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Scars of Sweet Paradise
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Alice Echols is a historian and cultural critic. She has taught at UCLA, USC, and Occidental College and has written for The Nation, The Village Voice, and L.A. Weekly. She lives in Los Angeles.

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In the introduction to this richly textured biography of the trailblazing blues-rock superstar who succumbed to a heroin overdose in 1970, Echols (Daring to Be Bad) informs us that she is not going to give us "a blow-by-blow account of Janis's every fuck and fix." That is not to say that Echols sidesteps the sordidness of Joplin's short life. There's certainly enough drug use ("She even shot up watermelon juice one day") and sex (with both women and men) to keep the reader titillated. But by tracing Joplin's place in the psychedelic movement‘vibrantly reconstructed here through more than 150 interviews‘Echols presents the singer not just as a rock casualty but as a contradictory icon of female power, "neither just the ballsy chick who helped throw open the doors of rock 'n' roll nor the little girl lost who longed for the white picket fence." Joplin's outrageousness‘her sexual conquests, inhuman consumption of Southern Comfort and eventual heroin addiction‘is presented as an expression of her insecurities. Stifled in her hometown of Port Arthur, Tex., by rigid gender roles and the cruel taunts of fellow teenagers who thought she was ugly and weird, she turned her teenage rebellion into a successful career as rock's first down 'n' dirty bad girl. Outside of Port Arthur, however, she found that even the hip Haight couldn't handle a woman who was neither a folkie nor the girlfriend of some guy in the band. Rock critics may have loved her, but as Echols reveals, even they seemed more concerned with her raw sexuality than with her talent: following the Monterey Pop Festival, which launched Joplin's career, the L.A. Free Press ran an article titled "Big Brother's Boobs" while Richard Goldstein of the Village Voice wrote, "To hear Janis sing `Ball and Chain' just once is to have been laid, lovingly and well." 140 b&w photos. (Mar.)

This "sociological" biography attempts not only to tell the facts of Joplin's life but to try to understand her in the context of her times. Echols, a historian of the 1960s (Daring To Be Bad: Radical Feminisim in America, 1967-1975, Univ. of Minnesota, 1990) has spent five years researching Joplin and interviewing her friends. She argues that Joplin was a symbol of the postwar good girl breaking the stringent rules of the 1950s and forging her own path and that Joplin's alienation and loneliness belonged to the entire sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll generation. There aren't too many gory details here compared with earlier books (e.g., Myra Friedman's Buried Alive, Harmony, 1992); this is a scholarly look at Joplin and her times. The irony is that the serious, rather stodgy tone is so unlike the singer's persona that Joplin fans may find this hard going. But nothing has been written since Friedman's book, and this is an interesting take on Joplin and the Sixties. Recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄRosellen Brewer, MOBAC Lib. Syst., Monterey, CA

"A richly detailed portrait. Echols stares unflinchingly at the fault lines of the '60s counter-culture." --Susie Linfield, "Los Angeles Times"
"This Life's a real Pearl." --Bob Gulla, "People"
"A serious biography-it does the important stuff well." --Jonathan Yardley, "The Washington Post"
"In Echol's creation Joplin emerges as a true original, compelling, confounding, and rife with contradictions." --Lisa Shea, "Elle"

A richly detailed portrait. Echols stares unflinchingly at the fault lines of the '60s counter-culture. "Susie Linfield, Los Angeles Times" This Life's a real Pearl. "Bob Gulla, People" A serious biography-it does the important stuff well. "Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post" In Echol's creation Joplin emerges as a true original, compelling, confounding, and rife with contradictions. "Lisa Shea, Elle""


A richly detailed portrait. Echols stares unflinchingly at the fault lines of the '60s counter-culture. Susie Linfield, Los Angeles Times This Life's a real Pearl. Bob Gulla, People A serious biography-it does the important stuff well. Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post In Echol's creation Joplin emerges as a true original, compelling, confounding, and rife with contradictions. Lisa Shea, Elle"

"A richly detailed portrait. Echols stares unflinchingly at the fault lines of the '60s counter-culture." --Susie Linfield, Los Angeles Times"This Life's a real Pearl." --Bob Gulla, People"A serious biography-it does the important stuff well." --Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post"In Echol's creation Joplin emerges as a true original, compelling, confounding, and rife with contradictions." --Lisa Shea, Elle

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