In February of 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono took over ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ for a week. The musical highlight was an appearance by Chuck Berry, who played “Johnny B. Goode” and “Memphis, Tennessee” with Lennon and Ono.  RIP Chuck Berry, the godfather of rock.



Janis: Little Girl Blue–Amy Berg’s valuable documentary about singer Janis Joplin

By David Walsh
5 December 2015

Janis: Little Girl Blue, the documentary about rock and roll singer Janis Joplin (1943-1970) is currently playing in New York City and Los Angeles. It will have a digital and television premiere on PBS’s American Masters early in 2016. Wewrote about the film when it was shown at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Amy Berg

Amy Berg is making a name for herself as an interesting documentary filmmaker. Her Deliver Us from Evil (2006), about a Catholic priest who admitted to molesting and raping 25 children, and West of Memphis (2012), about the frame-up of a number of young men for the supposed “satanic” murder of three eight-year-old children, were both systematic and compassionate.

In Janis: Little Girl Blue, Berg turns to the life and career of rock and roll singer Janis Joplin, who was immensely popular for the last several years of her life until her tragic demise from heroin and alcohol in October 1970.

Joplin grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, a sea port on the Gulf of Mexico and at the time the center of a large oil refinery network. Her father was a mechanical engineer in the oil industry. In high school, as Little Girl Blue details, Joplin felt persecuted and an outcast.

The civil rights movement and the social developments of the late 1950s and early 1960s were obviously critical to the course of her life. One of her first musical memories, Berg’s film notes, was hearing folk singer Odetta’s version of “Careless Love.” Joplin tried folk singing in Austin, Texas, before first moving to San Francisco in 1963, where she sang but also developed a methamphetamine habit and became “skeletal.”

After a brief period back home in Port Arthur, Joplin returned to San Francisco in 1966 and became the lead singer for Big Brother and the Holding Company, a “psychedelic rock” band. A major breakthrough took place at the Monterey Pop Festival, one of the first of the large, well-publicized music festivals, in June 1967, where she sang a memorable version of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain.”

Janis: Little Girl Blue

Berg’s film follows the vicissitudes of Joplin’s professional and personal life. She left Big Brother in 1968 and went out on her own as the leader of her own band. She continued to use serious drugs. A friend says blithely, “We shot heroin for fun.” She eventually took off for Brazil to clean herself up, where she fell in love with an American traveler.

Berg treats Joplin’s life with a great deal of sympathy. The singer, who exuded confidence and bravado on stage, was beset by anxiety and insecurity. She told a Montreal reporter in 1969, “Send me your review. I agonize over all of ’em. Man, I’m really neurotic. I really want people to love me.”

Joplin’s recordings are not generally as good as they could be and she tended, as filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker remarks, to “shout and scream.” It will elicit cries of outrage from some, but, in my opinion, there is very little of the “San Francisco Sound” that stands the test of time: too much self-indulgence, too many drugs, too much self-delusion.

However, anyone who saw Janis Joplin in person, especially in a more intimate space, is not likely to forget it. This writer saw her in concert three times in 1968 and 1969, including on a bill with B.B. King only a few hours after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968. I have never from that time to this seen a performer as generous and as giving—and as vulnerable. One almost inevitably fell in love with her.

Janis Joplin in 1970

Her last boyfriend David Niehaus comments in Berg’s film that Janis “could feel everybody else’s pain.” She could not be oblivious, Niehaus explains, to suffering, her singing represents an “entire honesty.”

Laura and Michael Joplin, Janis’ younger siblings, participated in the making of Berg’s film and are interviewed in it. They were present at the public screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2015. Each makes a highly favorable impression. They spoke with considerable affection, four decades or more later, about their elder sister. Laura described Janis’ emotional life as a “roller coaster” from early on. She made clear that her sister hated “racism” (Port Arthur had an active branch of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s) and felt strongly about “integration” and “equality.” Footage of Janis’s mother, after her daughter’s death, reading a letter from one of Janis’ admirers explaining how the singer had affected her life, is also very moving.

