by Charles Webb
“Janis Joplin, her eyes closed, her nipples hard under her silver knit shirt, singing “Love is Like a Ball and Chain” at the Monterey Pop Festival, retching it out of some deep dark nether region of her Texas soul: one of the very, very heavy moments in rock and roll. It was then she stopped being the girl who sings with Big Brother and became the voodoo-lady of rock.
She sang like a rock and roll banshee and leapt about the stage like a dervish. It was the raunchiest, most attacking rhythm and blues singing I’d ever heard. She sang like a down-home psychopath. She threw the microphone from hand to hand, she straddled it and threatened to eat it whole; she tossed her head and stomped her foot and punched her thigh and shook her fist at the audience, and she shivered all over. ” Michael Thomas
Janis Joplin, Cosmic Witch, La Bruja Kosmica, the “Voodoo Lady of Rock” died of an unintentional heroin overdose on Sunday, October 4, 1970 at the Hollywood Landmark Hotel, where she was staying while recording an album.
On that day she joined what has come to be known as the 27 Club. The 27 Club members are all musicians and artists who died at the age of twenty seven from either drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, homicide, suicide or some other non-natural cause.
Members include blues legend Robert Johnson, who is said to have made a deal with the Devil at the crossroads for his success, and died of a dose of strychnine given to him in a bottle of whisky by a jealous husband.
The membership of the 27 Club has risen to over fifty since its inception and includes Brian Jones (“death by misadventure” – drowning), Jimi Hendricks (asphyxiation), Jim Morrison (heart failure), Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (gastrointestinal hemmorage), Jean-Michel Basquait (speedball overdose), Kurt Cobain (suicide by gunshot) and Amy Winehouse (alcohol poisoning).
The Hollywood Landmark Hotel was built in the 1950s just off Hollywood Boulevard and, because of its location, played host to many entertainers and celebrities over the years, including the Rat Pack, Creedence, Jefferson Airplane, Siegfried & Roy…and the list goes on…a sort of stepping stone to the Chateau Marmont. The hotel had (and still has) monthly rates.
In the 1980s new owners of the Landmark renamed it the Highland Gardens, and instead of shying away from the fact that Janis Joplin had died there in room 105 (the Landmark owners had kept the room number a secret), the new owners promoted it (and sometimes charged more).
Many fans, budding musicians, paranormal investigators and morbid curiosity seekers have stayed in the room, gotten drunk on Southern Comfort (Janis’ favorite liquor), set up altars, consulted Ouija boards, burned candles, composed songs, tried to record her ghostly voice (EVPs), attempted to photograph her reported materializations, and then written messages to her on the wall inside the walk-in closet. These messages, drawings, postings, etc. have been preserved as a sort of memorial to Janis, along with a plaque placed there by the hotel management.
I have stayed at the Highland Gardens many times since the early 80s and on one occasion, with my wife, asked to see room 105. Very spooky. We decided not to take the room.
Instead, we picked a room we had stayed in before on the second level of the courtyard overlooking the pool. Sometime after midnight, I went out onto the balcony to have a cigarette. When I opened the sliding glass door, I heard a sort of hollow singing echoing down below…just a half recognizable, raspy female voice…no instruments…it was not a radio or TV.
A lone woman was sitting in the shadows on a deck chair, alternately drawing on a cigarette (the glowing tip was all I could make out at first) and softly singing “Summertime”. She pulled on the cigarette again and looked up at me. A cold shudder ran through my body.
The ghost of Janis? No…must be because I had just been in room 105. Must be some Janis wannabe trying to latch onto some of the vibe. The woman stood up and walked off into the darkness at the other side of the courtyard.
The next morning I was having a coffee in the lobby, talking to a guy who also had a room overlooking the pool.
This guy, whose stage name was Capt. Nemo the Steampunk Sorcerer, was performing at the Magic Castle, a private club for magicians and their guests a block away from the Highland Gardens. He asked me if I heard Janis last night, then told me that he stayed at the hotel often and that the singing was a common phenomenon.
He also said that they hold séances on a regular basis at the Magic Castle and that Janis makes a “guest appearance” from time to time. He invited us to his show that night.
After the show, Capt. Nemo introduced us to his date for the evening, a movie costume designer and singer whose stage name was Black Opal.
We all went to Barney’s Beanery, a bar and hamburger joint not far away, another musician’s hangout over the years and the last place Janis was seen before returning to the Landmark the night she died.
It turned out that Black Opal (“like Pearl…get it…only black”) was a sometime Janis impersonator and billed herself as “The Black Janis Joplin…ironic, huh?” Black Opal had stayed in room 105 more than once.
Opal grew up in Greenwood, Mississippi, where Robert Johnson died, and started hearing stories about things that could be done and undone at the crossroads at a very early age.
She asked if I was familiar with the “urban myth” that room 105 at the Landmark/Highland Gardens was itself a crossroads (“that place should be called the Crossroads Hotel, all the soul selling that’s been done there”). I had not, so she filled me in.
As the story went (and this started happening sometime in the 1970s), a young woman (or young man), who idolized Janis and wanted to be able to perform like her, and “be” her, could do a kind of conjure working in room 105 that would make this possible.
The working was called “getting fucked up with Janis” and involved booking the room for several days, setting up an altar (a variety of Janis Joplin prayer candles, tarot cards and other ritual items have become available over the years), playing Janis’ albums nonstop with the volume very low and ghostly, laying in a supply of Southern Comfort, pot and possibly other drugs as offerings to Janis, and then drinking, smoking, shooting up, etc. “with Janis” until one passed out.
While sleeping it off, the young woman doing the ritual would have a “Big Dream” in which Janis would appear, take her out to the courtyard pool and teach her the secrets of the Cosmic Witch of Blues/Rock.
In exchange for this initiation, the aspirant had to only agree to one thing…join the 27 Club. As the story goes, according to Black Opal, many who “got fucked up with Janis” were only seventeen or eighteen (or even younger) when they did the deal and twenty seven still seemed like old age to them, so this condition was not a problem.
It is unclear how many up and coming singers have died at the age of 27 just before making it big.
It turns out that Opal, herself, got “fucked up with Janis” but did not agree to join the club. “All I got out of the deal at first was a god-awful hangover! But I can still sing like JJ pretty good and Pearl has come to me in the night many times since…floated over my bed…grinned down at me…winked…then disappeared.
I made it past 27 and I think that made her happy.”
Back at the hotel later that night I thought I heard singing down by the pool again and went out on the balcony to check it out. Nobody was there.
While writing this article, I came upon a piece about a recent séance at the Magic Castle, Janis and her friend Amy Winehouse both made an appearance.
“On stage I make love to twenty five thousand people; and then I go home alone.” Janis Joplin
“I don’t regret anything.” Amy Winehouse
About The Author:
Charles Webb is a San Francisco based filmmaker, practitioner of various of the occult arts and founder of the reality handling method Cinemorphics, (Alchemical Conjuration Technique – A.C.T.). His latest book, “Quick-Knife Hoodoo”, is available at Amazon.
Image Attributions: All images are photomontages composed by the author.
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