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I’ve been listening to the classic album ‘Pearl’ by Janis Joplin. The theme of this weeks radio show is ‘japan’ and, yes, the songs tend to be THAT tenuously linked.

I love Janis Joplin’s voice and it started me thinking how an unknown Janis Joplin would fare in todays X-factor. You see Joplin’s voice is completely the opposite of what Cowls cohorts expect or want from the chattering masses willing to swap dignity for their alloted 15 minutes. Her voice isn’t note perfect , AND it doesn’t hold the up and down vibrato on sustained notes which is the staple singing trick preferred by contestants on this random game show.

The Ground Zero of this loathsome substitution of any real singing prowess was the cover of ‘I Will Always Love You’ by everybody’s favorite crack fiend – Whitney Houston. The original, incidentally, is three times the song that got wedged at the top of the charts for ten weeks (back when the charts used to actually matter and didn’t spring fully formed from the thighs of coke deranged PR agents thighs) The difference between the two versions being not only did Dolly write the song, but lived it and re-lived it every single fucking time she sang it. You can literally hear her heart breaking. The sentiment of the Whitney Houston abortion being second hand, borrowed from the movie it accompanies.

This notion of accompanying sentiment in place of actual emotion is evident in the X-factor – their voices contain no real emotion so they choose to accompany any entrant they can with a sad back story – so we, the sophisticated reader of the televisions, make the leap of overlap, hearing meaning where there is none – mis-judging our own pity echoing in our heads as emoting in the singing.

Joplin’s voice is hoarse and damaged from what sounds like a month of crying and whiskey and this is not far from the truth. Plagued her entire life by low self-esteem, she allowed herself to bounce around from destructive relationship to destructive relationship, cuddling up to, the appropriately named, Southern Comfort and the blanket of heroin. Every note sounds dragged over her scarred heart and voice and she frequently stops the live shows to plead with the audience to give each other the love and respect you feel she so sorely missed.

X-factor singers pantomime emotion. I’ve never bought the suffering artist shtick but singing, good singing, has to come from a place of honesty, not faux regret and the right warbling note. X-factor is a sideshow distraction away from our inevitable death and good for only hangovers and sneering. A good singer connects the souls of all that are listening and makes life a less lonely place.

My favorite bit of any Janis Joplin’s song are just two notes. At the end of ‘Mercandes Benz’, her last ever recorded song. Just after she finishes the playful accapella with a off hand ‘Thats it’ there are two notes. The last two notes she ever put down on tape are not singing, but the beginning of a laugh. I love to hear this – it reminds me about hope and love and joy. Just two notes, fuck you Simon Cowell, fuck you.

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