“Four gentlemen and one great, great broad”
“Wow, this is heavy!” - Mama Cass Elliot
With the raucous thunderclap that kick-started the boozy, druggy, incomparable film adaption of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Big Brother and the Holding Company had a helluva introduction for me. That note just got higher when I realised the female vocals are from the previous residence of Jex Thoth’s soul, the mighty Janis Joplin. Oh if the world were righteous, Janis, you’d have lived forever to see titanic statues of you towering over everyone who couldn’t understand your vision. You weren’t perfect, but Christ your imperfections were. It is one of my chief leisure activities when I get a little too complacent to watch the footage of the bombing of Iraq from the CNN tape on my widescreen TV with Piece of My Heart playing at full volume. Try it sometime, you won’t think the same about our world today afterwards. To once again quote Hunter Thompson and his seminal masterwork, “San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of”. This was a place where Janis Joplin lived in the same apartment in Haight Ashbury as the Grateful Dead, and hung around in the same bars as Country Joe Macdonald, Grace Slick and Allen Ginsberg. If only such a collection of positive energy and living freedom had ever collected in the Oval Office or the Kremlin, the world outside of Frisco might have been a better place; although the nature of their freedom probably made such things theoretically impossible. This sort of thinking, positivism, love, understanding and peace could never happen in upright chairs. Cheap Thrills is all of this, condensed. It contains two out-and-out Janis (and acid-rock) staples in Combination of the Two and Piece of My Heart, and is the definitive statement of a movement. The album sounds live, culminating in the sound of a glass shattering and being swept away during Turtle Blues. The excellent cover art by Robert Crumb was a second choice after the record company refused to allow the band to go through with their original vision, a photo of the band naked in bed together; and the original title (restored here) was shortened down from Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills to simply Cheap Thrills. Such things can’t be allowed, the people of America and the world don’t want to see naked people or references to dope while they watch their tax dollars blow a nation of little innocent yellow people to smithereens. Soon after this high point, like the Frisco scene itself, Big Brother and Holding Company began to dissolve, once a star reaches critical mass, it is natural law that it must collapse in on itself. Joplin of course went on to have a heart-shatteringly short solo career and after her demise, songs from this album and the whole of the sixties has been bastardised, standardised, repackaged and sold in plastic wrapping. What can never be killed or sanitised though, what will remain perfectly crystalline is the mood, that sense that at the core of the minds that dreamed up this music, was a principle which is of human goodness.
Written under duress by Steven