Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Janis Joplin and Easter

The Easter sermon title is "All My Tomorrows." The line is taken from Kris Kristofferson’s “Me & Bobby McGee.”

“I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday.”

Sometimes yesterday seems so much better than today. In my head, it is not Bobby McGee, but Janis Joplin, who is singing. And feeling good was easy then, when Janis sang the blues. “Me & Bobby McGee” is a dark vision, despair delivered with a driving beat that makes you want to sing along.

She was the lead singer for Big Brother and the Holding Company when they came to Wesleyan on March 9, 1968. A month before Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. Three months before Bobby Kennedy.

But when I hear her singing in my head I don’t think about national events. I think about that great talent lost. The wrenching pain that drove her to greatness and ultimately pushed her over the edge.

When she was at the University of Texas, as a fraternity prank, some guys nominated her for “Ugliest Man on Campus.” The acne face. The tangled hair. When I hear Faith Hill sing her version of “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart,” I wonder if two people could ever be more different than Faith Hill and Janis Joplin.

Easter is about trading yesterday for tomorrow. Maybe not without regret, but certainly with hope. It’s about picking up and going on. Life rather than death.

The full lyrics are printed below.

Me & Bobby McGee

Busted flat in baton rouge, headin for the trains,
Feelin nearly faded as my jeans.
Bobby thumbed a diesel down just before it rained,
Took us all the way to new orleans.
Took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana
And was blowin sad while bobby sang the blues,
With them windshield wipers slappin time and
Bobby clappin hands we finally sang up every song
That driver knew.

Freedoms just another word for nothin left to lose,
And nothin aint worth nothin but its free,
Feelin good was easy, lord, when bobby sang the blues,
And buddy, that was good enough for me,
Good enough for me and my bobby mcgee.

From the coalmines of kentucky to the california sun,
Bobby shared the secrets of my soul,
Standin right beside me through everythin I done,
And every night she kept me from the cold.
The somewhere near salinas, lord, I let her slip away,
She was lookin for the love I hope shell find,
Well Id trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday,
Holdin bobbys body close to mine.

Freedoms just another word for nothin left to lose,
And nothin left was all she left to me,
Feelin good was easy, lord, when bobby sang the blues,
And buddy, that was good enough for me.
Good enough for me and bobby mcgee


  1. Joplin was a performer who let it all hang out. Her message had to get to the public. Her spirit burst forth in a torrent not a gentle misting. Even if the words or the message of her lyrics were not understood, the spirit of her songs was obvious and contagious. When we sang along with her raspy voice we growled and wailed feeling her message right down to our toes. Thank you for putting a spiritual bent to the sensational performance of a talent too soon departed.

  2. Joplin was before my time (she died 3 years before I was born) but the song is a classic. I always liked the line "Freedoms just another word for nothin left to lose,"

    I never thought about it before in terms of the Gospel, but now in the context of Jesus I think it takes an ironic twist. In the Gospel stories many found freedom through Jesus but some of those whom he encountered did not follow him because they had TOO MUCH TO LOSE.

    On the other hand Jesus' ministry takes root deepest in those who have been rejected and have nothin' left.

    What are we willing to lose?