Janis (Pearl)


This very large beautiful original print, Susan Dysinger’s artist’s proof of young Janis Joplin is for sale unframed (700) or framed by Grey Goose in Los Feliz, Los Angeles (1,200).

If interested, email for dimensions and order professional archival framing. joanjohnson4@msn.com

Questions: An Essay

At this moment in our history we are seeing an ever-increasing epidemic of drug deaths, again among the famous, infamous and wannabe famous victims of addiction. From news broadcasts, politicians, teachers and parents, come scary statistics, the alarming numbers of drug-drenched towns and cities, the waste of lives and parental hopes while huge numbers of young people decide, knowingly or not, to check out, to cut the cord to the future, whether it is fear or doubt about the future, or pain so deep it cannot be assuaged by any balm or comfort, only total oblivion, or whether it is copycat behavior due to mentally tortured artists who gain world fame and burst into flames to remain “forever young.”

As we old folks know, it takes courage to take on old age, but it is oh so worth it; just ask those of us who have outlived our wildest passions and have successfully dealt with memories of traumatic events and universal meanness by the monsters in our world, the lucky among us who have endured long enough to live long lives, gain peace of mind and sometimes even prosper.

I hear often that our young generation suffers from unspoken guilt about their debts to credit cards and to the old folks in their families.Guilt is a terrible engine that drives anyone but a psychopath to emotional turmoil. there is a slogan in the twelve step program: “Guilt sucks.”  I personally know a faithful attendee of meetings who even sponsors others but has never made any kind of serious amends, one of the central steps of the program. Guilt mixed with deception is a toxic blend and may be a reason to seek liberation from any emotions at all. Who knows? A suicide meant to hurt others, an act of revenge, a way to put the guilt on others is not uncommon.

This portrait (Look at the eyes) asks a painful question. Think about the appropriate answer. Think about Hemingway, Plath, Woolf, and so many more towering artists who took their own lives, and join those of us who love life with all its pain and are angered by those who opt out on drugs. Think about David Foster Wallace and ponder the question. How many aspiring wannabes will be in love with death now because of his famous” example? There is always one more on that dusty road with a longing to be remembered in any way possible, albeit by causing grief.

I lived in Hollywood for over 20 years and very often drove by the small motel where Joplin partied herself to death, the hotel where Belushi ended his life in front of his girlfriend, the sidewalk where River Phoenix gave up the ghost after a night “on the town.” In fact there is an entrepreneur who has a company called Graveline Tours and a limo that takes you to all the places where short-lived famous people continue to attract fans in death.The license tag reads, “I C ded ppl.”  There is even a Museum of Death on the Boulevard. The cult of dead “stars” grows daily. I didn’t know Joplin’s music, but someone I loved knew it and copied her style, became a fan-atic in town and bleached her life with drugs. It was and is a tragedy. I bought this lithograph with Joplin’s beautiful persona to remind me of that girl, and to remember that every drug-addled thief of time was once an innocent child.

Nobody has developed a tour of places where famous people who died of old age lived, who worked, prayed and served others. I am thinking of the niche dedicated to St. Therese of Lisieux in the magnificent Church of The Blessed Sacrament on Hollywood Boulevard, given to all who visit or worship there as a gift of Irene Dunne. There are beautiful places where seekers who were also famous practiced lovingkindness, like the Zen monastery on Mount Baldy where the “elder” late Leonard Cohen sat zazen as a monk for five years. It is a life-giving alternative to drugs, a spiritual path. A life-saving path, as any 12 step follower will tell us “if they work it” and don’t just “talk the talk.” (God save us from these ubiquitous people.)

Some ex-heroin addicts preach almost continuously using social media like a pulpit, like true fan-atics of Christ, but privately they are still full of the hatred, resentment, and trauma that made them zone-out in the first place. (“The devil quotes scripture.”) Here perhaps only therapy or true conversion to love and forgiveness and gratitude can help, as it has for many who hide behind a curtain of deception.A person, of any age, who doesn’t practice the great commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” is not a Christian. Privately some who claim to be “saved” are secretly still “lost.”

Freedom is not “just another word for nothing left to lose.”  Freedom is a word for something very sacred to everyone with a soul to cherish when found; it is only the soul-sick who think it means only escape. Alas. How paradoxical that addicts think drug highs are liberating if only for a moment, when they are the road to total prison and slavery and often an early death-before-life.

