“Work Me, Lord”: Janis Joplin’s Kozmic Blues

Like the more traditional blues before her, Joplin’s soulful white blues, her “kozmic blues,” is similar to Romantic poetry, as it is charged with radical praxis; it is an unwaveringly personal music that conveys much about Joplin emotionally, and in turn, the sociocultural climate of the flower children in the mid- to late-1960s. The radical aspect here lies in her performances, because instead of merely using the language of electricity. . . Joplin embodies electric Romanticism, such that her spontaneous reaction to her audience is an essential aspect of her performances.

Sasha Tamar Strelitz, Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism, p. 60

Reading Sasha Tamar Strelitz’s chapter on Janis Joplin taught me again everything I already knew about Janis: I knew it, but I didn’t know it. She made me see Janis in the same room, at the same time, wearing the same outfit, but from a different angle. Strelitz’s Joplin suffers empathy she feels so strongly she self-medicates to the point that it killed her. But like Keats’s chameleon poet, she turns that empathy into art, into performance. Strelitz also asks what it means for Romanticism, avant-garde in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century, to become electric in the twentieth. She developed her concept of “electric Romanticism” out of Thoreau’s description of the humming of telegraph wires, saying they sounded like electric Aeolian harps. In Strelitz’s words, “She reached her audiences with her embodiment of electric Romanticism; she was the conductor–the hippie Aeolian harp, if you will–for her audience’s emotions, which she amplified with her own emotions in that feedback loop” (p. 75).

Check out the iTunes playlist for the book.

Sasha Tamar Strelitz received her Ph.D. from the University of Denver, and her research explores the culture of spontaneity in Beat writers and rock musicians who fall in a category she calls “electric Romanticism.” She is from Hollywood, FL, has lived in NYC, Tel Aviv, and Orlando, and is presently living in Denver.

Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism

Women in Rock. Women in Romanticism (Routledge, 2022) is the first book-length work exploring the interrelationships among contemporary women rock musicians and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art and literature, the literature of the Romantic era. LIMITED QUANTITIES ONLY available at a 37% discount.

$160.00

Published by James Rovira

Dr. James Rovira is higher education professional with twenty years experience in the field in teaching, administration, and advising roles. He is also an interdisciplinary scholar and writer whose works include fiction, poetry, and scholarship exploring the intersections of literature and philosophy, literature and psychology, literary theory, and music and literature.. His books include Women in Rock/Women in Romanticism (in development), David Bowie and Romanticism (forthcoming 2022), Writing for College and Beyond (a first-year composition textbook (Lulu 2019)), Reading as Democracy in Crisis: Interpretation, Theory, History (Lexington Books 2019), Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington Books, 2018); Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); and Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2010). See his website at jamesrovira.com for details.

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