This article appeared in the International Society for Astrological Research‘s (ISAR) magazine in 2017, just before what would have been Janis Joplin’s 75th birthday. ISAR is one of the largest astrological groups in the Western world. ISAR holds regular conferences every other year (except during United Astrology Conference years). Contact Alex at email@example.com to book an astrological consultation.
Copyright: Alex Trenoweth
It’s hard enough to believe that the 50thanniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival during the summer of love in 1967 has just passed. It’s even harder to believe that Janis Joplin, the surprise hit of the festival, would have been 75 years old on 19 January 2018 had she survived the rock and roll lifestyle she had made famous.
Janis had a way of shocking people with her volcanic performances. It would be very easy to assume this vulgar train-wreck of a chanteuse had a shy and vulnerable side that was easily hurt by critics and that desperately craved respect for her sensitive and cutting edge performances.
Born into a respectable, church-going Texan family in Port Arthur, Janis’ early years are notable for their normality.
So what could account for Janis becoming one of the most beloved and memorable icons of the 1960’s? How did a woman with such a conventional upbringing break into the male dominated Music Industry in the first place? How did a woman of such unconventional beauty eventually tally up a long list of lovers that included Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison? To these questions, Janis’ biographers could only shake their heads.
Astrology, however, can open up an entirely new perspective.
Born at 9:45, Janis entered the world like every other baby: screaming her head off. What delicious astrological “coincidence” it is that she was born with Jupiter in its exaltation and the Moon in its dignity, both in the sign of Cancer in the 5thhouse. The Joplins could not have known then that this small, loud bundle would eventually be remembered for her hit single “Cry Baby”.
Janis had the sign of Aquarius on her ascendant and Saturn is conjunct Uranus and that both are co-rulers of her chart. Both planets were affected during transits to natal points and as we shall see, Janis struggled to resolve the energies of these incongruous planets and would totter between the reliable and revolutionary all her life. Janis was truly an original and perhaps it is unsurprising she so represented the heart of the rebellious ‘60’s. She was unpredictable and free-spirited and disliked the “squares” on which she so frequently poured her venom and isn’t it curious that she had no squares in her natal chart?
The Sun in the late degrees of Capricorn, Neptune and a Uranus-Saturn conjunction in the early degrees of air signs formed a grand trine in Janis’ natal chart. Janis’ Sun opposition to Pluto in Leo provided the spine of a kite formation. Janis was truly a high flyer in her profession and the powerful effect on those who saw her perform is legendary.
Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders said: “There was something scary in her total delivery… Her performance was so in your face and electrifying that it really put you right there in the moment. There you were living your nice little life in the suburbs and suddenly there was this train wreck, and it was Janis.”
Janis was aware of her Sun sign as she was part of a trio who called themselves “Capricorn Ladies.” No doubt, the irony of being a sign so noted for its stability and love of the traditional would not have been lost on Janis.
Janis’ mother had an exceptionally powerful soprano singing voice that won her a scholarship to a local college. Less successful (although Janis would remember him as being a secret intellectual), Janis’ father pumped gasoline and garnered a reputation for being a playboy until he met his future wife on a blind date in the early 1930s. They wed in 1936, partying and carousing in the very same area where Janis and her friends would eventually perform in the local blues/jazz bars.
Transiting planets, (particularly Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus), making harsh aspects to their natal positions form the basic building blocks of life. For example, transiting Jupiter forms the first square aspect to its natal position at the age of 3. At this stage, a child is usually ambulating without hindrance, toilet trained and able to speak clearly enough to be understood by someone other than their main care givers. How convenient this is for a parent who wants to expand their child’s horizons through travel. No more diapers, play pens or translating to distant relatives!
For Janis, transiting Jupiter in Libra was symbolised in her parents’ determination that their children were not subjected to the turmoil that they had to endure when they were children. Her father, eager to avoid conflict with his wife, made himself scarce at the first sign of trouble. It was his idea of “getting along” with his wife and preserving peace in their relationship. Together, Janis’ parents were delighted as their only child began showing signs of having inherited her mother’s beautiful voice.
