This is one of the greatest songs in the world, and I want it played at my funeral. No seriously. I know its self indulgent planning it, but I realy want to make sure this gets on the program. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nc9saY_XcXY You can all find it on “Farewell song” which is a collection of Joplin’s live performances etc.
I think part of the reason why I love her so much (other than the absolutely stellar music) is that she was the ultimate anti-groupie. There were all these beautiful young women hanging around in the 60s and 70s who made it their entire lives to be sexually attractive to a particular group of men. Janis went out, made her own music, didn’t care too much about what people thought of her, and casually got with some of the biggest and most brilliant musicians of her time, as well as being one (both Hendrix and Morrison if the rumours are true.) This song sort of sums all that up; does the unnamed person she’s singing too really think she has the time to get all strung out on him? She’s on tour, man, that’s whats important to her. Again, beautiful mesh of spatial movement (“When I’m on the road”) and real freedom. What a woman.
My last morning in New York I went to see the Chelsea Hotel. Yeah, so we all know the Joplin connection there (“We are ugly but we have the music”), but she was there before Cohen, and I bet she owned the place. The Hotel is closed for renovation at the moment (and after it re-opens they’re not accepting any more long term residencies) but you can get into the lobby and wander around the bottom floor. Its overwhelming to think of all the history that has been made in that shabby building. It’s where Dylan Thomas was carried out from to his death. So many people spent vast portions of time there, Sartre and Beauvoir, Tennessee Williams, Bukowski, Kubrick, Holly Woodlawn, and such a ridiculous amount of musicians it isn’t worth listing them all.
I got the bus out to Bridgehampton on Long Island where my uncle and aunt live. The Hamptons are mad, full of these houses like large malevolent wedding cakes. However they live (thank god, not that I was actually worried) in a clean-cut 1980s number, which has a wonderful view of the ocean, over another (equally wonderful) ocean of waving tree tops.
Its hard to describe their house and all the living that goes on inside of it. Kimberly paints (among other things) and at the moment their huge, open plan living area is full of her paintings which have just been sent back from an art show in Chicago. This huge painting (which I adore) http://www.rosscontemporary.com/content/03-shiva-rising-36×36 is propped up against the counter. Owain writes (almost among other things.) The day I arrived he sent off the final draft of his new book, which is an account of his life up to the age of eleven, centring on a 150 mile walk (pilgrimage) to Bardsey Island with a friend of a similar age. I’m astounded both at the freedom he was able to enjoy as a child, and by his memory of it. In the evening we sat outside on the patio, listened to the crickets (Owain sad he was going to cook Cicadas for me, which sadly never materialised) and talked. More than anyone I’ve met, the lives of those two and how those lives are expressed in their conversations are so integrated. It sounds horrendously wholesome, but that doesn’t really get at it. We move seamlessly from Cancer to Clams. And Cicadas. The food and wine is excellent, and both me and Kimberly eat a whole fresh chili with our dinner. We also talk a lot about our family, and they bring up some of the youthful comments I’ve made in the past; most embarassingly as a teenager “It’s amazing how much power you can get over men just by taking off your clothes.” I like to think of it as a proto-feminist comment, about the power imbalance between the sexes and thus the only way women can achieve power in a male dominated society, but I’m not sure those were my thought processes at the time.
The first day there Owain showed me around, and we went to a lot of beautiful long beaches, made even more beautiful by the fact the weather was lousy, so it was all grey sea, grey sky and washed out sand. I love scenery like that. We had lunch in a neat little seafood restaurant packed with people, and with very eclectic decor.
The second night I spent with them we went to the opening of an art show. The only way I can really describe it is as an honest imagining of what heaven would be like. It was held in this enormous white marquee which stretched for what seemed like miles and miles (it took us a good half and hour to get from one end to the other.) The carpets were all cream and spotless. Each gallery had a little section, beautifully lit up by lights, and most of them showing radically different art from their immediate neighbours. There was an incredibly lifelike sculpture of an overweight topless biker with his machine. Nobody had anything to do apart from drift around in this mellow stupor, greeting people they knew, gazing at these weird and wonderful pieces of art but (due to the nature of the event and the amounts of free alcohol circulating) not having to offer clever comment on them, but just taking everything in like the lovechild of Haydn and the oyster (sorry, Philosophy reference). There wasn’t any expectation that you were going to engage in serious and taxing conversations with other inhabitants of this wonderful nether zone when you ran into them, only offer regal (though genuine) pleasure at their immediate presence and float on.
The thing that really made it seem otherwordly, though, was the people. Everyone was so beautifully made up and dressed that they either looked like themselves but in their new ressurrected bodies (all ready for the new heavens and the new earth) or just like dead people made up to photos taken decades ago. I suppose it depends on your religious persuasion. They were wonderful and waxlike. These strange creatures circulated, drank, and ate food off the platters that were being passed around.
Cracks showed through, which only served to make the whole thing even more convincing. One of the people from Kimberly’s gallery hugged her in a carefully calculated way, so as not to give K a chance to kiss her cheek and thus smudge her make-up. All the food seemed to be heading to other places, and it was hard to get grubby fingers in. (Again, I have to impress on your the SIZE of this thing, it was like a normal marquee, but then stretched without due regard for the demands possibilty to epic proportions) I laughed with a friend of Kimberly’s (who is called Pat and wickedly funny) about how to best kill off a waiter and steal his offering to the gods. It turned out not to be necessary, though, since Kimberly swooped in before one of the winged emissaries of light could escape, and grabbed us all lobster rolls.
The next night we stood in the gravel backyward of a tiny art gallery, and listened to live music. The whole thing was a fundraising event for the local radio station, but it rained earlier in the day so not nearly enough people were there, given how good it all was. I found Pat again (who is thoroughly excellent find) and she talked about running away to Woodstock when she was 16, and other things. The first date she ever went on with her (now) husband was a seance held at Washington Irvings grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, though the latter unfortunately failed to show. Their second date was a Doors concert (apologies if I remembered this wrong) with Ike and Tina Turner supporting. Half way into their support set, Janis Joplin came on to sing a couple of songs with them. I know its hopelessly kitsch to want to live through all those days when you were born in 1991, but Christ the music.
The Bus back to New York (so I could catch the Greyhound to Toronto) is not particularly rock and roll. They offer you free newspapers and a selection of snacks.