- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001

NEW YORK The image of Janis Joplin, dead now for 30 years, remains fixed: a blues-belting, bourbon-drinking rock icon who lived fast and died young.

But in a series of letters she wrote in 1965, two years before her breakthrough performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, a different Janis Joplin emerges: a studious homebody, singing alone in her room, battling the demons that eventually claimed her life.

"I've just been attempting to look at my life objectively from my new happy vantage point," she wrote in one typically reflective letter to then-boyfriend Peter de Blanc.

"I'm making 'A's' in 3, maybe 4, of my 5 classes," reads another, written in her neat, perfectly spaced script.

The letters 64 in all, written between July 24 and Nov. 11, 1965 were sent to Mr. de Blanc in New York City. The couple had met in California, but she returned to her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, while Mr. de Blanc moved to Manhattan.

The Janis Joplin Archive, broken into 28 lots, goes up for auction Thursday at the Swann Galleries in Manhattan. The gallery declined to identify the seller.

"This is a little piece of her heart," says Swann President Nicholas Lowry, invoking one of Miss Joplin's biggest hits. "It's like her diary, written to her lover."

The sale was not approved by the Joplin estate, but it could not legally block the auction. Michael Joplin, the late singer's brother, believes the auction was linked to the upcoming Manhattan opening of a play based on his sister's life.

"The intensity of interest is really sparked by that," he says. "Love, Janis" based in part on some of the singer's letters opens April 22.

The letters are revealing in a variety of ways. Miss Joplin's writing is vivid and articulate, sprinkled with four-letter words and '60s argot ("Sorry to be such a drag").

In one eight-page confessional, she admitted that she descended into heavy methamphetamine use and experimented with lesbianism during a stay in San Francisco.

"All I did was be wild," she wrote. " … I really seem to have been trying to do myself in."

Eventually, Miss Joplin did just that. She was found dead of an accidental heroin overdose on Oct. 4, 1970, at a Hollywood hotel.

But these are letters from her Texas hometown, where she returned in 1965 to refocus. She enrolled in a local college, Lamar Tech; one lot includes a completed blue book from a sociology exam (Miss Joplin received a 99).

Another lot features a letter with a self-portrait an image about 180 degrees from the larger-than-life Miss Joplin who fronted Big Brother & the Holding Company. The drawing, on a sheet of writing paper, highlighted Miss Joplin's "nice green Christmas dress," "groovy ole sandals" and "new thin gold hoop earrings."

A five-page letter, written on loose-leaf paper torn from a notebook, detailed Miss Joplin's efforts to keep her musical ambitions alive practicing in her room as her father listened to Bach downstairs.

"I can really wail on it," Miss Joplin wrote of one blues number, "Come Back Baby."

"If you can call it wailing when you do it all alone in your bedroom with your door closed," she continued. "I call it wailing."

Later, she wrote wistfully, "I wish I had fans that thought I was as good as I do."

The entire collection was up for sale once before via the on-line auction service E-Bay, where the unidentified seller asked for $250,000. When that fell through, it wound up at Swann, where the lots were expected to sell for between $3,000 and $10,000 apiece.

In the latest of the letters, dated Nov. 11, 1965, Miss Joplin said she was taking Librium and seeing a counselor in an effort to cling to her sobriety.

She was "fairly adamant," she wrote, about not descending into substance abuse and expressed fear that, "I'll end up back in that hellish jungle."

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