Monday, January 31, 2011


What Was in Janis Joplin's Handbag?

During the summer of 1970, a young Rolling Stone writer named David Dalton had the Almost Famous-like experience of traveling with 27-year-old Janis Joplin on the Festival Express tour, just three months before her death. The tour, which traveled Canada by chartered train and was basically a nonstop party/jam session, included acts like The Band, The Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy, Sha Na Na, and Eric Andersen (who's pictured below with Janis and her purse in Winnipeg). A soon-to-be-released film written by Dalton about their experience together (and directed by Penelope Spheeris), Gospel According to Janis, stars Zooey Deschanel as Joplin.

The book that inspired the film is Dalton's paperback, Piece of My Heart. Available here and published in 1972, it's a book I've carried with me on all the bookshelves of my life since my obsession with Janis began at age 14. It's incredibly detailed, and I could swear it included a photo of her purse contents — but it turns out his description is so vivid I'd just imagined what they looked like. There's the photo of her with the purse in question, though, which is scanned below because it's not printed electronically (Hairpin exclusive?). As a teen I found a similar purse, filled it with the same contents he'd listed, then carried it around as if it were my own messy purse of Janis-y items which I'd self-selected and definitely needed with me, oh yes!

Here's what Janis Joplin was carrying in her purse, during the summer of her 27th year. David Dalton is describing the scene as they're riding in a limo:

"Now where in the hell did I put that lighter...? Probably left it in that bar. I'm real sloppy. Lose more damn things in bars. Left a wallet with a grand in it in a bar last week. Just can't seem to hang onto anything, man. In desperation Janis dumps her bag onto the floor of the limo. Its contents are truly awesome. Janis has a baglady's compulsion to carry her whole life with her. There are: two movie stubs, a pack of cigarettes, an antique cigarette holder, several motel and hotel room keys, a box of Kleenex, a compact and various make up cases (in addition to a bunch of eyebrow pencils held together with a rubber band), an address book, dozens of bits of paper, business cards, match box covers with phone numbers written in near-legible barroom scrawls, guitar picks, a bottle of Southern Comfort (empty), a hip flask, an opened package of complementary macadamia nuts from American Airlines, cassettes of Johnny Cash and Otis Redding, gum, sunglasses, credit cards, aspirin, assorted pens and writing pad, a corkscrew, an alarm clock, a copy of Time, and two hefty books-Nancy Milford's biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel."

So there they are, the charmingly haphazard bag-contents of the lady who David Dalton called "The One Night Stand Existencialista." If these items speak to you in sheer magnitude and variety, if you identify with occasionally being mocked by observers (eight chapsticks, anyone?), just shake them off and take a line from Piece of My Heart, tell them you're "Our Lady of the Perpetual Party." And may your Southern Comfort bottles always be full.

Mary Miller lives in Portland, Oregon, where by day she works as a public historian and by night she writes and edits her blog, Rats Off.

31 Comments / Post A Comment


I saw a production of Love, Janis a few years ago which sent me into a Janis obsession... I'm now adding eyebrow pencils and macadamia nuts to my purse...

Mary Miller

Yes, and I love the detail that they were held together with a rubber band. And was it a sign of the times that they were giving macadamia nuts on airplanes? That seems so fancy!


Everybody makes fun of eight chapstick lady (ahem, me) until they want to use some...

Mary Miller

Yes, and despite having around eight, I can usually only find 1-2 of them at a given time.


You have to keep them in orbit around you like a solar system.

P.S. That first pic of Janis is fab.


These are very interesting to know about Joplin. See? I really find your posts very interesting.


Wait, BUSINESS CARDS? this goes against my whole conception of Janis Joplin. Like, if she wanted to give out her contact info, I'd imagine she'd just scratch it into a bottle of Soco and give it to you and kiss you on the mouth.

It occurs to me that they could be other people's business cards. In which case, uh, never mind.

Mary Miller

Yea, I guess I was thinking OTHER people's business cards? Like, music business people maybe?


I'm the eight pen lady. Actually it's more like eighteen.


I hear that. Also, highlighters, for some reason? So many highlighters.


I loved seeing the picture of her handbag because I too had a similar obsession with a Guatemala style handbag in my wannabe hippie teenage years.

Mary Miller

I feel like we ALL had those Guatemala-type handbags at one point, yes?!

Katie Walsh

This makes me feel a lot better about the random contents of the bags I lug around (jars, bear spray, cheese).

Mary Miller

There is such a thing as bear spray?

Katie Walsh

Yeah it's like mace! My dad gave it to me. You should have some for the bears in the woods in Oregon! There aren't even any bears here, just muggers!


Yes, its primary function is to give you a false sense of security when camping in grizzly country (if the bear attacks you in your tent in the night it will be difficult to locate and properly aim such spray prior to the bear eating you).

Mary Miller

Katie, I think your purse content list takes the cake.


I read that as 'beer spray' and was sorely disappointed.


Janis fans- I recommend checking out Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7796777-janis-joplin). It's newer and just won a YA nonfiction award, so it should be easy to track down in most libraries.


i'm more interested in the contents of rick danko's knapsack.


My Infinite Alt-Country Dream Ghost Threeway: Rick Danko, Gram Parsons, DFW


trade gram for gene clark and i'm in. sorry gram, love ya, but i just know it'd be all about you in bed or otherwise.

Bonnie Downing

One of my favorite things in biographies is when toiletry items get listed. So charming and intimate to learn what brands soap, etc. the subject used.

little dead riding hood

Imagine the contents of Rich Santos' messenger bag (it's not a purse, okay?)!


And by "aspirin," he means Quaaludes.


The first picture looks retro ...


Rich Santos' messenger bag (it's not a purse, okay?)!obat kolesterol

bryan low@twitter

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体の不調は日々のストレス! Yaaaa! Janis Joplin!

Nancy Rae Truax@facebook

I carry no bag/purse. I have them all hanging neatly on hooks. Carry a small coin purse with debit card, drivers license and food stamp card in my pocket! I loose everything! Bags confuse me!

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