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Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  723 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Janis Joplin was the skyrocket chick of the sixties, the woman who broke into the boys' club of rock and out of the stifling good-girl femininity of postwar America. With her incredible wall-of-sound vocals, Joplin was the voice of a generation, and when she OD'd on heroin in October 1970, a generation's dreams crashed and burned with her. Alice Echols pushes past the lega ...more
Paperback, 456 pages
Published February 15th 2000 by Picador (first published 1999)
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Best Memoir / Biography / Autobiography
247th out of 2,696 books — 2,988 voters
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Best Non Fiction About Music
69th out of 775 books — 644 voters


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Community Reviews

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Karla
I wish all biographies were like this, that gave a deep appreciation of the subject without going all hoity-toity and exclusive. I knew little of Joplin beyond listening to her recordings and that whole "choked on her own vomit" rumor (which, thankfully, is debunked here). While I read this years ago, the one thing Echols wrote that stuck with me is that Joplin managed raw, genuine sound with her voice by training it. Every raspy wail and scream was practiced until she got the intended effect. A ...more
Nancy Bevilaqua
I'll do the obvious here and say that a little piece of my heart broke on just about every page of Alice Echols' biography of Janis Joplin. Echols, refreshingly, refrains for the most part from the armchair psychoanalysis and sordid, shock-value "journalism" that so many biographers (especially, it seems, biographers of musicians) employ to drum up enthusiasm for their books. Instead, she provides an in-depth look at the real '60's from historical and cultural perspectives, explaining how the "h ...more
Monica
Originally posted on my blog http://asoutherngirlsbookshelf.blogsp...

For those of you who don’t know me I’m a HUGE music fan. I think of myself as an old soul though. I love and adore music from the 60’s and 70’s. Awhile back I was obsessed with music bios; I read anything I could get my hands on. Like I said before I couldn’t get enough of anything from that time period so I went out and got a ton of stuff from the musicians at that time.

I’ve loved Janis Joplin instantly. I loved her attitude,
...more
Jade
A great read if you're interested in the development of the music industry during the late 1960's-70's. This book is about the life and death of Janis Joplin, but it's also a brilliant educational tool too. I found it hard to get into at first as there were too many names and details, but I quickly enlisted the help of my ipad for research and tunes to listen to whilst reading...and it really worked! Instead of just reading this book I submerged myself in a little culture, adding to my feelings ...more
Clark Hallman
Scars of Sweet Paradise is an excellent biography of Janis Joplin. It is extremely well researched and written. It presents very interesting details about Janis, her family and friends. The author covers Janis's parents and their relationship with her and Janis's childhood and troubled teenage years in unenlightened Port Arthur, TX. Janis is described as very popular during her childhood, but beginning at age 14 she lost her popularity. She was very insecure and angry during high school and join ...more
Mike
This a biography of singer Janis Joplin. I was transported back to the wild, wacky, wonderful 1960s of my adolescence. Well it wasn't all so wonderful, lots of drug overdoses, naive utopian philosophies, youthful idealism, failed good intentions. It was a rebellious, experimental time of exploring alternative possibilities & reaching beyond conventional norms of behavior. There was also a lot of great music being made as well. Janis abused alcohol & illegal drugs, she overdosed on heroin ...more
John Branney
One of Joplin's songs, Turtle Blues, seems to describe her to a T. She had a very hard, abrasive shell on the outside, but she was soft and vulnerable on the inside.

This was a very entertaining book that was well written and organized.The author not only paints a picture of Janis Joplin's tragic life through her various sources, but puts it in the context of the bigger picture - what was happening culturally at the time in Haight - Ashbury, San Francisco, Europe, LA, NYC, Texas, etc.

