By Holly George-Warren
January 18, 2013

“I want to be the biggest blues singer in the world!”

That’s what Janis Joplin told her producer Paul Rothchild when he asked her where she wanted to be at age 65. Five years past that landmark, January 19, 2013, would have been Janis’ 70th birthday. She didn’t make it to “retirement age,” but she had already achieved her espoused goal in her way-too-short lifetime. When she died while completing her masterpiece, Pearl, on October 4, 1970, she was only 27 years old. Her swan song would top the charts for nine weeks upon its release in January 1971. During her brief life, as she worked hard to fulfill her aspirations, she not only changed the way pop culture views women, but inspired many of us who grew up in little pockets of conservatism (like her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas) to spread our wings and fly.

I was a 14-year-old growing up in North Carolina when Janis’ posthumous Number One single, “Me and Bobby McGee,” became a staple on AM radio. But between seeing a colorfully garbed and articulate Janis on The Dick Cavett Show in June 1970, and hearing that bittersweet road song, in January 1971, my eyes – and ears – were opened by this singular woman with a magnificent voice. A decade later, I was living in New York City, playing in bands and writing about music.

Janis always had a larger-than-life image that inspired girls like me, but as Elliott Landy’s photographs testify, she was multifaceted. She enjoyed a good book, even backstage at Detroit’s psychedelic Grande Ballroom, and scintillating conversation with the likes of director Paul Morrissey, sphinx-like Andy Warhol and singer-songwriter Tim Buckley at the legendary Manhattan watering hole, Max’s Kansas City. She loved her manager Albert Grossman, a wheeler-dealer who’d handled Bob Dylan, and she adored her audiences, whom she addressed onstage – from the Fillmore East to Newport to Woodstock – like they were old friends. In concert, she transformed into a shamanic force of nature; in the studio, working with longtime Doors producer Paul Rothchild, she helped steer the ship.

Airbnb has been riding high on the unregulated sharing economy, but the Wild West-era is coming to an end in San Francisco. On Tuesday, one of the city’s leading lawmakers was due to announce legislation that would legalize certain short-term rentals, while also making the process much more onerous—for everyone involved. As the law stands, almost any short-term rental of an apartment in the city is technically illegal and grounds for eviction, a reality that some locals who have lost their apartments know very well. The proposed legislation from Board Supervisor David Chiu would carve out an exception in an existing blanket prohibition, protecting people like the grandma who rents out her one-bedroom to tourists twice a year when she visits the kids in Cleveland. “There are a variety of laws that are being violated at this time,” Chiu tells TIME. “From the big picture standpoint, our goal is to craft regulations that address this new kind of housing arrangement, not to shut down all activities, but to end abuses that come from it.” The sharing economy has its upsides, he says, especially for "struggling families" who are renting out their apartments to help make ends meet. The abuses he’s primarily worried about are landlords who are taking apartments off the market or evicting tenants to rent them out full-time using sites like Airbnb and VRBO, as well as renters who are securing “second, third and fourth” apartments to do the same thing. In a city in the midst of an affordability crisis, with a shortage of housing that is sending rents through the roof, Chiu says that making sure “short-term rentals aren’t cannibalizing our housing stock” is paramount. That’s why the legislation lays down ground rules: Locals can only rent out their primary residences, or the property they live in at least three-quarters of the year (275 days). Anyone who lives in a building with two or more units and wants to list their place on Craigslist or Airbnb will have to apply to be in the city’s registry of approved hosts; to remain in that database, the person will have to keep records showing that their property has insurance coverage of at least $150,000 and that they’ve been collecting taxes from their guests, which go into city coffers just like hotel taxes do. And they’ll have to reapply, paying a $50 application fee, every two years. In the weeks before the legislation was introduced, Airbnb announced that they would be asking residents in San Francisco to tack on a 14% tax, which guests would pay and the company will remit to the city. Chiu has been in talks with Airbnb for months and says that getting the company to agree to pay full hotel taxes “hadn’t been the easiest conversation.” The reason cities have hotel taxes is to help support city services that visitors use while they’re in town, and Chiu says that guests staying in someone’s apartment use those services just like someone staying in a Holiday Inn does. If the legislation passes, life will also be getting more complicated for the businesses or platforms that facilitate these short-term rentals. These sites will have to notify anyone using the service of the city’s new rules before an apartment can be listed. If a business like Airbnb fails to make the rules clear to anyone using their service in San Francisco County, it can be fined up to $1,000 per day. The legislation also protects tenants from being evicted right away for listing their apartment on a site like Airbnb. Currently, the law gives a landlord the authority to evict someone if the renter is violating the city’s prohibition against short-term rentals, no questions asked. The new law says that tenants who meet all the criteria and registered with the city would be protected from such evictions. Tenants who hadn’t registered would also get a chance to remedy their behavior (i.e. stop renting out their apartment) on the first offense, assuming their lease is silent on the issue. But that's not an easy assumption to make. Chiu’s legislation does not override a lease, so if a resident has signed papers agreeing not to rent out their apartment to anyone else, the new law would likely not protect them from eviction. As landlords get hip to the reality of the sharing economy, it's possible that many leases will prohibit short-term rentals of any kind. If the legislation gets approval by the Planning Department and Board of Supervisors, the database could be live before the end of the year. In the meantime, listing an apartment on Airbnb will still be simple, while also technically illegal in most cases. So using the service remains a gamble that could end up with the renter on the street or with the Planning Department levying fines of $250 per day. The department’s enforcement team isn’t trying to track down everyone who uses the site, but they do respond to complaints, often from neighbors who are tired of seeing strangers in their halls. “We’re trying to craft a solution that recognizes the complexity of the situation,” Chiu says. “The idea of the sharing economy where we’re utilizing underutilized assets, like a spare couch or a spare room … that is activity that I think we should consider. But when you have San Francisco residents who are being permanently displaced to allow for the year-round rental of our housing stock to visitors, that’s a real challenge.”
Elliott Landy—Magnum

