Home > Uncategorized > The Search!Down!: Janis Joplin and Richard Wagner

The Search!Down!: Janis Joplin and Richard Wagner

Author’s Note: I’m usually good with remembering dates. Various anniversaries, birthdays, commemorations, etc. Unfortunately, I had no idea that today commemorates the 70th anniversary of Janis Joplin’s birth. I just went through my doctoral program comprehensive examination this week, too, so my mind has been in a slightly different place. However, I do have this posting from nearly a year ago, which (naturally) ties in with notions of cross-genre similarity, as well as broader issues related to searching.

In case you’re wondering, the term “Search!Down!” comes from a previous blog of mine. Inspired by Stephen Colbert’s Threatdown, it will act as an occasional accounting of terminology that somehow guided people to Geheimnisvolle Musik. Some of them are “false drops,” a bit of library and information science lingo, which describes results that are not relevant or pertinent to the searcher’s intended inquiry. Needless to say, they can be quite amusing. On The Rest Is Noise several years ago, Alex Ross commented on how he does not have naked pictures of Karita Mattila, likely referring one or more of her performances of the “Dance of the Seven Veils” in Richard Strauss’ opera Salome.

In my case, I had an interesting inquiry yesterday (15 February 2012): what does richard wagner and janis joplin songs have in common

I don’t have anything about that. They both appear in separate postings. Wagner I talk about a lot, while I only mentioned Joplin in relation to her singing “Summertime” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Nonetheless, it is most definitely relevant to the overall spirit of the blog. Now I’m curious myself. I don’t have a definitive answer, but I can expound on whether it is a correct notion. If we have evidence that a musician was influenced by someone else, that is objectively correct. However, I will flat out state that it matters not, whether the notion is “right” or “wrong.” For this visitor to my blog, they made a connection that somehow made sense. Is Janis Joplin’s singing “Wagnerian,” whatever that means? Offhand, especially if my visitor comes back here, I can imagine that description being applied loosely to “Ball and Chain”.

It sounds very much on blues territory, of course, and Joplin’s soul-wrenching singing puts me in mind of heavy metal, which has been associated on more than one occasion with both the blues and Wagner. Try this search, as well as this one.

Now, what I have is a tangle of cross-genre associations, which derive from my own experiences listening to music. Still, I suppose many of us would like to know if there is a definite connection? In other words, has anyone (such as a musicologist) seriously tried connecting Joplin and Wagner? Hmmm… Well, there’s this story about the musical likes of the editor of the Financial Times, dated last week. He cites varying levels of response/usage, but the question remains: why Joplin and Wagner (and Beethoven)? Why not just musicians within the same genre-based orbit as Joplin or Wagner (not Joplin “OR” Wagner, in the Boolean sense)? That’s part of the reason why this blog exists. To facilitate the exploration of such questions, which genre conventions and confines implicitly prohibit.

I welcome your inquiries about musical connections, even if they may seem “out there” in relation to the ways we’re conditioned to think about music. I also welcome guest posters; just let me know, and you can contribute to the dialogue…

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  1. February 16, 2012 at 20:56

    Speaking of which… from Opera Chic, a t-shirt evoking Ludwig van and Bob Dylan in silhouette form:

  2. January 25, 2013 at 21:18

    At the very late age of 33 I’ve begun to listen to Janis Joplin. It’s blogs like yours that help me catch up, learn and enjoy. Thank you.

  1. May 21, 2013 at 19:03

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