I never loved classic, psychedelic rock. Whenever I heard the likes of The Doors, Pink Floyd or AC/DC, I rarely found myself connecting with the lyrics. Vis-à-vis the image of a confused teenager trying to figure out what the hell the artist smoked before putting pen-to-paper, I grappled with this confusion every time I hit the “play” button. After many years holding steadfast onto this belief, the classic 180 occurred.
My own disenchantment with the singers and songwriters of present left me following the definition of insanity; I sought out the classics yet again, expecting a different result. From The Eagles to W.A.S.P, my preconceived views held firm. From Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” to Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” my mind failed to uncover any meaning behind a patchwork of random verses. After rediscovering the 27 Club poster child herself, Janis Joplin, the smallest of tracks drew me in.
"Mercedes Benz" commences with a sweeping statement of its political relevance – followed by an eye roll -- and continues on a cappella. Without hesitation, Janis belts out a tune leaving me inebriated. I’m absorbed by the acidity of her voice; it permeates the air and elucidates the power of her words. Janis Joplin, the notorious drug addict and rebel of her time, made a war cry out of whims.
Raised in small town America, Janis Joplin found herself an outcast amongst her peers. In a piece titled “She Dares to be Different,” written by the campus newspaper of UT Austin – her alma mater – the author characterized a woman with an ere of freedom. She walked around barefoot with an autoharp in tow, embraced the misfits amongst them all, and outwardly expressed her disinterest with the rigidity of society at the time. In her own way, she embodied a heroine in a sea of grim prospects for women.
After a failed move to Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, Janis returned to the backward town of her youth. Losing the levis and donning a beehive, she attempted to repress her own individuality for the sake of fitting in. This experiment failed, and she became the timeless icon known today. However, being such an unlikely figure to peg for assimilation, my mind reverted back to the seemingly straightforward verses of "Mercedes Benz." Soaking in her calls to God, an unlikely attempt to fulfill her consumerist wishes, I began to concentrate on the time period surrounding that 1 minute and 49-second track. Is this a call to shame those trying to fill their emptiness with goods, or analogous to how Janis herself filled the emptiness of her own existence with nice cars and “a night on the town?” Frankly, the answer to that died with her.
From the chords of "Mercedes Benz" to the tragedy of Janis, I never expected to feel any oneness with her. Regarding the imminent threats looming before us women today, I cannot help but wonder if Janis and the war cries of her lyrics emulate the never ending struggle of defining womanhood. Standing between an administration of firsts, to the inevitability of digression, will the women of today be forced to ditch their levis and pray to God for fulfillment? Will the right to individuality we fought so hard for die in the face of primordial thought? Once again, the answer to that remains unknown.
Whether a heroine, a tragedy, or both, the woman behind the lyrics put forth a legend that supersedes her. She stands amongst innumerable male icons of her time and held firm when women ultimately found themselves fighting for a workplace not involving a stovetop or rattle. Yet even the strongest of resolves find themselves under the shadow of doubt. Standing precariously on the eve of a new ruling power, my only desire lies in not allowing the hollowness and superficiality expressed in "Mercedes Benz" to define the life of women once again.