Monday, January 24, 2011

Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing

Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing won the 2011 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. Ann Angel interviewed close friends and family members of this gifted yet self-destructive young woman, which makes for a very intimate portrayal of Joplin.

Angel is clearly an admirer, yet, as a professional biographer, she doesn't mask or excuse Joplin's destructive tendencies. She is honest and not sensationalistic about the controversial aspects of Joplin's life, including her sexuality, drug use, and abortion that she had early in her career. On the other hand, the insights that she gained through Joplin's sister, former band members, and close friends help to create a sensitive account of this troubled singer. Keeping in mind that the book's intended audience probably knows little about the era, she explains the hippie/beatnik movement and the political/social climate of the time. She also discusses Joplin's musical influences, particularly her favorite blues singers. She does this not only in words but through the plentiful photographs featured throughout the book, including ones in which she identifies and discusses the common dress and hangouts of hippies and beatniks, as well as Joplin's hometown of Port Arthur, TX.

Angel doesn't excuse Joplin's ultimately fateful decisions, but she firmly makes the point that Joplin's deep insecurities and need for attention, coupled with the media and her own fans cheerleading her into more outrageous behavior made a deadly combination. Having known very little about Joplin, I was captivated by this impressive, well-balanced, and thoughtful account of her larger-than-life personality and her tragic end. The photographs, many of a smiling Joplin, enhance, rather than distract from the text. An extensive timeline and bibliography round out this worthy addition to young adult biography.

The New York Times published an intriguing article about Joplin's legacy.

Joplin's beloved sister and co-executor of her estate (along with her brother), Laura Joplin, wrote a memoir of her sister in 1992.

Finally, we have Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits.


Janet Halfmann said...

Great review. Thanks for sharing it. I'm excited about reading the book!

laxcookie said...

Agreed - will be interested to see the book. I follow "Janis" at and @janisjoplin on twitter, but it's mostly about her musical legacy there more than her life..