Janis Joplin Offers Fans a Piece of Her Heart

"Take it," shrieked Janice Joplin, the bell-bottomed, bangle-clad Queen of Rock, "take another li'l piece-of-my heart now baby," before collapsing into one of her gut-wrenching, gravelly "uhhh-uh, uhhhh-uh, uhhhh-uhs."

And what a tormented piece-of-heart that was. At 27 years old, the singer died of a heroin overdose at a Los Angeles motel. Outside of the burning lyrics that fused 1960s rock rebelliousness with the soul of country blues, Joplin left little in writing.

But love letters sold at auction on March 1 at Manhattan's Swann Galleries offered bidders a piece of Joplin's heart. Of the 64 letters that went on the block, 48 were sold, for a total of $109,710.

The letters were written to her then-boyfriend, Peter de Blanc, over the summer and autumn of 1965 when Joplin, already a veteran of the cafés and hootenannies of San Francisco and New York City, returned home to Austin, Texas, to "refocus."

Written in a neat, precise hand on a variety of paper sheaves, the letters were penned exactly a year before she headed to San Francisco — and fame and destruction.

Although there are early signs of the demons that would haunt her, for the most, the letters are the sort of self-indulgent ramblings you would expect of a 22-year-old.

These included a searing nine-page self-examination that fetched a record $9,200.

A Diary for a Lover

"It's like her diary, written to her lover," said Swann President Nicholas Lowry. "It's not poetry, it's just a 22-year-old girl writing to her lover."

This particular 22-year-old though, had a penchant for shrieking over her father's classical LPs, had experimented with bourbon and barbiturates, and had already slept with innumerable men and numerable women.

Lowry was unwilling to let on just how the letters landed at his gallery, but they did go on the block before, on the auction Web site eBay, where an unidentified seller asked for $250,000 for all 64 letters — a price that got no takers.

This time, Swann Galleries divided the correspondence into 27 lots, each comprising an average of three to four letters that sold at price range of $3,000 to $9,200. The highest bid ($9,200) went for a lot that contained a single nine-page letter.

The sale was not approved by the Joplin estate, but it could not legally block the auction.

Interest in Joplin memorabilia is expected to peak when Love, Janis , a play based in part on her letters, opens April 22.

Domestic Dreams

The letters reveal Joplin to be a surprisingly vulnerable woman struggling to reach an emotional equilibrium. For one, she was away from her boyfriend who moved from San Francisco to New York City during the course of her correspondence.

"Sigh," she writes on July 24, 1965, "I really miss you ... I love you. Write to me please. Are we going to be home for Christmas?"

If this sounds maudlin for the future hard-driving Queen of Rock, it's because Joplin in 1965 is a Texas girl who had not yet achieved her Queen of Rock status. She was hardly innocent, having paid her dues in the beatnik haunts of Venice Beach in LA and New York's Greenwich Village. But she was yearning for a normal life.

At this point in her life, She wants to marry de Blanc, quit drinking and drugs, and settle down. She has enrolled for a sociology course at Lamar Tech, a local college where, not surprisingly, she excels at papers on the '60s counter culture.

But she worries she's too good an anthropologist of the counter culture and that her classmates might discover she has experimented with drugs.

But streaks of rebellion and sheer musical ambitions often pierce through.

"My guitar playing is growing by leaps and bounds," she writes on Oct. 6, 1965. "I do a really great version of 'Come Back Baby'. I can really wail on it. If you call it wailing when you do it all alone in your bedroom with your door closed. I call it wailing."

Sometimes, her language has the sort of simple sophistication and swagger you would expect of the author of "O Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz." "I wish I had fans that thought I was as good as I do," she writes on Oct. 6, 1965.

More than 30 years later, we may not have her but it's still nice to know that there are pieces of her soul still around and that her wishes did indeed come through.