Famous People I Never Knew #2: Janis Joplin


(Here’s Janis as a normal person, shot by my friend Herb Greene about 1966 and rights owned by him.)
In the Fall of 1966 I was living with a bunch of freaks at 626 Clayton Street, about four doors up from the circus that was San Francisco’s Haight Street. I didn’t actually want to go to the circus everyday. But Haight Street was home. All my friends were there and where else would I go?

I’d walk down to the corner to get a sandwich or a bran muffin or something and get engulfed in a sea of strangers, kids from LA and Vermont and all points in between, spare-changing like I’d done just a few years before and looking bedraggled and innocent, foolish as lambs.

Where was my nice Haight Street of the year before when you could walk in the red neon fog at midnight and see maybe two or three other freaks on the street? Where I knew everybody and everybody I knew was cool? Where nobody was checking if it was true smoking dried banana peels could get you high.

“Hey, Donovan said so, man…”

The Diggers, a radical, anarchical, poetical offshoot of the San Francisco Mime Troop, were already beginning to give away free food in the Golden Gate Park Panhandle just to bless the sixteen year old runaways a little bit. Somebody had to.

The Pondering Pig is not a cynical pig but he was beginning to wish the newspapers would stop writing about hippies all the time.

And the Summer of Love was still nine months away. Gad!

I split the Clayton Street flat’s rent with Melanie Kinkead (I use her real name because I hope someday she will read this and write back, “Here I am – I’m OK!”) — I loved Lanie, so sweet and sad and vulnerable. She affected the ultra-feminine side of hippie dress, with frills and flounces, hair in a tumble of curls, masses of eye shadow, miniskirts with white tights and and possibly even Mary Jane shoes. Or I may be hallucinating here – my memory doesn’t really extend to Lanie da Kink’s shoes. In any case, think Mary Pickford circa 1915. Mel was the daughter of a San Francisco travel writer and PR guy. Robin and his wife didn’t know what to make of their ultrafeminine (can a heterosexual girl be described as effeminate?) daughter. Once they invited me to their swank Pacific Heights flat for dinner and to discuss what could possibly make her tick. I hadn’t a clue either. I just loved her like a big dumb older brother. Just not enough to protect her from her fate.

Besides Lanie, we split the rent with Diane W., who was already exploring the joy of putting crystal amphetamine in her arm; Alice, a pleasant plump stranger with a big dog; and some kids in the front – I had no idea who they were — Teens from LA who were here to drop acid in large quantities and wear striped bell-bottoms. Well, it takes all kinds. I think Way Out Willy and his dog Arthur lived there too.

Alice’s major weakness was she let her big black lab shit in the hallway or kitchen or wherever the dog happened to be and then let the dogshit lie on the floor for days until somebody, usually Melanie, cleaned it up. Taking a dog for a walk involved walking, which was often physically impossible.

Kvetch kvetch – what’s a little dogshit? “Peace, man. Don’t be so uptight.”

I think my trouble was I was getting older, and, at 24, I had seen a lot. I had decided to finish school and, with Revolver spilling sitar notes full volume down the hall, I was trying to write a paper on William Wordsworth or somebody. I burned Japanese incense all day and covered the doorway to my room with an Indian print bedspread. I had a daughter lived up the street with her mom. I was hoping to get back together with Linda if we could just stop fighting continuously and every minute.

I thought literary criticism was the world’s most stupid activity but a great introduction into the absurdity of life, – hey, just read the book! But I did tend to prefer the company of Will Wordsworth to the kids in the front.

So I wasn’t in, like a totally psychedelic place, dig?

Groan. But sometimes Haight Street was still cool. It wasn’t the Summer of Love yet and I still could run into cool people whenever I walked out. I suddenly remember talking to Phil Lesh like that one night, so excited about his new life with the Grateful Dead and just boiling over with enthusiasm. Or Chet Helms walking up the street handing out posters for whomever was appearing at the Avalon that weekend and we’d talk briefly about his split with Bill Graham or something.

Or like Janis Joplin. One day I was standing in line at the Hibernia Bank around the corner on Haight Street and there was Janis standing in line a couple of people ahead of me. She was carrying a bag of groceries. I had no impulse to run up saying “Oh Miss Joplin, I just love your ultimate forever take on Take it, Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Now Bay-bay.” Although I did, and do. I was cool. Cool people stayed cool. It was still just a normal day, even though Big Brother was already the hottest attraction at the Avalon because of her. We were still all just young people sorting out our lives and her way led to an exploding burnout nova death. Bah, humbug. I’d rather remember her standing in line at the bank with her little bag of groceries and all the future ahead.

I was cool but when I got back to the pad, I still said to Melanie, “Hey Mel, guess who was standing in line at the bank with me today – Janis Joplin!”