I have empathy for those left behind, the real victims of this epidemic, this cult of the dead that has grown exponentially with the loss of spirituality.  There can only be pure grief; that is all that is left when someone we love has chosen a broken-off life.

Ah! Back to Art.

To some artists, e.g., the very young and dying of  disease, John Keats, art, the senses and nature combined  form a higher high than reality  and is “oblivion” enough. (Time to closely read Ode to a Nightingale again.) Life is enough. Love is enough. Nature and Art and the Senses are enough. Thank God. This starkly beautiful portrait of Janis asks a painful question. Think about the appropriate answer. to the question, What is ever not enough? Dickens knew this when Oliver asked for “more.” Hunger is more than physical.

Then, ask yourself how and why so many musicians are so prone to escape rather than seeking the spiritual? Maybe the Pied Piper really was an evil kidnapper? I am thinking, again, of Bob Dylan, recently awarded the Nobel Prize? (my question mark) Thinking of Joyce Carol Oates who dedicated a pied piper story of the real monsters of our world to Dylan. “Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?”  You can Google it by writing in “text” before the title. Beware, it’s a tale you will never forget.

I once, long ago, had a friend who asked if his son could visit me for a week before going into the army during the Vietnam War. I was a mom with a tiny infant. I met him at the airport where he arrived long-haired, wearing knee high fringed suede boots, and hippy-like clothes, a guitar with attached harmonica (Dylan style). On the way from the airport a cop pulled us over with my infant in a car seat in back and me, dressed like the suburban housewife I was. After a thorough inspection of my car and trunk, we were told to go on….Shocking! Was it the clothes of my young guest that aroused the officer and caused the search? To this day I still remember that question. My guest never left my house the whole week, but lay on his bed, guitar and harmonica singing more like wailing at all times. This was my first introduction to Bob Dylan who was obviously his compelling inspiration, but to me a total departure from what I called music. The constant loud droning was nerve-wracking, but I submitted knowing his near-future would be harrowing  and tried to understand the “music” and its guru who my young guest obviously adored.

One day I had all the fixings for fruit cakes I was going to make for Christmas gifts in my kitchen and I had to go shopping. On my return, my guest told me he had made my cakes and he had put something “special” in them to enhance their effect. My husband threw it all out. (This was the 1960’s after all.)

The boy came home from the war a year later and, I was told, out of his mind on drugs. He had been stationed in a psych hospital as a private first class, and one day close to home, high on PCP  he ran from his car head-on into oncoming traffic and was killed instantly. He was 21 years old.

Wherever we live now there are so many drug-addled walking zombies  on street corners, in gutters, slums and luxurious couches and expensive Hollywood hideaways. Every minute someone buys a first “fix” from a greedy purveyor of greed for “more” to the never-to-be-satisfied.Question: Why?

Final question: How can lost people get on the right path, the ancient quest so honored and understood by so many artists, writers, philosophers, and spiritual leaders, the search for peace of mind, that pearl of great price, the only real liberation that cannot be bought for any price? I believe that inside every human being lies the answer to every question, but it takes time and hard work, legendary courage, and patience to get them. For some of us, maybe even a long, long life.


Many years ago I bought this lovely portrait in an art gallery in Santa Clara that was having an exhibit of Dysinger’s work. Check out her website to see her most recent art for sale and  you’ll see how surprised I was when I asked the owner if he had any “specials” in the back room. (always ask about what is in the back room for wonderful surprises.)  No matter the real woman, the portrait of this unusual Janis Joplin has caused me much to think about over the years. .I didn’t know Joplin’s music, but someone I loved very much knew it and adopted her style, was a fan-atic in my town and bleached her life of potential singing-success with drug addiction. It was, and is. a tragedy. I bought this lithograph with Joplin’s beautiful persona to remind me that every drug-addled thief-of-time was once an innocent youth with wasted potential.Now it is time for me to pass it on to someone else who will love it as much as I have all these years. To see more of the art from this (Laguna Beach, California) artist’s work, go to her website:  http://susandysinger.com


Susan Dysinger.  Limited edition prints: Lady Day, Georgia String Band, Chet Baker, Aretha B..B. King, and Duke Ellington at his piano.

Georgia String Band

B. B. King