The German author and agitator Georg Buchner observed that the “Revolution is like Saturn—it eats its own children.” American music in the turbulent 1960’s was, to say the least, in a revolutionary phase and it’s not surprising that most of those who led the charge to the barricades fell by the droves. Janis Joplin was quick to mount the barricade of revolt, and her immolation was equally swift.
Those who first thrust the banner of revolt aloft and carried in triumphantly out of the darkness of the backstreet clubs to become the superstars of the counterculture were possessed of musical virtues and personal vices in equally impressive quantities. They gave voice to the first generation of Americans in a century to be so visited with seemingly unlimited opportunities as to return to the hedonistic joys of yet another “great barbecue.” At the same time, the world was “a-changing,” and Janis Joplin was at the forefront of yet another chapter in the inventing of the American woman. In her music and actions, Janis Joplin not only assisted in the birth of a fresh musical form but also demonstrated that women need no longer ride at the back of the musical bus.
Unfortunately, the more significant aspects of Janis Joplin’s life and her contributions to American culture are not the focus of this work. Ellis Amburn is more concerned with the alcoholic/addictive side of his subject than in separating the fact from the fiction which inevitably attends those who, like Joplin, become legends in their own time. PEARL is largely a recitation of those who pleasured her and to whom she gave pleasure, as well as the methods employed by Joplin and her contemporaries. Admittedly his subject was given, if not devoted, to the practice of excess in all things, but Amburn’s work seems designed to appeal only to the most prurient.