Roxanne Tellier – Time Travelling 101 with Janis and Jan
Some people think it would be great fun to be able to travel back in time to their youth, where they could relive the golden days of radio, nickel bags, and mega concerts where tickets ran you less than the cost of a TTC token today.
And certainly, there were good times to be had in the 60’s and 70’s, and I have tons of fond fuzzy memories of elephant pants and go-go boots, Sassoon haircuts, and Mary Quant and Twiggy makeup tips.
But for all of the good recollections … Let me just say that, if you ever do get a chance to go back – make sure you’ve got a way to return to the present. Especially if you’re a woman, or a person of colour. Trust me on that.
Even with the Cheeto Jesus now in possession of the nuclear launch codes, this time in history is actually one of the best of all ages. And hopefully, the positive changes will not come to a screeching halt, despite the Republicans’ best efforts.
When someone opines wistfully on the `good ol`days,` and how much better life was then, they always have one corollary – they’d like to be able to go back to their early life, but as a healthy youth, and with the wisdom they’ve acquired since those callow days. Otherwise, they’d just make the some mistakes over again.
But that’s how being young works. Yes, you get the hair, and the energy, and hopefully, a nice fit body that can see and hear pretty darn well … but you also get the `stupids.` That’s the deal.
One of my favorite memories of my own misspent youth is of the first and only time I saw Janis Joplin perform live. The Montreal Forum, November 4, 1969. It was every thing I had hoped for – and more. I was first struck dumb by her presence and energy, and when that had passed, I rushed, like the thousands of others in the audience, to the stage front, to try and capture just a hint of that glorious essence by being closer to her.
She wailed, she flailed, she spun like a dervish, laughing hysterically between songs, chugging from the ever present 26er of Southern Comfort. She held us all, willingly, in the palm of her hand.
I had played her album Cheap Thrills, released in ’68 with Big Brother and the Holding Company, until the grooves wore white. I not only knew her every word and inflection, I could even whistle the solos. I was a bona fide, dyed in the wool, Janis freak.
A piece of my heart died when she did, on October 4, 1970. Just 27, she had crammed so much life into a few years, left an indelible impression, and then … she was gone. Although many have tried to imitate her trademark sound, few have come close. That voice was powered by a wild soul that nothing could tame, and no amount of stage magic can reproduce.
Just as with all of the other wonderful artists we’ve lost, you can’t help but wonder if they would have become even more remarkable as they aged, and as time and experience tempered their spirits. What would Janis be like, were she alive today?
Jan Kudelka, another lifelong Janis fan, wondered the same thing. But her ponderings went further, launching a series of performance art pieces over the years, including last week’s Janis Joplin’s 74th Birthday Bash.
The Tranzac‘s theatre was transformed into the perfect setting for Joplin’s return, as the ever faithful fans gathered. Musicians Michelle Willis (keys), Tyler Wagler (bass), Martin Worthy (drums) and David Gray (guitar), ably laid down the groove to “Combination of the Two,” working the beat while Kudelka worked the audience, and swanned onto the stage.
For the next two forty minute sets, the audience sang along, hummed along, and happily lost themselves in Kudelka’s heartfelt interpretations of Joplin’s greatest hits, interspersed with thoughts, memories, and poesies on the singer’s short but incandescent life.
And in that time, we who were actually young when Janis was young, who first heard these songs on our radios or our portable record players or were in the audience when she toured, bottle firmly in hand, and wailed her way into our hearts, were able once more to revisit a time when everything seemed possible.
We – and the world – were young, wild, and free. Janis Joplin was the female embodiment of the wild woman spirit of the sixties. And we’d like to think that we had just a little of that wildness back then too. That’s what we want to time travel back to – and why it’s not possible. The world changed, and so did we. We can only move forward in time. If we are given the gift of aging, we must accept it as is, even when it comes with the baggage of becoming old.
But the gift that Kudelka gave us, by channelling Joplin’s spirit and music, was a chance to go back to our adolescence in our minds, to forget momentarily that, while we may be wiser, we are also greyer, stiffer, and a lot less supple than we once were. This Janis, then, a Janis Joplin that survived, and was celebrating a 74th birthday by once again sharing her talent .. this Janis relit the candle that aging, politics, and a general societal malaise seeks to extinguish in our hearts.
And damned if all of us in the audience didn’t leave the experience walking a little taller, feeling a little lighter, with a spring in our steps and a song on our lips.
A generous gift indeed, Ms Kudelka. I look forward to next January, and Joplin’s 75th birthday bash.
Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday
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Roxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.