Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Me and Bobby McGee

In honor of Janis Joplin birthday, today's blog concerns a little known story about my favorite song of hers, "Me and Bobby McGee".   Most of you know that Janis was a bright light extinguished too soon by excess.  Some of you know that her highest selling album was "Pearl",  released a few months after her untimely death, and that "Me and Bobby McGee" was her  best selling single ever .  But I will wager few of you are aware of why the song was written and by whom.   First, read the lyrics (minus the scatting) and  I will continue after the break.

Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train
And I's feeling nearly as faded as my jeans.
Bobby thumbed a diesel down just before it rained,
It rode us all the way to New Orleans.

I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna,
I was playing soft while Bobby sang the blues.
Windshield wipers slapping time, I was holding Bobby's hand in mine,
We sang every song that driver knew.

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing don't mean nothing honey if it ain't free, now now.
And feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
You know feeling good was good enough for me,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.

From the Kentucky coal mines to the California sun,
Hey, Bobby shared the secrets of my soul.
Through all kinds of weather, through everything we done,
Hey Bobby baby? kept me from the cold.

One day up near Salinas,I let him slip away,
He's looking for that home and I hope he finds it,
But I'd trade all of my tomorrows for just one yesterday
To be holding Bobby's body next to mine.

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing, that's all that Bobby left me, yeah,
But feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
Hey, feeling good was good enough for me, hmm hmm,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.

Me and Bobby McGee was penned by Kris Kristofferson at the very beginning of his career as a successful singer/ songwriter.  Anyone of a certain age will remember Kris as a handsome, bearded Viking of a man with a shy persona and piercing blue eyes.   He also had the reputation of being quite the lady's man.  One of those ladies he spent some time with in the late '60's was Janis.  They had a very brief affair but parted as friends.  Afterwards, Kris wrote "Me and Bobby McGee" about their romance. 

Unbeknowst to him, Janis decided to record the song as a track on her album "Pearl".  Only her voice and her guitar are on the original track.  All the other instrumentation had to be added later because she died of a drug overdose before it could be completed. Later, when Kris heard it, he was (and still is to a point) very grief stricken.  But then, knowing Janis' wicked sense of humor, he used his imagination as to what she would say.  He knew instinctively she would have bragged about how she had kicked his ass, and yes, he would be the first to admit she did.  Janis' version remains his favorite, above his own.  

When I think of the 1960's, I think of Janis and Kris and how some survived the excess and some did not.  Janis was addicted to drugs and alcohol; Kris to booze.  One died too soon, the other lived long enough to come to terms with his addiction and find peace of mind. I once knew someone like Bobby McGee. He slipped away, he was looking for that home and I've heard he found it. He burned fast, but he rose from the ashes of his despair, just as Kris did. Janis was not so lucky.  There but for the grace of God, go you or I.

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