The final and perhaps most apt comment in Little Girl Blue comes from John Lennon, on a talk show following Joplin’s death. Lennon observes that no one is asking the most important question, why people take drugs in the first place. He suggests that it comes from a “problem with society. People can’t live in society without guarding themselves from it.”

We Shot John Lennon



In December 1969 on the steps of the Apple building in London, John and Yoko protest the Vietnam War. (Photo by Frank Barratt/Keystone/Getty Images)



50 years ago, the Beatles ran afoul of America’s pathologies.

BY Susan J. Douglas


Yes, America loved the Beatles. But John Lennon, despite his great spirit, was no match for the subterranean recesses of hatred and paranoia here.

Fifty years ago this month, on Feb. 7, 1964, the Beatles stepped off a Pan Am jet at Kennedy airport to thousands of screaming fans and some 200 reporters and photographers. Two days later, they performed on The Ed Sullivan Show as an estimated 73 million viewers—38 percent of America’s population—watched and tried to hear the music over the deafening screams of the 1,200 fans in the studio audience. The Beatles’ “conquest” of the United States had begun.

Sexist dismissals of “Beatlemania” were instantaneous. As David Dempsey, writing for the New York Times Magazine, put it, “The Beatles … resemble in manner the witch doctors who put their spell on hundreds of shuffling and stamping natives … the female members of this cult go berserk.” But this derision of baby boom girls as crazed hysterics completely missed what the Beatles meant to us. The Beatles arrived in the United States a mere 11 weeks after President Kennedy was killed, when many grief-stricken young people felt that optimism itself had been gunned down in Dealey Plaza. And then here were these irreverent, charismatic young men bantering with reporters: witty, just like JFK, making fun of convention and authority, and performing on stage with utterly contagious joy. They were optimism reborn. On top of this, in their lyrics, their clothes, their hair, their heeled boots, the Beatles fused masculine and feminine styles and sensibilities, suggesting that gender roles might not have to be quite so rigid. Because they were clean-cut (in their Edwardian suits and ties), yet sexy, and British to boot, they gave permission to girls to unleash their sublimated sexual energies at a time when a sexual double standard and condemnatory attitudes toward female agency still held sway. This finessing of gender roles, this empowering address to young women, all, however improbably, fed into the incipient energy of the women’s movement. For all this, of course, we screamed in gratitude.

Yes, America loved the Beatles. But John Lennon, despite his great spirit, was no match for the subterranean recesses of hatred and paranoia here. As we look back from the nostalgic vantage point of half a century, will this truth be swept aside in mediated memories of Beatlemania? Will the sunny-side celebrations of the “mop tops” and the ridicule of swooning female fans eclipse the darker pathologies that Lennon, especially, triggered—religious fanaticism, government paranoia and gun violence?

Religious fanaticism was the first American pathology the Beatles tripped over. In 1966, just before the band’s summer tour, the teen magazine Datebook published a quote John Lennon had made in the British press: “We’re more popular than Jesus now.” The comment had evoked no controversy in the U.K., but in the U.S. Bible Belt, the denunciations were virulent: The KKK sponsored record burnings (and nailed one album to a cross), radio stations banned Beatles songs, religious extremists held demonstrations outside their concerts, and the band received death threats. After this miserable experience, the Beatles stopped touring altogether.

Then when John Lennon moved to New York City with Yoko Ono in 1971, he confronted pathology number two: government paranoia about dissidents. His anti-war stance and progressive politics prompted the FBI and the Nixon administration to spy on him and seek to silence him. Nixon was especially keen to have him deported, as he felt Lennon’s activism might cost him the 1972 election. After a protracted battle, the deportation order was overturned in 1975.

And the final pathology: gun violence, with, as we all know, John Lennon murdered on Dec. 8, 1980, by a mentally unstable person with a handgun.

The demons that John Lennon fell victim to haunt us still. We see them in the religious Right’s ongoing grip on public policy, the NSA scandal and the dispiriting fact that, since the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook, most new gun laws have loosened rather than tightened restrictions. These demons still very much need to be exorcised—yeah, yeah, yeah.


Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and an In These Times columnist. Her latest book is Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done (2010).