However, a series of events occurred around the time of Janis’ first Jupiter opposition that would have an enormous impact on the youngster. The first was the total destruction of her mother’s singing voice from a thyroid operation just before Janis’ 6thbirthday. Up to this point, mother and daughter enjoyed singing and playing the piano together. When her mother lost her ability to sing, her father had the piano removed from the family home. Janis may have lost her piano but around this time, she also gained a baby sister and the family moved to a better neighbourhood.
During this tumultuous period of her life, Uranus was also transiting her N. Moon and Saturn was square to its natal position. It was after the first Saturn square to its natal position that she began to stand out as a singer—as a soloist in her church choir. Incidentally, the Uranus-Saturn conjunction looks suspiciously like the apt title of one of her albums: “Cheap Thrills”.
Adolescence is a time of life renowned for being difficult. Astrologically, the first Jupiter return just before the age of 12 “coincides” with the rapid neurological development that occurs during adolescence. The brain of a child is far different to that of an adult because a child thinks with the limbic system, based on reflexes and immediate gratification,rather than the cerebral cortex which is based on logic and reasoning.The physical evidence of these changes are seen with the increase of folds in the brain material in the cerebral cortex.As this transition happens and the child begins to test this new brain of theirs, mistakes are bound to happen. It is like having a Lamborghini with a beginners’ drivers’ license. Janis of course would not have been immune to this process.
At the age of 14, just before the first Saturn opposition, not only does Jupiter form a sextile by transit to its natal position but the first Ptolemaic aspect from an outer planet (Uranus sextile Uranus) occurs. If it is accepted that the planet Uranus pertains to our circle of friends and that the presence of Jupiter would amplify this effect at this time, then it would make perfect sense that the issues of peer influence would be greatly heightened during this time.
However, in interview after interview, Janis viewed the age of fourteen as being the fault line between her idyllic life as a cute child and the awful other half of her life when her charm and beauty went unappreciated. As she died at the age of 27, during a trine from transiting Uranus to its natal position, this age does rather neatly divide her life into two halves.
Uranus was also opposite Janis’ Sun and Pluto was on her descendant at 14 when Janis developed severe acne and began to gain weight. She said that she felt as if the whole world had turned on her.
It was usual in 1950’s Texas for the less than beautiful to resign themselves to the corner. Rather than suffer this fate, Janis began to do anything to gain attention. The more people ignored her, the more outrageous she became. She became the only beatnik in town, she developed a grating cackle, she began to use language the likes of which most people had never heard spoken let alone dare to use and it is alleged, she began sleeping not only the older boys in her school but a few girls as well. In desperation, her parents took her to a psychologist – an admission back in the ‘50s that was akin to admitting their daughter was mentally ill.
The start of a new progressed lunar cycle for Janis began in 1959 and Jupiter made a series of 3 oppositions to her natal Uranus. Unable to stomach the banality of life in a small town, Janis began sneaking out of her parents‘ home and exploring the music scene on the Texas state border. She began singing in bars, often being paid in beer. Unusual for the time, Janis idolised the Black blues singer Bessie Smith, whose Jupiter at 2 degrees Gemini sat in between Janis’ Saturn Uranus conjunction. It was as if Bessie herself amplified Janis’ need to break out of convention. At this time in US history, segregation was at its ugliest and it was very uncommon for blacks and whites to have contact, let alone declare – as Janis did – that “I want to be the first white black person.”
Eventually, through her mother’s insistence, Janis enrolled at the University of Texas to study art. Again, she antagonised people, this time the fraternities who saw to it she was voted “Ugliest man on campus.” Whether Janis was offended or saw it as an opportunity to gain further attention is unclear but it was Janis herself who made this fact known to the general public once she became famous. Her singing was gaining popularity but she had also developed a terrific speed habit that was compounded by an addiction to barbiturates and sedatives.
