Monday, August 17, 2009

Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin, by Alice Echols [50BPT]

Today's entry in 50BPT is by me, RMJ.

Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin, by Alice Echols

My copy of this book is falling apart. Page 241 has fallen out, and I'm waiting for 240 and 243 to follow suit. I got it when I was 16 or 17 and promptly read it several times. Reading it this past week made for as compelling a read as I remember. Echols, who is also the author of Daring to be Bad, takes a very considerate look at Janis and the culture that surrounded her. She takes care to avoid erasing Janis' appropriation of black artists like Odetta, Ma Rainey, Leadbelly, and Etta James (though I'm reading that through a filter of whiteness). Several reviews of this biography have compared it unfavorable to other histories of the music of the 1960s. But Echols uses Janis' story to sketch not what it was like to be in San Francisco, or Texas, or the music industry, in the 1960s - but what it was like to be a talented woman, an ugly woman, an ambitious woman, a non-heterosexual cis woman, an addicted woman in these contexts. Instead of looking through the necessarily patriarchal point of view of male reviewers, Echols looks at it through an unexplicitly feminist point of view.
50 Books for Problematic Times is still accepting submissions!


  1. I had the extreme privilege of taking "History of Rock and Roll" with Alice Echols at USC, and this book was assigned coursework. Easily one of the most fascinating and memorable classes I have ever taken. Alice's work on Janis was illuminating for myself as well - certainly it was homework I didn't mind doing, and this book has a permanent home on my shelf.

  2. That sounds like an AWESOME class!


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