Jim Morrison. Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin. They were three of the biggest rock icons of the 60s and died within a year of each other. Only Janis Joplin, born 68 years ago today, has begun to fade from the pop culture landscape.
This, at least, is the thrust of a New York Times article published near the 35th anniversary of her death. Citing the wealth of product being offered by the Hendrix estate in the wake of his death, the article contrasts the posthumous output typical of other rock legends with that of Joplin, who died of a heroin overdose at age 27.
Since Hendrix died, his estate has released no fewer than 11 albums consisting of live performances and (mostly) new material. With a reputed 300 hours of unreleased recordings completed when Hendrix died, they won’t be running out anytime soon.
In 1978, seven years after Morrison’s death, the Doors released An American Prayer, which featured the band playing behind older spoken word tracks Morrison had recorded. The album went platinum. In 1997, there was four CD box set of archive material. In 1999, a complete recordings box set. Then in 2000, The Doors formed a label through which a staggering 36 albums and 90 hours of previously unavailable Morrison-era recordings would be released. Countless posthumous biographies about Jim Morrison and The Doors, the 1991 Oliver Stone film, and the recent Tom DiCillio documentary have kept the Lizard King a part of the cultural landscape for nearly four decades.
And then of course, there’s the toppermost of posthumous marketing, The Beatles. Though both John Lennon and George Harrison have gone on to that great band in the sky, you can play along with them on 2009's million-selling The Beatles: Rock Band video game, or listen to them working out the kinks in the studio on the three volume Beatles Anthology, which was accompanied by books and a multi-part BBC documentary. Oh yes, and in case you've somehow managed to avoid Apple's advertising blitzkrieg, The Beatles are now available on iTunes.
But her short career and limited songwriting credits mean Joplin’s estate has less raw material to work with. She recorded three albums with Big Brother and the Holding Company, an outfit her heirs have often been at odds with. She released one record in 1969 with the Kozmic Blues Band, since re-issued in 1999 with three extra tracks, and another with the Full Tilt Boogie Band. Though there have been a couple live records and various repackagings of previously released material, since 1999 nothing new has been unearthed.
Then there is her tangled cinematic legacy. A bio-pic called Pearl was in the works in the 70s, but when the Joplin family declined to grant the filmmakers rights, the project took another direction and became The Rose (1979). Sony secured the rights to several of Joplin’s most popular songs in the 1990s, and since then actresses and singers including Renee Zellweger, Melissa Ethridge, Lily Taylor, the late Brittany Murphy, Zooey Deschanel and Pink have been attached to star. Last June, Amy Adams entered the fray, and this time it looks like production may actually move forward on a film called Janis Joplin: Get it While You Can, slated for a 2012 release.
If no films come to fruition and no new recordings are released, perhaps Janis Joplin won’t reach a new generation of fans in the way that many of her sixties counterparts have, but its safe to say that those who’ve heard her powerful voice won’t be forgetting her anytime soon.