Janis was free. She sang free. She moved free. She was stone free, judgement free: a wild tumbling freewheelin’ kind grrrrl. Watching her pour her heart and soul, and all that emotion moving in waves of passion and comradeship, pulling up the bad trippers, the groovers, the hip and the square but digging it, up on the stage to feel it all with her makes my heart vibrate in unison. No wonder Leonard Cohen ‘remembered (her) well in the Chelsea Hotel. “Feel good right now, our ersatz Alice in Deutschland, commands her stage invaders, who are dancing and grooving with her.
The girl in the shawl, who looked like the lsd had turned on her, holding onto Janis’s hands, surely could not have helped but start to see the fractal rainbow and let go of the mirror melting horrorshop she looked trapped in. Janis looks into her eyes and tell her, just her “I’m gonna show ya a woman can be tough!” and in doing so she taps into that great empathic pull-me-push-you common link. Everybody, get together right now, the Youngbloods commanded, but Janis was the propulsion behind the feel good machine. Hands raised together, dad dancing, crouching, tripping, stoned, free and grooving, vibe-ing and emoting. Connecting. For four glorious minutes that small group of people on the stage were part of something bigger than them: part of a movement of eMOTION that linked them all in a unified wave of groove and love and feel good vibes.
Janis was ultra-alive, she was the leader of the I feel good/you feel good/we all feel good together sympatico revolution. It failed, as all perfect revolutions do, but through Janis we all got a glimpse of what could be if there were just enough good vibrations.
Janis was dead a mere two years later after this performance. Sometimes those who feel too much and feel it too deeply need to tune out, need to numb up – need to find something to cool the pain of connecting to a world-pain so intense it is heavier than any ball and chain she ever sang about. Heroin got the pied piperess of the feel good tribe, and Cohen, having met her in an elevator in the Chelsea Hotel, or so the story goes, and been seduced by her vibrant lifeforce was left writing about how it is when the super-alive fall.
His deep brown crooning sweet voice tells a story of her wild loving, ‘giving (him) head on the unmade bed’, of the kinda love that was left for the songwriters after the crowds dispersed and they were left alone with their own thoughts and company. Janis didn’t play games of want and disgust. Janis was very much what you saw. Her legendary heart, her wit, her devotion to those ‘who are oppressed by the figures of beauty’, the image of her shooting up – ‘fixed (her)self’ on the bed, while Cohen watched the Queen of Life and passion and empathy on the stage, drained the life out of a mainline to the afterlife.
From giving a little bit of her heart until there was no more left to give, to acts to life and living, to a small fragile epitaph of “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel, that’s all I don’t even think of you that often”, a lie if ever I heard one, Janis was as much of an inspiration in her untimely death as she was in her vivid and brilliant life.
Two legends : one of restraint and one who whipped restraint into joyful submission, and a continuation of the love they shared through song. They tried to change the world and failed, that is not their fault…it is ours. Perhaps there is another Cohen and another Janis out there, waiting for their time to shine. Maybe next time it will stick.