I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and it’s time I wrote it down.
On the Festival Express DVD, there’s a Janis Joplin performance filmed in Calgary that is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. She is pushing the bounds of the blues so hard, singing with such raw and painful emotion, that it’s actually difficult to watch – yet totally compelling. She reminds me of those men in the Phillipines who are willingly crucifed; she’s literally made a sacrifice of herself. And six weeks after that mesmerizing performance, she was dead. You could see it coming; in fact, it would have been difficult to imagine her going on giving that way.
I believe Joplin, like Van Gogh before her and Cobain after her and many, many others at many times, made the conscious or unconscious choice of feeding her creativity with her essential, rather than her available energy. Her art came right from her heart’s blood, and that’s powerful stuff. It’s strong and rich with feeling and vitality, and it makes for incredible creations sometimes.
Maybe this is what’s meant by selling your soul at the crossroads: it’s like you’ve made a pact to give your life to your art. I can see why people do it, but it just isn’t for me. Tonight I heard a soulful singer doing Joplin, singing “take another little piece of my heart,” and I thought about how few pieces of a heart there are to give away. What do you have when it’s all gone?
A crossroads isn’t just a place to sell your soul to the devil for the sake of the depth of your blues. It’s also a place where you can choose the other road. You can choose to live a life that’s about life, to feed your heart first and then feed your art. I choose to belive that the heart, the art, and the artist will all be better off in the end.
With all my heart, or at least all that’s left, I hope I’m right.