Colette and Janis Joplin

I’m having a nice morning. I just finished re-reading Colette’s immortal autobiographical novel “The Vagabond” and danced around to Janis Joplin.

I can’t help but compare and contrast the two. “The Vagabond” is about giving up a comfortable but confining love for the freedom of the theatrical road. Colette’s life on the stage isn’t wildly successful or easy, but it is hers. Fascinatingly, this is a period where she self-reports as not writing—and yet she eventually does write “The Vagabond.”

One of my favorite Joplin songs is “Get It While You Can”—a motto I apply to everything from love to theater tickets, houseplants to useful ideas. Compared to Colette, Joplin seems self-destructive, hedonistic, Dionysian. Liberated in an emotional way—Colette after all is essentially post-Victorian—and raw. But that is what Joplin is aiming for, no doubt. I remember the look on Mama Cass’s face in “Monterey Pop” when Joplin opens her mouth to sing. It is the expression of someone unexpectedly seeing—and hearing—the divine.

Joplin died young, Colette lived to be old. Both were bisexual. Colette’s descriptions of love affairs with women are among the most authentic and personal ones of all time. Joplin could go to pieces in public. Colette danced almost naked on the stage. Both are adored to this day.

Colette, however, was eminently practical. When the Nazis invaded Paris her first move was to find some sources for eggs and milk in the surrounding countryside. Then she set about trying to protect her third husband, who was Jewish.

Colette was an anti-feminist, at least in terms of what she said politically. Joplin? Who knows she even thought about it. Both of them were fashion outliers, with an uninhibited style.

Both of them are icons for women making our own way in the world. Full of contradictions, artistic geniuses—I’m not sure either of them would make an easy friend.

But I’m glad I met their spirits when I was young.