Thursday, May 19

Talent Is Not Always Enough

Born in Port Arthur, Texas, Janis Joplin was endowed with immense innate talent. As a teenager her excess weight and severe acne condition made her an easy target for ridicule. The harsh jibes of her peers delivered crushing blow after crushing blow to an already fragile ego. Joplin never developed the coping mechanisms to handle the verbal abuse that plagued her during her teens and went on to haunt her as an adult.

She began singing in high school and went on to become one of the great blues singers of her time. But her allergic reaction to criticism and her insatiable, virtually obsessive need for approval led to drug and alcohol abuse. Southern comfort, heroin, uppers, downers, speed, methamphetamine were among the cures she sought when sinking into the depths of despair. Sex was another drug she shot on a regular basis to ease her pain.

Many high profile artists i.e. Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Brian Jones, Lenny Bruce, Jimi Hendrix, and a host of others tried to do the same with fatal results. No matter how much they consumed, drugs could not provide a cure for their battered psyches.

In 1967, after years of honing her skills, Janis burst onto the scene at the Monterey Pop Festival. Backed by “Big Brother And The Holding Company” she brought the house down, stunning the audience with her mind-blowing rendition of “Ball And Chain”. Stomping, quaking, stuttering, and sputtering, as if she were on the verge of an epileptic seizure, she sang from the very depths of her soul until there was nothing left for her to do but retire to the wings. No ordinary singer, she was able to exorcise in song every scintilla of pain, and every arrow that pierced her heart, At times the purity of her voice would resonate with a melody so haunting it could bring you to tears or render you speechless.

On March 8, 1968 she debuted at Bill Graham’s, Fillmore East. To calm herself before she took the stage she sought comfort in her omnipresent bottle of Southern Comfort. After receiving several standing ovations for another unearthly rendition of “Ball And Chain” she left the stage plagued with doubt. In her dressing room, after the final encore, she pelted lead guitarist Sam Andrew with question after question about her performance. Apparently multiple standing ovations were no match for her insecurity.

Like many rock legends her death was shockingly premature. Ultimately excessive drug abuse was the cause of her death. But her lack of confidence, low self-esteem, thin skin, and insatiable need for approval were at the heart of her demise. It’s sad to think what it must have been like for her: starved for attention, living in a perpetual state of self-doubt, craving the approval of strangers, unable to overcome the slightest perceived criticism. For Joplin perceived rejection was like a knife to her heart. Hostile reviews were unendurable. Her talent, fame and money could not fill the gaping emotional hole that was like a bottomless pit.

To survive in the arts you must develop a thick skin, healthy ego, and sense of self that can withstand the slings and arrows of this most difficult of professions. Developing a strong inner core, belief in one self, a positive attitude, and indomitable spirit are not luxuries. They are necessities for those that wish to live a full and meaningful life. We are all subject to criticism. In a perfect world we would receive feedback that is just, fair, and constructive. But the world is an imperfect place where fairness is not always on the menu. Since life does not conform to our needs we must be able to adjust and adapt to a wide variety of situations and expect that criticism is inevitable, and depending on the source not always pretty. If we make a commitment to ourselves to develop a strong foundation we can not only deal with rejection we can succeed in spite of and because of it. It can be a motivational tool. The fodder that fuels our competitive juices and drives us towards our goals.