Rock & Pop: When Janis and Jim filled the air with profanity

IT WAS 30 YEARS AGO TODAY
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The Independent Culture
On 16 November 1969, Janis Joplin was arrested as she came off stage in Tampa, Florida, and charged with the use of "vulgar and indecent language". During the concert, Joplin had ignored pleas from officials at the venue to control the audience. Instead, she told fans thronging the aisles and dancing on their seats, "if we don't hurt nothing they can't say shit".

According to Buried Alive, Myra Friedman's biography of Joplin, the self- destructive singer was "compelled to be coarse, driven to create pandemonium. The audiences had to be swarming the aisles, pressing toward the stage, whistling, yelling, shrieking, dancing, or it wasn't a Joplin concert, it wasn't the testimony of love". So when a policeman arrived on stage with a loud-hailer - during her hit "Summertime" - and disrupted this frenzied love-in, Joplin turned on him. The civil consequences were slight - a $200 fine - but the repercussions for Joplin's performing career were more serious. Many venues refused to book her, and the city of Houston, in her home state of Texas, banned her on account of "her attitude in general".

The reaction to Joplin (right), whose minor misdemeanours were compounded by her hard-drinking, drug-taking reputation, was part of a moral backlash against rock-star excess, provoked by another incident in Florida. At a Doors concert in Miami the previous March, a drunk Jim Morrison swore excessively, before, some claimed, appearing to masturbate and expose himself. "Many of the nearly 12,000 youths said they found the bearded singer's exhibition disgusting," reported the Miami Herald. "In the audience were hundreds of unescorted junior and senior-high girls." A warrant was issued for Morrison's arrest on a felony charge - "lewd and lascivious behaviour" - and misdemeanour charges of indecent exposure, open public profanity and public drunkenness. Outraged Florida teenagers then organised a "Rally for Decency", which attracted 30,000 people and the support of President Nixon and sparked a series of similar events around the United States. The singer "surrendered" in LA in April and, after a lengthy court case, was found guilty of "vulgar and indecent exposure and vulgar and indecent language" in October 1970.

He appealed - "it was a lifestyle that was on trial more than any specific incident", he said in an interview. But, in July 1971, before the case came back to court, Morrison died in Paris, a year after Joplin had died from a heroin overdose.

MAEVE WALSH

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