Janis, Grace, and Why I Don’t Sing

 

janisIt’s Friday. Garage sale day. I stop at the trailer park in town and step on a lady’s porch. She has maybe thirty items ranging from a dusty Christmas wreath, a plastic palm tree, a salad spinner and eight mason jars. Nothing I need—or so I think. Just when I’m ready to turn and leave I see it. A CD.

On the cover is crazy, wild Janis Joplin, her big round sunglasses and her puffy hair framing her friendly face.

I am 42, born two years after Janis’ death. It wasn’t until 1988 that I discovered her. I was in high school—a wannabe hippie who had enough Indian skirts and tie dye t-shirts to outfit the entire cast of Hair.   I wanted to sing like her, to channel my soul like her, but most importantly I wanted to move an audience like she did.

Then, some time in high school I had the rare opportunity to try and be a rock star. I’ll tell you now, I didn’t do so hot.

I was hanging out with my boyfriend’s band in their garage (before garage bands were a thing), playing the role of groupie. The guy on the bass began a slow, creeping snake of a song.I recognized it. White Rabbit! Grace Slick was another idol of mine.

My boyfriend gestured me to the mic, suggesting I might give it a whirl. My stomach rolled. Here was my moment in the sun. Could I live up to it?

Turns out, no. I ended up squawking out a few sounds reminiscent of a drowning goat, throwing the whole band into disarray.  I wasn’t invited back.

And so, with deep regret I accepted the fact that I would never be a rock star.

Until…

I discovered writing.

I may not be able to sing the blues, but I’m not so bad at writing them. Even as a kid I was channeling all sorts of odd, tormented, awkward feelings into words. Eventually I started sharing my work and to this day I take great pleasure in bringing my readers on an emotional journey with me–sortra like Janis. To me good songs are like good stories. They draw us in, lull us into another state of being and at the end spit us out, rendering us ever so slightly changed.

So today after I left that garage sale, I slipped the CD into my car player and cranked it. Big Brother and the Holding Company roared out a raw melody and Janis began:

Come on, come on!  Didn’t I make you feel like you were the only man?
An’ didn’t I give you nearly everything that a woman possibly can…

And there in my minivan, in the year 2014, a married mother of three, I was feeling the pain, the torment of a broken hearted drug addict in 1968. I was there with her.

That’s what I really want for my readers–for them to be be moved. I want people to hear my poems and feel the aching pangs of lost love, the joys of stepping into the ocean, or the thrill of a bike ride at night. I want them to read my stories and say, “I know these feelings. I’ve been here too.”

So as I drove home this morning I sang out loud, presumably like some sort of wounded animal, but I didn’t care.  Janis was taking me on a journey and I was right there with her.

Becky Pourchot lives in Flagler Beach Florida, where she still secretly dreams of being a rock and roll legend.  You can find her books at www.beckypourchot.com.

 

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