Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

Autoharp notes

"She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levi's to class because they're more comfortable, and carries her Autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin."--from a 1963 article in "The Texan" campus newspaper.


During Janis Joplin's time in Austin, she played lead autoharp and sang for a bluegrass band called "The Waller Creek Boys". She liked the music of the Carter Family, arguably the group that first permitted "country music" to cross-over from the folks traditions into the form we know today. Janis Joplin soon left the Austin scene for Haight-Ashbury. Sara Carter, the Carter Family autoharp player, sang a song which said: "Out in the west, no money, no home,I went drifting along with the tide--I landed on the great divide".

Bob Dylan gave poet Michael McClure an autoharp, which McClure used at poetry readings in the Haight. He came up with the words to a song/poem. Joplin heard it from a mutual friend, altered it a fair bit, and recorded an a capella version that became, ironically, both a classic satire on Mercedes materialism and a snippet of a Mercedes Benz commercial. Joplin called McClure after she had recorded it to as if he minded that she had used his song. He played her his version over the phone, using his autoharp. She said she liked her version better. He said he liked his version better. Mchael McClure wrote a poem in 1969 which contained the following lines:
"I RESENT MY AGONY AND I DESPISE MY SUFFERING
SAVE FOR THEIR BEAUTY
and that I have become immortal".

Janis Joplin played her last concert in 1970. Her set list in August 1970 included "Kozmic Blues". Its lyrics include:
"Because every time you put out your hand,
Every time you want someone to understand
I said they're gonna kick you in the teeth
And then they'll leave you there".

Janis Joplin died in Los Angeles in October 1970, having overdosed on heroin. Pop Stoneman pioneered the use of the autoharp as a melody instrument rather than a mere chord instrument. He began recording in 1924. One traditional song for which he became famous went:
"The ocean's deep and I can't wade it
And I have no wings to fly
I'll just get some blue-eyed boatman
For to row me o'er the tide".

There's apparently a small Janis Joplin Museum in Port Arthur, Texas, where they made fun of Ms. Joplin in high school for her unique look and her unconventional lifestyle choices. I believe they have a statue there. I wonder if her autoharp is there.
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