A lot of things happened for me in 1969.
I graduated high school, spent the summer working at a campground in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and started Winthrop College (now University), majoring in theater.
I performed in my first play — “The House of Bernarda Alba” — and in my first modern dance concert. I met the man I would marry but not until 35 years later, so that's another story for another time.
Nothing, however, compares to the thrill of seeing Janis Joplin perform live in Atlanta, Georgia, with my friends Connie Pinson and Bob Bock — and a date whose name I can’t remember.
Admittedly, I don’t remember a lot about that night. The air was thick with smoke of the cannabis kind.
“I remember thinking her voice is not going to last,” Connie said. “Her voice — the way she talked and and sang — and she talked a lot between songs.”
Janis wore purple; I wore purple. Janis made repeated trips to the piano for the Southern Comfort; I drank lots of beer. She sang her heart out; I screamed until I was hoarse.
Conclusion: I was just like Janis — only without the talent and fame.
I’m kidding, of course, but I did identify with Janis — with her tortured love life and her outsider status. In high school I’d been more of a closet outsider. I couldn’t afford the Preppy labels, so I tried to develop some personal style. Mini-skirts were how we rebelled against not being allowed to wear pants to school.
In college, I was free to burst into full hippie bloom, loosing my curly hair from the orange-can curlers that failed to straighten it for more than 30 minutes in the South Carolina humidity; wearing bell-bottom jeans with patches, tie-dyed T-shirts and no makeup.
Joplin’s mad dash for freedom from society’s strictures on women inspired me. She cussed and drank, wore feather boas, crushed velvet and sheer blouses. No Villager or Bobbie Brooks for her.
Her style was a thing, for sure, but the music was always paramount — full-throttle, full-throated, ungovernable and raw.
After a full life watching live performances — from Lena Horne on Broadway, to Lady Gaga at her full-spectacle peak in Charlotte, Joplin is still the most electrifying performer I have ever witnessed.
She growled in tune, shrieking two notes at once through shredded vocal cords. She danced harder than Tina Turner, sweated way more and left everything on the stage.
She didn’t need a follow spot; she shone like a laser beam, setting the stage on fire with her blazing talent.
I’m sure some other rock critic could recite the setlist from that night — beyond a blistering “Ball and Chain” and a gut-wrenching “Piece of My Heart,” but what I remember was leaving my assigned seat and going down on the floor to dance on a chair until somebody pulled me down to earth.
Just a year later Joplin would be dead from a drug overdose. It had to be hard, being the first woman rock star. She broke ground and hearts, mostly her own.
She burned bright and flamed out, but forged a dream for the rest of us: that some girls could be wild and free and still live to tell the tale.