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5.21-JANIS (Country Joe & the Fish)

Country Joe McDonald & Janis Joplin
Country Joe McDonald & Janis Joplin

LISTEN

Into my life on waves of electrical sound
And flashing light she came
Into my life with the twist of a dial
The wave of her hand — the warmth of her smile.

     And even though I know that you and I
     Could never find the kind of love we wanted together,
     Alone I find myself missing you and I, you and I.

          It's not very often that something special happens
          And you happen to be that something special for me.
          And walking on grass where we rolled and laughed in the moonlight
          I find myself thinking of you and I, you and I, you.

Into my eye comes visions of patterns
Designs the image of her I see.
Into my mind the smell of her hair,
The sound of her voice — we once were there.

     [Chorus]


Country Joe and the Fish put out the album I Feel Like I’m Fixin to Die at the end of 1967, but by all accounts, it failed to catch the crest of the psychedelic wave that was about to break at the end of the year. It was a less exciting album because it was less adventurous with psychedelic sound than their first release. However, largely due to Woodstock, and the film Woodstock released in 1969, the song I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die-Rag became the song most identified with Country Joe and the Fish. When it was recorded, it was one of the earliest protest records against Vietnam, given extra punch by the FISH cheer, which by Woodstock had become the FUCK cheer.

But this is not about the song I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag; it’s about Janis, a love song on the album for Janis Joplin. Evidently they had been lovers. Joe McDonald writes in his own blog that “I had announced to Janis Joplin that I thought we should break up. I said it was too difficult with our band schedules and my hitch hiking back and forth across the Bay from Berkeley to San Francisco. She asked me to write her a song ‘before you get too far away from me.’" He doesn’t seem to be so forthcoming about his relationship to Grace Slick. Looking at the lyrics to Grace, she appears only to be in the room while the singer is tripping on LSD. It is a far more psychedelic song that Janis, but then again, Janis Joplin wasn’t much for hallucinogens anyway, being more fond of alcohol, and whisky in particular.

In this case, Janis is a memory evoked by her song on the underground radio station, and much of the lyrics have to do with happy memories evoked by that moment. There are efforts to connect the experience with that of Grace (waves of electric sound; visions of patterns / Designs the image or her I see) but I can’t help but feel that Grace’s beauty was far more compelling. Structurally, the song sounds much like an old vaudeville comic waltz. An organ that sounds much like that of an organ grinder adds some psychedelic coloring to the chorus, as does an acidic lead guitar. A touch of harpsichord is heard in association with the words you and I. The B section features a harmonica. At the end of the song, there is a bit of psychedelic flourish by the use of a harpsichord. I think Janis is a kind and gentle love song, rare in the psychedelic repertoire.


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