  may be replaced by calmer Monets or a more contained Velàzquez later on in life.  Their beauty and absence of direct conflict can be refreshing as you grow more mature. I still love Janis Joplin, The Stones, Jim Morrison and Sid Vicious. Sometimes it was not even the quality of their music but their life style, perfomances and stage persona – some of them very short-lived, by the way – which captivated me. However,  as I grew more mature,  classical music started to show its charms and take over my musical taste.

We will be talking more about art in the next post. Watch this space.

If you are a language teacher and interested in art you may want to check out our new series of ebooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, available for download from the Kindle Store. We focus on vocabulary learning, speaking and writing skills in the series. Check it out by clicking here: : http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Teaching English with Art, the series.

Teaching English with Art, the series.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette