The time was spring 1994. The place, a shabby apartment in Isla Vista, the college town just outside the UC Santa Barbara campus.
Everything about this particular evening was pretty much just like every other party evening. My three besties and I were gathered at our friend Carlos’ apartment, just one block off DP (Del Playa was/is the main party drag in IV), where the floors were sticky and so was the weed, from what I was told. My girlfriends and I were all donning the standard party “uniform” of black top, jeans, and Del Rio M·A·C lipstick. Cheap glasses filled with cheap Merlot (Fetzer I think) were being mixed-up all over the place since wine charms had yet to be invented. The music in the background was most likely something like Aerosmith, Meat Loaf or the Black Crowes.
This pretty much described every party we attended at UCSB, especially that year, our senior year.
The part of the evening that made it distinguishable from other night occurred at some point during our game of Asshole of Mexicali or whatever the drinking game du jour happened to be.
Before I knew what was happening, a song came on that I did not recognize, which was a rarity. I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to music at parties so I was just on my way to change the CD when I realized that EVERY OTHER person at the party knew the song. They not only knew the song, but they knew EVERY word to the song and they began singing at the top of their lungs, even the guys. In fact, one friend beat me to the CD player and cranked up the volume even more. Electric energy filled the room. It was a bonding moment for everyone at the party, everyone except me. I am a joiner, so being inadvertently excluded from this moment because of my own lack of musical knowledge was a big fat bummer.
As soon as the song ended, I looked at my best friend and asked her, “What in the hell song was that?”
She replied matter of factly, “Me and Bobby McGee, you know, Janis Joplin.”
What? Huh? Who?
Though my parents were always playing music during my childhood, they were from an older generation than most of my friends’ parents, so while I was listening to Ragtime and Dixieland with my folks, most of my friends were listening to the likes of The Carpenters, The Beatles and the one and only Janis Joplin.
So, although I had heard her name before, I was not familiar with any of her music, and being the lyrics whore that I am, I felt inadequate at this poor showing. How did I make it into my twenties without learning Janis Joplin?
The rest of the CD played on, as all of my friends belted out song after song. Meanwhile, I nodded my head, pretending to love the songs, mouthing “watermelon, watermelon” so it looked like I knew the words.
I do not like not being part of the fun, so I faked it. Girls are good at that kinda thing.
The very next day I went to the local music shop and purchased, Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits. Once I heard the first song, Piece of My Heart, I was hooked and, again, couldn’t believe I was twenty-two years old and hearing it for the first time. I drove around in my car for hours with Me and Bobby McGee on repeat. By 5:00 PM I knew every word to not only Bobby McGee, but to the first five tracks on the CD, and was ready for the next gathering of friends.
Bring. It. On.
Sure enough, the following weekend, we gathered at Carlos’ apartment and I made sure JJ got put into the mix. As soon as I heard those first melodic strums of her guitar, I hopped up, cranked the music, and sang along with my friends, for the first time out of what turned out to be hundreds, to one of the all time best songs ever, Me and Bobby McGee.
That night started a long-standing relationship with me and Bobby McGee that has created countless memories with my friends. It became the anthem to our senior year at UCSB, it then became my go-to karaoke song at the Lamplighter in the late 90’s. Then in the mid 2000’s, it landed me a stint on the game show, Don’t Forget the Lyrics.
Though I hopped on the Janis bandwagon a little late in life, she has become one of my all-time favorite artists. The soulful, empowering feeling of her music just fills me up. If you’re not on the Janis train, it’s never too late to hop on. I’ll be busting out my old CD from college to play in the car for the kids today.
“Feeling good was good enough for me, good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.”