It was great
...more
Shelly
I am a big Janis Joplin fan. I loved reading about her life before she became a big star; growing up in Texas and her entre into music in Austin. The book is also a cultural history of San Francisco in the 60s. It is impossible to separate Janis from what was happening in San Francisco during those years. The cast of characters is fascinating..... everyone from Bill Graham to Kris Kristoferson. The book also looks at Janis as a "trsilblazer." Rock n roll was a man's world. As successful as she w ...more
Jena Gardner
I feel like this was too much "the times" and not enough "the life". WHile the auther's knowledge of the scene and era ar eimpressive, there are times when they seemed to be mentioned for the sake of mentioning them...they don't really give any extra insight into Janis Joplin. I also think that after researching so extensively you should be able to make some suppositions, some educated insight into the person...instead, just pages of quotes, many of which conflict, leaving Janis just as much a m ...more
Suzanne Garrett
I borrowed this book from my aunt. For some reason, I've always wanted to know more about Janis Joplin and my aunt said it was an excellent read. I found it difficult to put down. It is an account of a very tortured soul in a very volatile, confusing time. Not only do you learn a lot about Janis Joplin and who she was, who she wasn't and why she did and lived the way she did, but you learned a lot about the 60's, from everything to how tie-dyed t-shirts entered the culture, to how Haight-Ashbury ...more
Wanda
“Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin” was more than a biography of Janis Joplin. It documents removing boundaries, individual freedom, drugs, sex and rock-n-roll formed the sixties.

Echols’s research is very thorough. However, I found this book to be very negative. It shows no enjoyment with what was going on at the time. It is true that Janis was a troubled, tormented soul with no support system. And there were hints in Echols’ writing that not all her life was in confus
...more
Grant
Sep 08, 2008 Grant rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Janis fans, anyone interested in the 60s scene
Shelves: favourites
I'm a big fan of Janis Joplin's music but up until now I didn't actually know very much about her apart from the fact the she was a member of the infamous "27 Club". Scars of Sweet Paradise was a fascinating read not just for all the stuff about Janis but also for providing an insight into the whole Haight-Ashbury scene and counterculture of the 1960s. This is very much a "life and times" book. What was particularly interesting for me was the description of the so-called "Summer of Love" in 1967 ...more
Caitlin
I read this back when it first came out & really enjoyed, but my copy wandered away somewhere so when I saw it at Half-Price books in the U-District in Seattle I knew I wanted to read it again.

I love Janis Joplin - both her music & her spirit. I've read Myra Friedman's Buried Alive The Biography of Janis Joplin several times, as well. This book offers a somewhat different perspective as it is striving to place Joplin within her cultural context.

I remembered that this biography had more i
...more
Alister
Scars of Sweet Paradise the life and times of Janis Joplin by Alice Echols. I really enjoy this but though its very long to me, who doesn't read as often as I could. Its also one of the most emotionally draining books I have ever read. Between Janis' childhood of being the "black sheep" to her misunderstood attitude, looks, and talent that kept this rebllious artist from being truely fulfilled. Janis' closes friends are interviewed and giving their own oppion on Janis ,how they saw her, uncandy ...more
Jamie
I'm not a Janis-head by any means, so I can't speak to this biography in relation to other works on Joplin. I like her music; I knew a bit about her rise to fame & her tragic fall (& also recently saw some 'supernatural' special on the History Channel where psychics tried to access JJ's ghost in the hotel room where she died...har har). The biography, however, is not a tragedy in any conventional sense. Echols doesn't shy away from the drugs, the booze, the sex, or even what seems to be ...more
Jenn Cunha
What did I think of this book? First, let me explain that before this book, I had no real knowledge of the late 60s. I knew highlights, Janis, Jimi, Woodstock, the usual. I didn't really know much more. This book reads more like a sociological text on the era that uses Janis as an entryway into the information. It's extremely well researched, almost too much, giving me more names facts and figures than I thought possible for a biography for a woman who died at 27.

The info about Janis was fascin
...more
Azzia Walker
This was a great historical piece and a look inside Janis. She was so lonely, even while achieving her dreams. A good reminder to all of us to surround ourselves with healthy, supportive people. Whether you're a cashier or a rock star, your network and family matter.
Ken
This biography is thorough in its coverage of Janis life. But adds to the historical background of the sixties rock scene and the role of women.
Aaron Meier
Growing up in Houston and then living in Austin you hear a lot of legend about Janis. This book did a good job of balancing the facts, faded memories, and even downright legend building that took place with her.

