It’s qualified as something “only hardcore Janis Joplin fans know,” according to The Society of Rock (a society we clearly don’t wanna mess with), but it doesn’t take a lot of digging to uncover the—possibly apocryphal—story of Janis Joplin, her SoCo buzz, and the free lynx fur coat. Which, yeah, as we write that down sounds like the title of a cautionary children’s tale about the ‘60s.
In a way, it is. Joplin died at just 27 and, alongside Jimi Hendrix, became mythically synonymous with the dangers of 1960s-era drug culture, the alienation of fame, and the pressures of overwhelming talent. How, and when, her life ended is an incredibly sad story. How Joplin lived, on the other hand, had as many moments of musical brilliance and personal ebullience as most of us could hope for. (Who else but Janis Joplin could break a bottle—of SoCo, of course—over Jim Morrison’s head and not piss him off?)
Before she ever hit a stage, Joplin was happily, conspicuously freestyling against the cultural-normative grain. She went to a few colleges and one of them, the University of Texas-Austin, wrote this in a profile about her: “She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levis to class because they’re more comfortable, and carries her autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song, it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin.” (In case you were wondering what the hell an autoharp is, it looks like this.)
The more we learn about Joplin, the easier it is to believe she could get a free lynx coat by drinking excessive amounts of booze and just being herself. That’s the story, by the way. Joplin was a well-known fan of Southern Comfort. In a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone writer David Dalton (who was with her on the last tour before she died), Dalton recounts the deluge of seemingly random junk that fell out of Joplin’s purse while she looked for cigarettes. In addition to “an antique cigarette holder,” “several motel and hotel room keys,” and “cassettes of Johnny Cash and Otis Redding,” there was the requisite “bottle of Southern Comfort (empty).”
Since most of us haven’t had much Southern Comfort since early college days, a little reminder: it may be “rock n’ roll” but Southern Comfort’s not whiskey. It’s a whiskey-flavored liqueur developed in the mid 19th century because—and here’s the fun part—actual whiskey was often pretty damn unpalatable. SoCo actually starts with a neutral grain base, buried under an avalanche of spices and fruit, which gives it the thicker, sweeter flavor Joplin fell hard for. Clearly.
Joplin’s love for SoCo wasn’t advertising, by the way. Product placement might be a carefully orchestrated ballet today, but Joplin just loved the stuff. Unlike other celebrities who might, say, shamelessly populate their Instagram feeds with egregious product placement, Joplin drank SoCo because she wanted to. Nobody had to meet in board rooms; nobody’s agent was called requesting the talent be photographed with the item near an endangered species. Southern Comfort just got some free publicity.
Not that they weren’t grateful. As the story goes, they gave her a lynx fur coat and matching hat (though some say she sort of requested the swag after the fact). Clearly, if a company tried to thank a celebrity with animal fur today, there’d be epic social media backlash, righteous indignation on the morning talk show circuit, plus whatever terrible thing it is publicists do to each other behind closed doors. For Joplin, it was just a big, beautiful coat to go with her big, out-loud style.