Virgin Ears: Janis Joplin, Pearl

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Virgin Ears

Janis Joplin, Pearl

When my mother left my father and I to join a cult, I was 18 months old. My father collected all of her art and stuffed it into a large art portfolio. It was huge and black, with a small wooden handle and little brass latch. He kept it stashed in the dark, cave-like space under the stairs in his antique shop. I would ask him on occasion what was in the black bag, and he would reply, “Just some of Sue’s art.” It was a rule that she would be referred to as “Sue,” not mom or mother. My father would never show me any of the art, saying it was for adults, but I think it was too painful to look at for him.

Late one night, when I was 11, I snuck into my father’s antiques shop and pulled the black bag from under the stairs. My hands shook and I broke the brass latch trying to get the bag open. The contents of the bag were paintings of nudes in watercolor. They reminded me of Paul Gauguin, had his colors been more flamboyant.

In the bottom of the bag I found an unopened record. It was Janis Joplin’s Pearl. I had no idea who Janis Joplin was, but she looked like a garish hippie sitting on that love seat. I opened the record and put it on the turntable in my father’s shop.

I listened to the entire album as I looked through my mother’s paintings, wondering who this woman who had given birth to me was. —Quinn Scheibal
illustration by Tammy Stellanova 

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