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Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times…

Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin

by Alice Echols

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Very well written, very scholarly, and also rather sedate and dry - which is a complete contrast with the life laid out here by Alice Echols. It's a calm walk alongside Janis' turbulent life, unlike other Janis bios that tend towards scandal and sensation. Echols reports her findings almost clinically and more like a historical journal. Almost the antithesis of the 60s.... and this seems to be where the strength lies in this book. Not your regular "sex drugs and rock and roll" scandal bio. ( )
  TurtleCreekBooks | Dec 11, 2010 |
This portrait of Joplin strives to find something to say that any casual fan wouldn't already know, but only manages occasionally. Still, it does show the importance of revisiting and reconsidering eras of history (like the 60s) that you think you know everything about. Echols is particularly sensitive to the complex relationship between white 60s rockers and the black blues and soul artists who inspired them, only to be usurped by them. ( )
  amydross | Sep 15, 2010 |
I read this back when it first came out & really enjoyed it, but my copy wandered away somewhere so when I saw it at Half-Price books in the U-District in Seattle I knew I wanted to read it again.

I love Janis Joplin - both her music & her spirit. I've read Myra Friedman's Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin several times, as well. This book offers a somewhat different perspective as it is striving to place Joplin within her cultural context.

I remembered that this biography had more information about the Haight-Ashbury scene than it did, but other than that it was pretty true to my memory. I like the somewhat dispassionate voice of Ms. Echols - it provides a nice counterpoint to the general chaos & excess of its subject & time. I also appreciate that Ms. Echols doesn't try to pigeonhole Joplin, but rather explores her life & her impulses.

There is much to admire in Janis Joplin & much that I relate to in her story. It's hard to be different in a small town & to want acceptance, but be unable or unwilling to become the person who might be accepted. I get her insecurities that coexist with her confidence in herself. I admire her drive & ambition & her overarching talent & I get why she anesthetized herself with alcohol & heroin. It's sad that she overdosed before she could live long enough to figure out that acceptance from the kind of people who require you to be someone you're not isn't really acceptance at all. I like to think she would've grown into her voice, into her abilities, & into herself. ( )
  kraaivrouw | Aug 29, 2009 |
I'd never really had any interest in Janis Joplin before my mom shoved this into my hands. An excellent biography that situates Janis within the context of the '60s, showing how she was shaped by her time and place, and telling us about that time and place, while providing a full and insightful picture of a fascinating artist. (Full disclosure: Had Echols as a professor, but that was only after I'd read the book.) ( )
  thedefinitefraggle | Mar 29, 2009 |
There are a whole bunch of biographies of Janis, including the well known 'Buried Alive', but this late comer published in 1999 appears to be the most even-handed, well-researched, and scholarly. In fact Alice Echols is a scholar of the 1960s (without any personal connection to Janis) so there is a lot of contextual information to put the period in perspective - I've probably learned more about the 1960s San Francisco scene in this book than anywhere else, it's worth reading for that reason alone.

This is my first "rock-star biography", a genre I have avoided because of the groaning shelves of narcissistic "tell alls". I choose Janis to be my first (something she would have loved) after seeing a couple YouTube clips: one showing her singing "Ball and Chain" live, the other a TV interview at her Texas hometown high-school reunion. In these clips I saw a deep, complicated and obviously brilliant person, her charisma on stage was memorizing and off-stage equally so. For me she became more than a raspy-kinda-scary voice on the radio from another era, and I wanted to learn more about who she was, and why she had become so famous and died so young.

Joplin's personality was a wild horse who kept on the move, never finding but always seeking a new home and greener pastures, running from her personal demons while embracing her desire for living life in the moment to the fullest. She drank heavily (Southern Comfort), fucked thousands of guys and hundreds of women, got in fights with Hells Angels, shot heroin and was a mainlining speed freak. She was a vulnerable, loving and kind child from a well-off Middle Class suburban family. She was a walking enigma. Her origins are with the beatniks and folksie scene of the early 60s, she was never fully accepted in the San Francisco scene as a hippie, yet she is widely imagined as one of its founding mothers with her "Perl" costume of boa-feathers, clunky bracelets and lots of beads.

In the end her death was no surprise even to herself, she put her body on the front-line of the cultural revolution pushing the boundaries forward on many fronts. It is unfortunate she was largely forgotten in the 70s and 80s but I think with historical reflection on the 60s her life will find more prominence - if nothing else than an archetype of a generation, but also for being ahead of her time as a woman rock star in a male dominated industry.

Echols does a good job of balancing the exterior fame with the interior truths of Joplin, a psychological profile that will remind the reader of other people they know like her, it's believable because she seems so "normal" (in a somewhat abnormal way). I came away both with an intimate understanding of Janis and a much stronger sense of the 60s having seen it through the life of a single person who was a central catalyst.

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2008 cc-by-nd ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Jul 19, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)

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Alice Echolsprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rolle, EkkehardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805053948, Paperback)

To call Janis Joplin the Judy Garland of the Woodstock set is in some sense a fair characterization. The brassy, carnal, extravagant, and ultimately pitiable queen of psychedelic rock is indeed a cultural icon. And while Joplin reveled in her own ballsy, boozy legend, its needy, inebriated, real-life equivalent was a shadow that darkened her short life and, in the decades since her 1970 drug-induced death, has come to eclipse the party-girl persona.

To her great credit, author Alice Echols reconciles the two faces of Joplin in this ambitious, thoroughly readable biography. She does so by tracing Joplin from her youth as a natural-born libertine in dreary Port Arthur, Texas, to her emergence as the sole female rock superstar of her era--a period when beneath-the-surface sexism hampered Joplin's progress even while women's liberation was being widely touted. The author does not shy away from sordid sex-and-drugs episodes, and there's plenty of raw material---the singer was promiscuous, bisexual, and, at various times, an alcoholic, a speed freak, and a junkie. Echols, however, elevates this biography above run-of-the-mill rock profiles by painting her subject against an elaborate and ever-changing cultural backdrop. Here is Joplin the aspiring folksinger, the white-picket-fence wannabe, the wayward daughter, the hit-and-miss recording artist, and, finally, the ill-starred spirit with nothing left to lose. --Steven Stolder

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:19 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Alice Echols pushes beyond the legendary Joplin - the red-hot mama of her own invention - and the equally familiar portrait of the screwed-up star victimized by the era she symbolized. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, Echols reveals how this sweet-voiced girl from Texas re-created herself, first as a gravelly-voiced bluesy folksinger, and then as rock 'n' roll's first female superstar. She examines the roots of Joplin's musicianship and her efforts, both onstage and off, to live on what she called "the outer limits of probability," drinking and carousing like one of the guys, declaring herself the first "white-black" person, and pursuing sex with men and women alike.… (more)

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