Rant ‘N’ Roll: Slugged By Janis

Back when the New Jersey drinking age was 18, clubs around The Garden State were exploding with music, and The Aquarian Weekly was right there to document the simultaneous scenes breaking out in North Jersey, down the shore and points central. There was a disco in West Orange that became a great club called Faces, featuring some of the best blues and boogie bands in the country. Funny, but the male patrons still dressed like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever but instead of dancing, they’d sit on what used to be a dancefloor. On April 16, 1975, I reviewed The James Cotton Blues Band and got a good close-up lesson in the blues from a master. Guitarist Matt Murphy, who would go on to be a star himself, lit the room on fire that night with his jamband runs. Backstage, the sweaty blues-harp man shook my hand, his gold tooth winking right at me, and smiled, listening to all those white kids stomping the floor demanding an encore.

Not long after, I was assigned to review Sonny Rollins at The Village Vanguard in Manhattan. Being only 24, more of a fan than a journalist, I obnoxiously made my way into the kitchen which served as a dressing room and proceeded to bother the legendary saxophonist with a flurry of questions (it was rumored he was going to retire). He paced up and down, ready to go on, blowing on a little whistle, ignoring the stupid kid. When I gave up, he put his two hands together in a peace-be-with-you sign and bowed to me.

At least he was nicer than Meat Loaf backstage at the Capitol Theater in Passaic. Hey, no one ever told me not to try to interview an artist just prior to going onstage. Sure, it seems like common sense now but back then, filled with youthful exuberance, thrilled at getting to meet these people, and dumb as all hell in the ways of the proper artist-critic relationship, I peppered Meat Loaf with questions and he just picked me up by my lapels and threw me against the wall. I remember getting up, crumpled, disheveled, aghast that the big buffoon was going to break my nose with a roundhouse right, and scrambled the hell out of there.

In May of that year, Janis: The Film hit movie theaters, and a book, Buried Alive, by Myra Friedman, hit stores. Joplin had been dead five years at that point. I had seen her at Woodstock in 1969 (where she was too drunk and tripping to perform) and I had seen her at The Stanley Theater in Jersey City where she redeemed herself by a balls-to-the-wall rock ‘em sock ‘em performance on a night that practically no one showed up because of a ridiculous snowstorm. That was the night she stole my heart forever when the few people who were there rushed down to the first few rows in front of the stage and the cops over-reacted and started pushing and shoving the fans back to their seats in the back. Janis stopped the show, cursed out the cops, refused to perform until the kids were let back in front and then, believe it or not, actually slugged a cop!

Some kid crashed the stage to kiss Janis and the cop took him and threw him back into the crowd. Janis was incensed and hauled off and gave him one right on his chin. So, anyway, when the book and the movie came out, my story was headlined “And Still… A Love Affair With Janis” where I poured my heart out to my fallen hero.

Mike Greenblatt would like to make Rant ‘N’ Roll interactive. Send him an email at mg2645@ptd.net and your comments, questions, complaints and complements will be part of this column.

[Correction: In last week’s issue Greenblatt incorrectly wrote that The Aquarian Weekly started in 1968. It actually started in 1969, just like it says on the T-shirts!]