Joplin once stated, “I got treated very badly in Texas. They don’t treat beatniks too good in Texas. Port Arthur people thought I was a beatnik, though they’d never seen one and neither had I.” She might not have considered herself a Beatnik, or even her self-proclaimed “First Hippie Pin-Up Girl” status for that matter, because her personality was bigger than any title could describe. Regardless, the Queen of Psychedelic Blues had a conscious awareness of the dangers of materialistic consumerism and embraced freedom and changing human liberties.
One of Joplin’s most notable Beat songs in both form and content is “Mercedes Benz.” Janis sat alone in the studio to record this song. No big sounds or theatrics…just a woman in the middle of a studio stomping her foot while improvising a song of “great social and political import.” She sings commercialized prayers asking her Lord to give her superficial things she craves. The main commodity she asks for is a Mercedes Benz because all of her friends drive Porsches. With her simplistic lyrical pleas, she illustrates how all human experiences, even religious or spiritual experiences become mediated with a selfish and greedy capitalist attitude. Joplin asks God to prove his love by buying the next round of drinks. This simple assertion encapsulates how a profound sense of principled love is degraded into a cheap and superficial commodity. She very accurately depicts how human nature has been reduced to lusting after the inanimate and shirking the importance of real affection and connectedness. Much like the Beat principles, this song advocates the need to find happiness outside of commercial goods by searching for spiritual enlightenment.
In reality, Joplin owned a Porsche. Here’s the kicker…she did something to the car that would make any avid car collector dry heave. She enlisted the help of her friend Dave Richards to paint her 1965 Porsche 356c Cabriolet with a psychedelic motif. In many people’s eyes she ruined a perfectly good sports car with the punchy new paint job. She inverted a commercialized and highly sought after commodity into an object of personal identification. You no longer saw a Porsche but rather an extension of Joplin’s personality and spirit.