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(CNN) -- Alice Echols pushes beyond the legendary Janis Joplin and the equally familiar portrait of the messed-up star victimized by the era she symbolized to see how this sweet-voiced girl from Texas re-created herself, first as a gravelly-voiced bluesy folk singer, and then as rock 'n' roll's first female superstar.She examines the roots of Joplin's musicianship and her efforts, both onstage and off, to live on what she called "the outer limits of probability." "What's happening never happens there" was how Janis summed up life in her hometown.

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The town that boasted "it oiled the world" seemed a cultural and intellectual wasteland to Janis and her friends.

Port Arthur may have been in the technology forefront, but in every other respect it was as barren as its landscape was flat -- "all drive-in movies and Coke stands," groused Janis. The place offered so little in the way of diversion that Janis's father would take the kids on outings to the post office to look at the latest Most Wanted posters.

After a day on campus, "you'd end up feeling like you'd eaten a book of matches." To Janis and her friends, the Golden Triangle was a smelly, stultifying, mosquito-ridden swamp -- "a foot fungus" growing along the Texas-Louisiana border, wrote Molly Ivins.

Even that organ of Establishment-think Business Week named Port Arthur one of the "ten ugliest towns on the planet." Still, that wasn't the worst of it.

"Nobody cared that we were smart and talented." Harry Britt, a gay activist who grew up in Port Arthur, says it's pretty clear why Janis and her hometown weren't a match. Port Arthur would see country western star Tex Bitter, who was born in nearby Nederland, as its own, not Janis Joplin." The dissonance Britt identifies was real.

It also provided journalists with a ready-made hook: Janis Joplin, red-hot hippie mama from redneck Bible-banging Port Arthur. Port Arthurans, for their part, were happy to disown her.

And Janis enjoyed nothing so much as nurturing her own outsized legend as the Lone Star State's most famous misfit rebel, a canny move in the years after President Kennedy's assassination, when Texas became the state it was okay to hate.

Janis and her friends certainly were out of place, and they did feel cheated growing up there.

There may be much to say about a 3.3 million-acre national park harboring destinations with names like "Badwater" and "Devil's Golf Course." But such natural oases of frontier life are rare these days and have much to offer to those adventurous enough to leave the safety of neon and traffic and travel to where roads end Seeing is believing; and I have seen Hollywood's account of the late Sen.

Ted Kennedy's infamous tragic accident at Chappaquiddick and his "indefensible" actions (Kennedy's word, not mine) in the aftermath. Today he is all over the left-wing media and his face dominates many social media discussions.

The police looked the other way until the late fifties, when an investigating committee from the Texas legislature came to town and shut it all down.

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