I also liked that the book spent some time exploring the context that created Janis, what it meant to be a woman with a fluid sexuality in the era.

It provides some interesting glimpses into a complex person and tries to get past the stuff that made her an icon.

Full disclosure: I'm work
...more
Riley Cooper
At it's heart, this is a sad story of a tortured soul. What makes this book great are the extensive interviews that the author has woven into a balanced and complex look at a dynamic woman whose flame burned out too soon. The author also gives us a good feel for what it must have been like to be young and adventurous in San Francisco before, during, and after the Summer of Love in '67. The life that Janis Joplin lived during the 60's is exciting but tragic, and this book is an excellent review o ...more
Julie
Very well done Janis Joplin biography.
Nathan
The "life" sits awkwardly with the "times" in this book, but the overall effect, one of messy and chaotic excess, fits its subject. Echols is far too detached to be a good biographer, but she is a decent enough historian, and the glimpse we get of 1960's culture in all its squalor and glory is fascinating. I really wish the biographical portion of this book had been more intimate and interesting, because Joplin's story is sad and wild and would have made a great archetypal study of her era had i ...more
Keli
I have to admit, this is the first biography on Janis that read. I don't know a lot about her life since she died just one year after I was born, so I can't say whether or not this is a fair and accurate portrayal of her life. I can say that I thought the book was well written and seemed to be a fair and accurate portrayal of what I imagine her life was like and I enjoyed it. I am a big fan of her music so it was nice to get a glimpse of what she was like as a person, or what her life was like e ...more
A.G. Pasquella
After reading about The Grateful Dead I continued my "60s Musical Countercultural Voyage" with this book about Janis Joplin. It was exactly what I wanted: less of a Tabloid Tell-All (although there are plenty of salacious details) and more of a Cultural History. Echols gives Joplin a very even-handed non-judgmental treatment-- even then, I ended up feeling sorry for Joplin. She lived hard but I was left with the impression that she never found what she was looking for.
April Amelung
There are quite alot of books out there about Janis life, I just ended up with this one in particular beccause it was the only one available in my local library. It couldnt have been a more better choice. It was very well researched and had an unbiased approach to her life. One thing that I liked about this book, was the coverage of the other bands and venues at that time. Great book for people who love Rock and Roll history and music.
Mira
I never got into Joplin's music, but this is really a great book. Kind of goes deeper than the tunes you now hear on car/lottery commercials and details her desire to push the boundaries of her own voice and the music of the time. The really interesting parts in the book are about her on-going connection to where she grew up and the pressures of willingly removing herself from everything she knew in order to become something else completely.
Ronni
Basically you shouldn't read this unless you take perverse pleasure in feeling the cracks in your heart grow larger and larger until you're left with a heart that looks like it got hit by an earthquake of historic proportions, or, perhaps, if you like those French movies that show nothing but human suffering on the corporeal and spiritual levels. Save it for a rainy vacation when you have plenty of hot chocolate on hand.
Lauren
Jul 18, 2007 Lauren rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Janis fans
Shelves: biography
This book is about not only Janis, but the counterculture environment in Northern California that helped shape her career. If you want to learn more about the 60's counterculture, this can be a very useful book. It's intelligently written, and portrays Janis sympathetically. After reading it, I felt like I understood her better. And I admired her even more.
Lylla
Great book! It told all the typical Janis stories but also was very informative on the 60s including the Summer of Love. Very in depth look at janis's life, family, friends, trials and of course addiction. Great great book about someone who never knew how good she really was.
Leah
if i could give it 4 1/2 stars i would! i really liked it a lot though it was very packed full of references i sometimes knew but a lot of times wanted a computer nearby to look up...the begining was a little much with all the 60's facts but by the end i was hooked
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Alice Echols is a cultural critic and historian. A specialist of the 1960s, Echols is a professor at the University of Southern California.


Associate Professor of English, Gender Studies and History
More about Alice Echols...
Daring To Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967-1975 Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture Shaky Ground: The '60s and Its Aftershocks Janis Joplin: Piece of My Heart. Die Biographie

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