Just Help Them Cry

Cry with those who are crying.

Romans 12:15

I never liked Janis Joplin's music. But no one could sing the Blues like her. No one.


As a youngster, Janis longed to be beautiful and skinny -- like the women in the magazines. But she was plain, and in high school, developed a severe case of acne. Her classmates not only shunned her, but taunted her -- calling her a pig, a creep, and worse.

Her support of racial integration when the local KKK was still an active community presence, only worsened her social isolation.

After high school she attended the University of Texas at Austin, but couldn't escape the bullying. A local fraternity held an annual contest, which was covered on the front page of the University News: "For the first time ever, the Ugliest Man on Campus award has been given to a woman. Janis Joplin, 19, Port Arthur, Texas, was voted the Ugliest Man on Campus by a group of her peers."

In the documentary, Janis: Little Girl Blue, Joplin's friend, Powell St. John, called it the "saddest thing I ever saw. . . It really got her. Got her bad."

Janis quit school and moved to San Francisco where she started singing the Blues. She was driven to succeed, but described "ambition" as: "how much you really need to be loved."

Love finally entered Janis's life when she got engaged. But, as she was making wedding plans, she discovered her fiancé was living with another woman, who was now pregnant.

Janis belted the Blues from her broken heart, and sang with such furious intensity that the world took notice. Yet, fame left her lonelier than ever. She carried her whisky with her like many women would carry a purse. Excessive smoking gave her voice a raspy edge, though she was only in her twenties. After she appeared on national TV, the host, Dick Cavett took her to dinner. He could see her going downhill and asked, "Can you assure me you're not doing heroin?" Cavett was unsettled by her response: "Who would care?"

Janis got engaged again. And then was told her fiancé was dining with another woman and they later went out together. The next day Joplin was found dead from an overdose of heroin.


Leo Buscaglia spoke of a four-year-old boy whose next-door neighbor lost his wife. The little boy went to the old man's house and sat on his lap. Later, his mom asked him what he said to their neighbor. "Nothing, I just helped him cry."

It's easy for me to condemn Janis's decadent lifestyle. But that's the problem; it's easy. Maybe, the place where Jesus would want me to begin is by learning to cry for her.