At 21, (towards the end of 1964) as transiting Saturn was square to her natal Saturn Uranus conjunction, Janis had to admit to herself that she was like a human yo-yo and she suddenly got a craving to be normal. She got engaged and moved back to Port Arthur to wait for her fiancé to make the date for the wedding and to break her drug habits. Though friends cringed in her choice of a man (he was handsome but had a reputation for unreliability), the two of them talked of turning over a new leaf, of wanting a pretty little house with a white picket fence. Janis looked to her younger sister, Laura, for advice. Laura was the epitome of grace, style, academic brilliance – and tradition.
“Man, I want to be like you,” Janis said to her. Laura looked at Janis’ second hand clothes, the tie dyed T shirts, the holey jeans and knew where to begin: clothes shopping. Taking her elder sister to a respectable clothes shop, Laura was horrified to discover in the changing rooms that Janis no longer owned any underwear.
During this time, Janis broke all her formally bad habits. She no longer drank or took drugs, she wore the buttoned up clothes of the respectable, she no longer wore her hair frizzy and wild but neatly done up in a bun – and she stopped swearing. “Aw man, you’re so *$!* boring!” the friends who came to visit would say. Janis would firmly scold them for their poor choice of words and politely refuse their offers to take her out on the town. Most telling of her determination to lead a normal life was her decision to see a counsellor.
Eventually it became clear to Janis that her fiancé would not be coming to collect her for marriage (he neglected to mention he was already married). Heartbroken, Janis decided that she wanted to return to singing and once again she left Port Arthur to sing in bars. The spell of Saturn had been broken.
During 1965, whilst Janis was playing it straight, Bob Dylan was playing it electrical. By the time Janis returned to the scene, beatniks were out and hippies were in. LSD was the drug of choice and the “British Invasion” was in full swing.
It was shortly after her move away from convention that Janis joined the establish band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. The band enjoyed a faithful following in San Francisco. From this point, it was only a matter of time before the band caught the attention on the organisers of the Monterey Music Festival. The Monterey Music Festival was the first of its kind and it was the forerunner of the legendary Woodstock Festival. It took place during the Uranus/Pluto conjunction and this, in turn, was conjunct the N. Neptune of the US.
For musicians of the same age, transiting Jupiter was passing over Pluto, the tip of a “magic triangle.” Natally Janis, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix had this configuration of Uranus trine Neptune both sextile to Pluto. For these three members of the “Club of 27” it was a truly transformational experience: all three were launched from relative obscurity to nation-wide fame.
Janis was said to be exceptionally nervous before her Monterey performance but she told herself before going on stage : “Just do it like you’re never going to get another chance.” She held the audience in a trance with her performance and was thrilled to learn a few days late she had shocked the establishment by not wearing a bra on stage. That a respected music reporter admitted being hypnotised by her nipple only added to her ecstasy. She knew she had made it.
Natally, Janis had Neptune in the eighth house. Howard Sasportas pointed out that people with this placement often develop death fantasies or even self harm – a theory that could explain Janis’ rampant addiction to injected heroin. Appropriately enough Sasportas also points out: “Reminiscent of the rites of Dionysus, in the throes of physical love, they (those with Neptune in the eighth) satisfy the need to abandon and forget themselves.” Janis had already clocked up a number of both male and female lovers, but when both Uranus and Jupiter entered her eighth house, Janis seemed to move into over drive. Amongst her famous conquests were Leonard Cohen, Dick Cavett, Jimi Hendrix and most famously, Jim Morrison.
Morrison also had Neptune in the eight house and that the two would eventually find themselves attracted to each other is perhaps not surprising. They really were too much alike and their need for constant attention soon meant they were competing to out-do each other with outrageousness.
