Monday, April 15, 2024

She Dares to Be Different: Janis at UT 1962

by Pat Sharpe, Daily Texan, July 27, 1962

Photo which accompanied Pat Sharpe’s article.

She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levi’s to class because they’re more comfortable, and carries her Autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin and she looks like the type of girl a square (her more descriptive term–a “leadbelly,”) would call a “beatnik.” “Jivey” is what Janis calls herself, not “beat.” She leads a life that is enviously unrestrained. She doesn’t bother to have her hair set every week, or to wear the latest feminine fashion fads, and when she feels like singing, she sings in a vibrant alto voice.

 Since she has never had a music lesson and cannot read notes, her voice is untrained. But this lack seems to be an asset rather than a liability, for Janis sings with a certain spontaneity and gusto that cultivated voices sometimes find difficult to capture. She is at her best with folk songs, to which she gives an earthy, twangy rendition.

Janis’ current ambition is to be a folksinger, though she really prefers blues. She has performed at the Gas House in Venice, Calif., and in Port Arthur, her home town. But she really began to think seriously about singing when she came to the University, this year as a freshman majoring in art. She says that people in Austin are definitely more hip on folk music than the colds in others cities she has visited. In fact, it was here that a friend persuaded her to take up the Autoharp.

This particular instrument is not one that is seen as often as a piano or a guitar. As a matter of fact, it is about as common as a glockenspiel. At first glance, it looks like a zither, but longer and narrower and with fewer strings. At the squared-off end are 12 bars which are depressed to form cords.

Right now, Janis’ career as a folksinging-Autoharpist is in its beginning stages. She is currently the female member of a local group which styles itself the Waller Creek Boys. The other two are Lanny Wiggins and Powell St. John Jr.

When they are not in class or at home, the favorite hangout of Janis and her friends is an apartment which they have nicknamed the Ghetto. The walls are decorated with original modernistic paintings done by local cats, and the furniture defies describing it. For want of a better name, it might be called contemporary American hodge-podge.

Password around the Ghetto is “uninhibited.” Man, if a person isn’t uninhibited, he’s sick. Whenever someone gets the urge to stand up and do a little impromptu jig, he gets up and does it, and if suddenly he feels like dribbling out a piece of modern art, he goes right ahead and dribbles.

If, on the other hand, he feels inspired to write a piece of poetry, beat or otherwise, man, he writes. Why, if a person doesn’t feel the compulsion to do something crazy at least once in a while, he is a leadbelly. All activities sacred to leadbellies — like bowling, twisting, or ratting their hair — are taboo for cats. Consequently, the cats are confined to being uninhibited and singing folk music for whole hours together, which sounds about as exciting as the average fraternity party.

Clichés, such as “suave,” “swinging,” and “I just can’t believe!” are held in the utmost contempt by the uninhibited, but at the same time it is interesting to note the frequency with which “man,” “chick,” etc. appear in their conversation. In short, comparing the vast majority of University students to the vast minority of University beatniks would be like comparing a large sack of potatoes to a small sack of onions. The onions may be a little spicier, but they are all onions just the same.

 

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