Jim seemed on good terms with Grace Slick – he respected her, recognized her talent and beauty, seemed to think she was a class act, or at least that’s how he represented it to me – but his real connection was with Janis Joplin. Maybe it was just the alchemy that occurs when one mercurial soul magnetizes another, or his admiration for the sheer raw power of what Janis did on stage, but I think it was the trust she showed him.
IWith those old Leicas firing away, Jim seemed to be able to capture Janis’ light, whether on stage or posed, nowhere more powerfully than his now-famous images of her holding the Southern Comfort bottle on the ratty couch backstage at SF’s Winterland in 1968, one frame smiling and one frame sprawled and despondent. To her eternal credit, Jim said Janis never once told him when to shoot or what to print. Zits, bad hair, fat thighs, exhaustion … how many of us could have such faith in a man that we would let him see that “realness?”
When Jim showed Janis the sad-seeming vertical frame from that after-show backstage shoot (which you can see in his first book, “Not Fade Away”) he recalled she said, “Jim, this is how it is sometimes. Lousy.”
Jim always seemed so wistful when he spoke of Janis, even after all the years that passed since she died at age 27, it was like he was permanently sad at the world’s loss. “Janis was wonderful, not the prettiest girl in the world but she was not afraid of the camera. I could’ve shot her anytime at all, ‘Go ahead, baby, and take a picture.’ Janis was very important to me, real and honest.”
And the shots of Janis and Grace show the Jim that’s fascinated with their friendship, determined to debunk the warring rock ‘n roll Queen Bee myth — promoted by record labels and publicists to heighten the hype. Did you ever wonder why there were no pictures of Janis and Grace together, even when they were on the same bill, or supporting each other’s music?
Again from “Not Fade Away,” Jim recalls the only formal portrait shoot of Janis and Grace: “It was in 1967 for Teen Set magazine for an article on the two Queen Bees of San Francisco Rock. That morning I went over to Grace’s house and then had to pick up Janis. Janis wasn’t in the mood to do any pictures that day, but I begged her and she came along. Everyone always thought there was a huge rivalry between Janis and Grace, but they were dear friends. This is the only time they were photographed together, and by the end of the session, we were all getting pretty silly and clowning around.”
Anybody who spent any amount of (positive) time with Jim realized the man had an intense need for you to see what he saw, hear what he heard and, ultimately, love what he loved.
I always thought it was his rather isolated childhood that made him that way; I always thought he really would have benefited from some siblings, especially a sister or two. Instead, he went about collecting them, and their moments, and the world is richer for it.