“What a gorgeous lady to photograph,” marveled Landy, whose images of Joplin also can be found in his book, Woodstock Vision. “She was very exciting to look at. When she sang and performed, visual harmony happened.” On his travels with Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1968, he attempted to make himself “as invisible as possible and try to make her forget I was there, so I could capture her soul.”

Janis often referred to herself as the “chick singer,” first finding fame with Big Brother, in 1966-7; then going solo and forming the Kozmic Blues Band to back her in 1968-9; and finally leading the Full-Tilt Boogie Band, with whom she recorded the timeless Pearl. Listening to the studio chatter documented on the two-CD set, The Pearl Sessions, you hear her brainstorming ideas for song arrangements and tempos, guitar parts, and vocal styles – proving she was so much more than just a chick singer.

With surplus vocal talent, intellect, and artistry, Janis fearlessly lived by the philosophy “Get It While You Can,” also the title of the gut-wrenching final track on Pearl. Just four days before her death, she told New York radio DJ Howard Smith, “You are only as much as you settle for.”

Janis never settled; she kept striving for the next musical step. Nicknamed “Pearl” by her Full-Tilt band mates, Janis spent her final days doing what she loved, and as Rothchild later told her sister, Laura Joplin, “She was a singer, full of song, totally immersed in the magic of that moment of creativity – she was at one.”

Her decision to shoot heroin during a break from the recording sessions, tragically, took her away from us. But what she left behind – her music and her legacy – have enriched generations.

A hidden track on The Pearl Sessions finds Janis and her band singing to John Lennon in honor of his thirtieth birthday on October 9. Using her most-polished croon, Janis breaks into fellow Texan Dale Evans’ cowgirl classic, “Happy Trails,” ending with “Happy birthday, John!” and that crazy cackle of hers.

Forty-three years later, on the occasion of our biggest blues singer’s seventieth: Happy trails, Pearl!

Holly George-Warren is the author or coauthor of more than a dozen books, including The Road to Woodstock (with Michael Lang), Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Timesof Gene Autry, and Grateful Dead 365. Her liner notes to The Pearl Sessions were nominated for a Grammy Award.

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