Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)

Janis Joplin in Port Arthur, Texas

I’d like to do a song
Of great social and political import
It goes like this

Houston Tech Rodeo is upon us and in a quick fire QA alongside InnovationMap’s Natalie Harms and Mercury Fund’s Heath Butler, I dropped Janis Joplin when asked about my favorite Houstonite. Now granted, technically she’s from Port Arthur, Texas, so I was stretching “from” just a bit, but my reason for mentioning and celebrating her is just the same and no less meaningful.

Media, and the work we’re doing here together, largely stems from a fact that most of what’s known about our creators, artists, and their impact, is lost to history and the rapid change of culture and technology. As a result, the tremendous impact of people in media, on regions throughout the world, is too easily lost. From a historical perspective that may not deem as serious an issue to resolve in most minds, but what history translates to today is that the same implication is a challenge (and opportunity), that people aren’t as connected, informed, and involved as they could be (as they should be), so that they can really thrive as artists or entrepreneurs.

Janis Joplin is largely known for and celebrated as one of the icons of San Francisco and the Haight-Ashbury era as frontwoman of San Francisco’s Big Brother and the Holding Company.

And we’d be wise not to neglect, that that era, and the free thinking and revolutionary mindsets that stemmed from the west side of San Francisco, largely contributed to cultural characteristics that remain there today and which fuel and underpin many of the tenets of entrepreneurship.

The cultural impact of the 60s fostered the risk taking and entrepreneurial spirit of the 90s and early 2000s, there. And it’s those cultures and histories elsewhere in the world that are critical to fueling the same startup ecosystems and innovative cities that we strive for today. Janis Joplin is who she is, her experience, is not a result of just the 60s, she’s from Port Arthur, Texas, outside of Houston… one of the most vibrate music cities in the world.

It’s in appreciating that that our attention is not just in Austin, Los Angeles, or the Silicon Valley that Haight-Ashbury has rather become, but in places like Houston, and Chicago, where the arts and history of the creative class, there, is underpinning WHY people love it there, work together there, take risks together, and innovative the future.

You gotta need. Work a little more, hey, try a little more

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Yes, Try is an anthem of love, but when I first heard Joplin, in my teens, and Try (Just A Little Bit Harder) spun on my mom’s original record, my mind wasn’t drawn to the lyrics of the man involved but an unintended (I presume) interpretation.

Hey you gotta work all night
Hey little girl, gotta push on
You gotta need
Work a little more, hey, try a little more

That’s the spirit in an entrepreneur, of a startup founder, evident in a venture capitalist, or the business owner. That’s the ambition and passion of an artist.

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? / My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends …

Mercedes Benz is one of those nearly happy melancholy songs about a happiness promised by things and how we all tend to feel that Keeping up with the Joneses tendency to feel like we’re not successful or good enough simply because of what other people have. Joplin’s hippie-era rejection of consumerist ideals, something she recognized as a self-described “middle-class white chick” in Texas, was an underpinning of her personal experiences and interpretations, resulting in an immeasurable impact on a culture that wanted to DO SOMETHING about it.

She visited California in the early ’60s, and of course is more recognized for her association not with Los Angeles but with San Francisco, but in any event, it’s a reminder that the migration of California to places like Texas, today, stemmed first from the migration of people from throughout the country into California, dawning that ecosystem of entertainment, entrepreneurship, and innovation. When Joplin sang further for “a color TV” and “a night on the town,” she was resounding that neither would bring her happiness, “It’s the want of something that gives you the blues,” she once said. “It’s not what isn’t, it’s what you wish was that makes unhappiness.”

And it’s that, that NEED she sings about in Try or that sadness from the way things are not being good enough, that defines a creator.

Founders and Artists Try, and then try harder

Joplin, with Houston Matters, tells show producer Michael Hagerty that Houston played a part in her story in their chat with Holly George-Warren, author of Janis: Her Life and Music, named best nonfiction book of 2019 by the Texas Institute of Letters.

“She just wanted to be loved by her fellow Texans. And it never worked out. Admittedly she shot herself in the foot, badmouthing Texas to the press. ‘If it bleeds it leads’: She knew that. But even in San Francisco, she was really a true Texan. She has so many of these independent and strong characteristics that we think of as Texan.”

Holly George-Warren

Whereas Joplin ended up in California, my impressionable interest in her, when I grew up in Michigan (and then found myself in San Francisco seeing what came of the Haight-Ashbury culture), is a big part of what drew me to Texas.

George-Warren writes in the first chapter of Janis: Her Life and Music that Joplin comes from “a long line of risk takers: seventeenth- and eighteenth century pilgrims, pioneers, preachers . . . sodbusters, cowboys, ranchers and farmers.” Joplin would boast to friends concerned about her health, “I’m from pioneer stock.”

Sounds like the spirit that inspires everyone to try just a little bit harder.

Featured photo – Wikipedia Commons: Janis Joplin in the 1960 yearbook for Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur, Texas

MediaTech Ventures is in Houston next week for Houston Tech Rodeo, and we’re bringing more music and innovation to town as we connect and celebrate the culture and spirit that is already WHY Houston.

If you’re in town, May 18th, I’ll be spending most of my time with gener8tor, MassChallenge, Impact Hub Houston, as well as Greentown Labs and Founder Institute, at the Downtown Launchpad Lightning Demo Day, the launch of an incredible collaboration of startup programs and entrepreneurs to help fuel innovation in Houston.

It’s Wednesday night next week, the 19th, that I invite you all to join us, because Ted Cohen, Susan Paley, and Arabian Prince will be hosting a discussion through Houston, online, about MediaTech + Money (tune in there at 6 CT Wedneday night or RSVP here), shortly after DropLab’s Susan Paley joins Ted on connecTed (and you can watch live here at 2 CT).

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Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)

by Paul O'Brien time to read: 5 min