George-Warren's deep research, eye for detail, illuminating contextualization, and clarity of delivery all make for a far more rounded and convincing image of Joplin's precocity in the heady decades of post-World War II America ... George-Warren traces this rise meticulously, citing contemporaneous interviews as well as fresh sources in order to paint Joplin's ascendance far more fully than has ever been accomplished before. And her riotous anecdotes splash color on the canvas ... [George-Warren's] knack for capturing conflicted subjects is uncanny; in Janis, she digs into Joplin's layered emotions, fluid sexuality, unshakably low self-esteem, and unquenchable urge to transcend her racist, restricted Port Arthur upbringing ... In encapsulating Joplin's dual nature so concisely, George-Warren delivers the definitive portrait of one of pop culture's most misunderstood martyrs. Joplin was both a product and an architect of her times; in dwelling so sympathetically on her tangle of talents, contradictions, and mythology, Janis brings one of rock's most enduring legends down to earth while holding her justly up to the light.
... masterfully researched ... the significance-establishing project Joplin appreciators have been waiting for. Her life story unfolds in almost month-by-month narration, greatly assisted by the access George-Warren had to her diaries and letters ... Despite occasional over-density of detail, we get the full Janis.
A new biography, Janis, by the music writer Holly George-Warren, performs a service by stripping away a lot of the noise around Joplin — cackling and bawdy, she was America’s first female rock star and Haight-Ashbury’s self-destructive pinup girl — and telling her story simply and well, with some of the tone and flavor of a good novel. This is fundamentally an Eisenhower-era misfit story, and there are a lot of those. But Joplin’s story has a special freight of pain in it.
... sober and thorough, and it amounts to the last word on a brief candle of an existence, a life whose peaks and valleys make your average mountain range look as flat as an acre of Texas farmland ... Joplin took such joy in performing that she made it look effortless, but George-Warren reminds readers how hard she worked, not only doing take after take in the studio but also doing the kind of behind-the-scenes research associated more with musicologists than whiskey-swigging blues shouters.
...admirably thorough ... Janis is not just biography, but social history too, a loose chronicle of America’s late-Sixties counterculture ... With minimal voyeuristic prying, Janis dutifully tracks the singer’s love affair with booze and drugs: from smoking grass and slugging whiskey in Louisiana dive bars to popping pills in Austin and shooting speed in beatnik-era New York ... Janis is a serious-minded and professional work, commendably unsensational and even-handed, although it lacks the passionate engagement and deeper cultural context that Joplin’s status deserves ... The author also misses the chance to interrogate some more prickly angles on Joplin’s musical legacy, notably accusations of cultural appropriation ... Janis joins a growing canon of Joplin biographies, mostly written by women, and most keen to salvage the singer’s reputation from the sexism that elevates outlaw male musicians to hero status while undervaluing their female counterparts. As a rounded portrait of an explosively exciting artist, George-Warren’s book is never less than engaging. But as a feminist reclaiming of pop history, it is frustratingly tame.
Holly George-Warren’s biography, Janis: Her Life and Music vividly renders Janis Joplin as a flesh-and-blood being, a complicated, contradictory young woman coming of age at the height of the social upheaval and possibility of 1960s America ... One of the most outstanding qualities of Janis is its readability. The sheer amount of source material could be overwhelming to a biographer ... None of the biography’s details feel gratuitous—each help tell Joplin’s life story engagingly ... Janis deftly handles all the biographical conventions. Family history? It’s there to offer worthwhile context, full of only the most relevant, interesting and influential relatives. Conflicts and contradictions of our subject? They abound and never feel like thin author inventions. They drive a fascinating story about a woman who was at turns needy, heady, outrageous, conservative, self-assured, ambitious and unmoored.
... the only biography besides Joplin’s sister’s that has risen to my personal high watermark. It’s definitive, handsome and fascinating ... George-Warren’s research is intense and impeccable ... George-Warren expands the known record with a phalanx of fresh interviews, digging up close high school friends and bullies, old music industry associates, lovers, and family members, who all have their say, but the central voice belongs to Janis herself, whose bald-faced neediness, sharp sarcasm, wistful dreams of stardom and push for artistic relevance all resonate with the reader.
Holly George-Warren’s revealing biography of America’s first female rock star, Janis: Her Life and Music, makes clear that despite her outsize talent and her outward bravado, much of her tragically short life was driven by a deep loneliness and need for love that her incredible success could not allay ... George-Warren’s book benefits both from new interviews with people who knew Joplin personally and professionally and from the access Laura Joplin granted the author to Janis’s scrapbooks and letters home. As a music writer...George-Warren is also adept at describing Joplin’s singular blues-rock vocal...and her exhilarating stage presence.
There have been many biographies of Joplin, and this new one by Holly George Warren covers a cyclone of lore about Joplin...but Warren gives equal attention to Joplin’s sensitive, more guarded personality behind what drove her as a blues-rock diva ... Warren doesn’t sidestep the tragic circumstances of Joplin’s accidental drug overdose, and her account of the star’s final days are sensitive and dignified ... But in other areas of this biography, Warren seems to dwell on gossipy accounts or one-night stands and, of course, drug benders of the glory days of rock, the permanent afterburn of Joplin’s blazing stardom.
George-Warren takes great care of her subject. Skipping over music-writing tropes in order to incise something deeper—she focuses on the interplay between the musical, social, and cultural landscapes that Joplin navigated so bravely. This is executed with nuance and empathy, in a way that acknowledges Joplin’s agency and power.
Holly George-Warren...does a remarkable job of restoring flesh and blood to Joplin's blues-wailin' bones, with sympathy and a sharp critical eye where required ... Relations with lovers could be sketchy, and [Joplin] strained her familial ties by exaggerating parental rejection to reporters, perhaps conflating it with Port Arthur's? Still, she poured love into all she did, as does the author in a sensation-free portrait that's no Behind the Music script.
This superb biography captures singer Janis Joplin’s complex essence ... The author describes Joplin’s personal life sensitively and honestly ... Conservative 1950s Texas, San Francisco’s countercultural Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the 1960s, and the era’s eclectic music scene are well rendered. Extensive notes complement the text ... This poignant and ultimately tragic account of an iconic performer is a must for Joplin fans, but anyone who enjoys a good biography will appreciate this exceptional work.
... a biography as big, bold, and brash as its subject. [George-Warren] captures Joplin in all her frustrating and poignant complexity, not only her larger than life personality but also her insecurities, her bookishness, her intellect, and her 'deep desire for home' ... An insightful, compassionate, and, ultimately, tragic story of an artist gone too soon.
A richly detailed, affectionate portrait ... illuminating ... George-Warren gives her subject a sensitive yet honest treatment, showing all dimensions of Joplin’s life without minimizing her self-destructive side. Filled with evocations of the San Francisco music scene at its height, the narrative will give readers new appreciation for Joplin ... A top-notch biography of one of the greatest performers to emerge from a brilliant era.