Don Mclean in his classic American Pie implied that the music died the night that Buddy Holly was killed in the plane crash (along with Richie Valens and and J.P. "the Big Bopper" Richardson). Perhaps he was right, to a point, because that plane crash almost certainly deprived America and the world of some wonderful music. But there was also a short span in late 1970 in which the lives of two American music icons were lost - both due to drugs.
Jimi Hendrix, singer-songwriter-guitar magician, died in London on the 18th day of September, 1970. Just sixteen days later on October 4th, 1970, Janis Joplin, singer-musician-songwriter, passed away in Los Angeles. Both of these super-talents were just twenty-seven years old at the time of their deaths.
I was a senior in college and at home in my no-bedroom apartment in the historic Kingsbarde apartment house next door to Southwest Missouri State University when I learned of each death. Both deaths had a big impact on certain elements of the campus, and particularly on the people who lived in and frequented Kingsbarde. I remember one of my neighbors playing Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner at full volume the afternoon that the news broke of the guitarist's death.
Richard Nixon was the President in 1970, and the country was still hopelessly mired in the death throes of the Vietnam War. It was a less than joyful time - but the music was very, very special. The deaths of Hendrix and Joplin were duly reported in the national media, Not surprisingly, President Nixon had no public comment on their passing. Tricky Dick was not the type of individual to waste his breath glorifying the counter-culture - or to comment on the deaths of a couple of druggies who didn't sing like Bing Crosby.
But what a difference a few decades can make. This year the United States Postal Service (a part of the same federal government that used to be headed by Nixon) has issued beautiful, and very colorful, postage stamps commemorating the lives of Hendrix and Joplin. The Hendrix stamp, 49-cents - "forever," came out in March, and Joplin's, also a 49-cent "forever," was issued in August.
I don't loiter around the post office much, so I didn't get a chance to see the Joplin stamp until today - when I immediately bought a sheet. The front of the sheet - which contains the sixteen stamps - is designed to resemble a record jacket for a 45 r.p.m. record. The reverse had a photo of the legendary singer holding a microphone and joyously belting out a song - probably one that she or Kris Kristofferson wrote.
Everything, in fact, about this stamp is joyful. The photo used for the image on the stamp would bring a smile to almost anyone's face - though probably not Nixon. Joplin's face is printed in blue tones. She is smiling infectiously as she adjusts her rose-tinted glasses. Around her image are the words "Forever Janis Joplin USA." Somewhere Richard Nixon is raging out of control!