Janis Joplin's famous psychedelic Porsche returned to its erstwhile Marin home, making a rare local appearance at the Marin Sonoma Concours d'Elegance, Sunday, May 16th, 2010.
In September 1968, the budding rock star paid a Beverly Hills auto dealer $3,500 for the three-year-old sports car. When she bought it, the Porsche was a factory-painted "oyster white." For a flamboyant singer who wore rose-colored glasses and feather boas, that wouldn't do. So she got roadie Dave Richards to paint it with swirling psychedelic images, including Mount Tamalpais on one fender and a portrait of her with her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, on another.
The singer's 1965 Porsche 356c Cabriolet, which she bought when she was living in Larkspur, is usually enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It came to Marin from the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, where it was on loan.
"They used regular house paint," Michael Joplin recalled. "They were just playing around, saying, 'Hey, let's make an art car.' They were having a lot of fun. It was a convertible, and she would drive it around with the top down. People would leave notes for her on it."
Beneath her carefree image and gaudy facade, though, Joplin was a troubled soul. And in October 1970, she was found dead of a drug overdose in a Los Angeles hotel room. Michael, 10 years younger, was devastated. "I wanted to be just like her," he said.
After her death, the Porsche ended up in the hands of her manager, Albert Grossman, who lived in Bearsville, N.Y., and let visiting rock musicians drive it when they were in town.
In 1973, the car was returned to the Joplin family.
"It was trashed," Michael recalled. It had been sitting in a garage for a long time and it wasn't driveable. I pushed it down the road to a guy who worked on VWs and he got it running.
My sister Laura and I drove it for the next 20 years."
During that time, the psychedelic paint job was fading as fast as Joplin's stardom.
"I would drive along and big chips of paint would fly off," Michael remembered. "It was an old car, and it started falling apart. It always needed something, and we needed to repair it. After much anguish, we decided to take the paint off to save the car."
It's hard to imagine now, but a decade after her death, the memory of the electrifying singer of "Piece of My Heart" and "Ball and Chain" was fading fast in the public consciousness.
"Her fame was waning, and the car became more valuable as an antique Porsche than as Janis Jopin's car," Michael said. "Ten years after her death she was an old star. It took a while for her to achieve iconic status."
It was only when the family produced the play "Love, Janis," that they decided to have the old Porsche restored. In 1994, it was repainted in all its hippie-era glory.
"We were opening the play in Denver, and we thought it would be cool to put the car in the lobby," Michael recalled. "So we had the Denver Center Theater Company's paint shop re-create the design from the hundreds of photographs we had. After that, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame called, saying, 'Oh, my God, we have to have that car.'"