Haunted Hollywood: Revisiting The Last Day of Janis Joplin
Here’s how it happened…
I had no plans, no thoughts about doing any of this. But then Danny and I were watching a Janis Joplin documentary on the Reelz channel and the narrator says, “And that’s when Janis passed in room 105 at the Landmark Hotel in Hollywood.” Danny looks at me, half rolls his eyes, and says, “Did you want to stay there?” “…Yes.” He knows me too well.
Formerly the Landmark, the Highland Gardens Hotel is located on Franklin Boulevard between La Brea and Highland. It’s a semi-questionable part of town, hence the appeal to hard partying rockstars in its day. It was a different era. Actors in Shakespearian times were lowly; Rockstars in the ‘70s weren’t always welcomed at the Four Seasons. The Landmark was known for its proximity to drug dealers and its tolerance. I called and requested room 105 and it felt realllly weird. (If you’re wondering what this cost, after all was said and done, it was $251.40 for one night.)
Let’s back up a little bit
It’s October 1970 and Janis is working on the album Pearl, with the Full Tilt Boogie Band. On the day of her death, she recorded a few vocals at Sunset Sound Studios and was meant to return later that evening. The last thing she recorded was a birthday message for John Lennon. This was October 4. John’s birthday was 5 days later and he would not hear it until she was already gone. Eerily, Pearl contains an instrumental track, “Buried Alive in the Blues.” She never finished the vocals.
Oh lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town
After Sunset Sound, Janis hit up one of her regular spots, Barney’s Beanery. Established in 1920, Barney’s is a true Los Angeles staple. It’s located in the now trendy West Hollywood area, but when it first opened it was on Route 66 and was more of a roadhouse. It was frequented by stars of the silent film era, as well as Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth, and Jim Morrison. There’s nothing glamorous about this place. It has all of the appeal of a classic dive bar. It’s dark, casual, affordable, and has an anything goes vibe.
I parked in the same back parking lot where Janis had parked her psychedelic Porsche on that fateful last day. I seated myself at one of the colorful booths and opened the menu, printed up to look like a newspaper. I was now officially retracing her steps so I thought it only right to eat her last meal, a bowl of chili. I’ll admit, I didn’t order her exact order. She’s said to have downed several screwdrivers, tequila, and Southern Comfort. (I also didn’t skin-pop heroin. It was only like noon, ok?) The chili was delicious.
Normally, defacing a table by carving your name on it would be a no-no. When you’re Janis Joplin, they’ll take this table and prop it up on the ceiling for future generations to admire. My waiter was kind enough to point this out to me. If you look very carefully, her carving reads “Janis 70.”
I wanted to get the full scope and feel of Barney’s. I walked through the infamous bar and then popped my head into the bathroom. It was your token seedy Hollywood bathroom with graffiti, fliers for local events, and then images of Janis. No doubt copious amounts of drugs have been consumed here.
When checking in at the Highland Gardens Hotel, I couldn’t help but notice how modern and recently renovated the lobby was. But the room? Aside from relatively new-looking bedroom furniture and the addition of a flatscreen tv, pretty much everything appears untouched.
Janis lived here in this very room for over a month while recording Pearl. In surveying the space, my eyes couldn’t help but wander to the spot. You know. Where she was found dead. When she failed to show up for a recording session, her road manager stopped by to check on her. And that’s when he found her, wedged between the wall and the bed with the change from cigarettes she had just purchased in her hand. Her cigarettes were on a nearby table, as were a needle, spoon, and heroin.
It didn’t occur to me that room 105 would, of course, be on the ground floor. I was glad that Danny would soon be meeting me here because I’m not sure I would have felt totally safe. As I walked over to the window, a Hollywood tour bus pulled up in front and the driver pointed at the window of the room where I was standing.
The room where it happened
The room itself is spacious. There’s a full kitchen with a little sitting area. The main room has two queen beds. There’s a vanity table in a hallway that leads to the bathroom. It’s the kind of place that puts a paper slip over the toilet, promising it’s been cleaned otherwise you’d question it (and still might). The shower head has been replaced but the tiles are original. (Holy crap, this is where she bathed.) With the existence of the internet, little in life is a surprise these days, so I knew to open the closet doors. The hotel has placed a plaque dedicated to Janis inside. It’s a place for fans to leave gifts and write messages. They actually encourage this kind of thing, as Sharpies are provided.
I came prepared with a 1 oz. airplane-sized bottle of Southern Comfort. I thought I was being pretty clever here, but it turns out that everyone does this. There were half a dozen bottles of SoCo in various sizes in her tribute closet along with feather boas and her signature style of sunglasses. I mixed my little bottle with ginger ale, chugged it, and decided to call it a night.
Here’s when it got weird
Earlier in the day, I had put a water bottle in the fridge. I went to get it several hours later and it was completely covered in slime. I’ve been in my share of skeezy Hollywood apartments (let’s not discuss my past) but I’ve never seen anything like this. I googled “slime paranormal activity” and it turns out this is a thing. I found a whole bunch of stuff about substances, like slime (ie “Slimer” from the Ghostbusters), denoting a spiritual presence.
The other thing. Danny had situated himself in bed in a spot most conducive to watching TV. This left me in the predicament of either sleeping alone in the other bed or in the same bed but right next to the Janis death spot. What’s a girl to do? I was too spooked to sleep by myself but promised I wouldn’t, out of respect, touch or walk on the spot where she passed. So I was shaken when I woke up in the middle of the night with my right arm fully extended, hovering over the sacred spot.
Yes, this really happened.
I think Janis Joplin has better things to do than haunt me. But something felt very, very amiss in this room. (I’ll chalk up the fact that the outlet in that same spot didn’t work to being in a dingy Hollywood motel.)
Bye, bye baby
Janis’ ashes were scattered along Stinson Beach in the Bay Area. She had set aside money for entertainment (like the Grateful Dead) and provisions for drinks. Invitations to her wake read, “Drinks are on Pearl.” It makes you wonder if she knew this was coming.
She’s left us the immortal gift of her music and I definitely feel a new connection to it. And if she did haunt me, thanks Janis, I’m flattered.