Review: Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing

Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel. Amulet Books, 2010. Copy borrowed from a friend.

About: Janis Joplin, rock ‘n’ roll singer, perhaps best known for Me and Bobby McGee. This details Joplin’s life, from her teen years in Port Arthur, Texas up to her 1970 death at age 27 from a heroin overdose.

The Good: One of the five shortlist titles for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

If you were me, “biography of Janis Joplin” would be all you need to know to pick up this book. Angel tells about Joplin’s life, from her childhood and teenage years in the 1950s in Port Arthur, Texas, to the early 1960s as she began singing, leaving Texas for California and New York, becoming the singer for Big Brother & the Holding Company in 1967. Three short years later, Joplin was dead from an overdose, leaving behind such a huge body of songs that I was surprised at just how short her professional singing career was.

In this biography aimed at high schoolers, Angel provides a matter of fact look at Joplin’s life, balancing both aspects of Joplin’s personality: the “wild, uninhibited performer and the sweet, solicitous daughter and sister.” Dick Cavett, television host who interviewed Joplin on more than one occasion, said “I think there were two Janises. There was the high school girl who desperately wanted acceptance and that character she created which was the tough-talking, tough-drugging, drinking rock and roll star.” Along the way, Angel shows both sides of Joplin’s character as well as her world and times, putting her life and music into historical perspective. Angel never condemns Joplin nor does she make excuses for her.

Angel manages to convey in print (with some amazing photographs) the sound of Joplin’s voice, the depth of her live performances. Angel’s webpage links to Janis Joplin. Net, which contains videos of Joplin’s performances.

I was overwhelmed with just how much Joplin accomplished professionally in three years, and left thinking how unfair her death was, and impressed with just how much Angel told in only 106 pages. It’s the perfect amount of pages, but in case anyone wants more, Angel provides a bibliography.

The design of this book is stunning. There are the photographs and the album art, and then there are the colorful borders inspired by the 1960s art shown in those albums. What I also liked – – since I work in a library that has Braille and audiobooks — is that this book, while full of terrific images, has text that stands alone for those non-visual readers.

Oh, I just have to say it one more time. What a shame that Joplin died so young; how unfair, because many others who did what she did were lucky enough to survive the rock and roll lifestyle.


8 thoughts on “Review: Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing

  1. I’m excited to read this one. I recently finished JUST KIDS and it was interesting to get Patti Smith’s take on Janis. I was itching for a more comprehensive look, though, and this book seems like a good choice. Thanks for the review!


  2. I just weeded a terribly beat up Janis biography out of our adult bio section yesterday. I had this one in the back of my mind at the time, thinking if any grownups come looking for that weeded book, maybe I’ll send them to the YA section for this one instead….


  3. I’m currently reading Patti Smith’s JUST KIDS. What a poetic writer she is!
    Rockinlibrarian — I hope the adult biography you have is Myra Friedman’s BURIED ALIVE. That was written shortly after Janis died and you can hear the grief in Myra’s writing. She does a stellar job of telling Janis’s story from a close friend’s perspective.


  4. rockinlibrarian, adults will like it but I think many, like me, will want to know even more after reading it.

    Ann, welcome! JUST KIDS and BURIED ALIVE — so many books to read, so little time.


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