One of the most striking features of Jim’s and Janis’ charts is that both have the unusual configuration of a two biquintiles connected by a quintile. The quintiles point to an area of the chart that seems to highlight their creative talents. Jim’s quintile formation pointed downwards in his chart toward his Moon in Taurus. Here is can be seen that his need for creative expression (Sun in Sagittarius) together with his sexuality (Neptune in the eighth) charged his sensual nature. On the other hand, Janis’ quintiles pointed towards her ascendant, making it seem as if she oozed with sexuality (Neptune in the eighth house) and creative confidence (Jupiter in the fifth).
Janis, however, was hyper-sensitive to criticism and Morrison made her cry when he told her she couldn’t sing the blues. Devastated, Janis bought a bottle of Southern Comfort to drown her sorrows. As she was about to open it, she suddenly got a better idea for what to do with it – she went back to Morrison and broke the bottle over his head, knocking him out cold.
Janis eventually left Big Brother but found performing with more professional musicians difficult. She was clearly happier on stage rather than in the recording studio and, having grown accustomed to a band too stoned to tune properly, found the perfectly tuned instruments in the orchestra a distraction.
In the summer of 1970, transiting Uranus in the eighth made an exact trine to her N. Saturn and Janis again decided she would return home. By this time, she had made so many scathing comments about her hometown and the people who lived there that when she appeared on the Dick Cavett Show, the audience thought she was joking when she said she wanted to be at her 10 year high school reunion. For Americans, a high school reunion is a time to not only reminisce and catch up with old friends but to show off.
The temptation was far too much for Janis. “They laughed me out of class, out of town, out of the state, man,” she told Cavett. Going to her hometown would be the ultimate revenge and victory for a woman as wounded by the past as Janis.
Assembling a film crew to record her every move, Janis and her entourage descended on the small town of Port Arthur. Janis discovered (or maybe knew all along) that the only thing worse than being ridiculed was being ignored. There were no flags waving when Janis arrived and the only acknowledgement she received was a car tire as a reward for the person who travelled the greatest distance. Janis was devastated but tried not to show it.
In that same year, Janis’ progressed Sun passed over her ascendant. Natally, both Neptune and Jupiter made a bi-quintile to this point. Although well established and successful, Janis had not managed to quit her heroin habit as she always claimed she could.
A friend who saw her shooting up told her heroin was not what life was about. Life is about doing the dishes and mowing the lawn, he told her. It’s doing the normal little things that makes you feel alive. Oh man, she told him, I don’t want a life like that, I just want to burn out. With Pluto also knocking on the door of her eighth house, that is exactly what she did.
One evening, after recording in the studio, Janis sat on the edge of her hotel bed and injected an unusually strong batch of heroin into her vein. She slumped forward and was found dead several hours later. Like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Janis sadly joined the infamous Club of 27 the group of musicians who perished at their transiting Uranus trines.
In reflecting on Janis, we should remember her triumphs. She was a prominent advocate of peace during the Vietnam war. Janis was a lifelong believer of freedom and equality and has gone on record as saying she would eliminate racial inequality if she had the power as America struggled with segregation and overt racial prejudice.
All at once, Janis was impossible, unbelievable, intellectually stimulating, beautiful, reckless, antagonistic, well loved, often imitated but never duplicated. She was unforgettable.
Janis Joplin, 19 January 1943, 9:45am, Port Arthur, TX (AA rating; Rodden)
Bessie Smith,15 April 1894, Chattanooga TN, Time unknown (Source: Wikipedia)
Jim Morrison,8 December 1943, 11:55am, Melbourne FL (AA rating; Steinbrecher)
Casey, B.J., Jones, R. M. and Hare, T. A. (2008), The Adolescent Brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1124: 111–126.doi:10.1196/annals.1440.010
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Segalowitz S. J.; Davies P. L. (2004). “Charting the maturation of the frontal lobe: An electrophysiological strategy”. Brain and Cognition. 55 (1): 116–133.