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Me And Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin

Album: PearlReleased: 1971Charted:
1
  • This was written by Kris Kristofferson, who has written hundreds of songs for a wide variety of artists. He has also recorded many songs and appeared in several movies. He and Joplin had a brief affair.
  • The founder of Kristofferson's record label, Fred Foster, rang him just as the struggling musician was about to leave Nashville for his helicopter pilot sideline job. He said that he had a song title for the songwriter - "Me And Bobby McKee." Kristofferson recalled in Mojo magazine March 2008 that his label boss suggested: "'You could make this thing about them traveling around, the hook is that he turns out to be a she.'" Kristofferson was not sure at first. "I hid from Fred for a while but I was trying to write that song all the time I was flying around Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I had the rhythm of a Mickey Newbury song going in the back of my mind, 'Why You Been Gone So Long,' and I developed this story of these guys who went around the country kind of like Anthony Quinn and Giuletta Masina in (Fellini's) La Strada. At one point, like he did, he drove off and left her there. That was 'Somewhere near Salinas, I let her slip away.' Later in the film he (Quinn) hears a woman hanging out her clothes, singing the melody she (Masina) used to play on the trombone, and she told him, 'Oh, she died.' So he goes out, gets drunk, gets into a fight in a bar and ends up on the beach, howling at the stars. And that was where 'Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose' came from, because he was free from her, and I guess he would have traded all his tomorrows for another day with her."

    The song's final defining image came to Kristofferson as he was driving in heavy rain to the airport for the flight home. "I went, 'With them windshield wipers slapping time and Bobby clapping hands we finally sang up every song the driver knew.' And that was it."
  • Fred Foster used a secretary's name as inspiration for the title. Her name was actually Bobbi McKee. By naming the character in the song "Bobby," it made sure a female singer could sing it without changing the name, since "Bobby" could refer to a man or woman. (thanks, Chris - Bristolville, OH)
  • In Twang - The Ultimate Book of Country Music Quotations, Kristofferson is quoted as saying: "I had just gone to work for Combine Music. Fred Foster, the owner, called me and said, 'I've got a title for you: 'Me and Bobbie McKee,' and I thought he said 'McGee.' I thought there was no way I could ever write that, and it took me months hiding from him, because I can't write on assignment. But it must have stuck in the back of my head. One day I was driving between Morgan City and New Orleans. It was raining and the windshield wipers were going. I took an old experience with another girl in another country. I had it finished by the time I got to Nashville." (thanks, Mark - Falls Church, VA)
  • This was first recorded in 1970 by a Country singer named Roger Miller, who was better known for writing novelty songs.
  • Kris Kristofferson released this in 1970 on his first album, Kristofferson. A year later, when it became a hit for Joplin, Kristofferson's album was re-released as Me And Bobby McGee to take advantage of the song's new popularity.
  • This was released after Joplin died of a heroin overdose. Her death gave the album a lot of attention, and Pearl went to #1. This was the second song to hit #1 in the US after the artist had died. "Dock Of The Bay" by Otis Redding was the first.
  • The lyrics tell the story of two young lovers who travel together, but break up so they can discover the world on their own. The characters in the song were a lot like Joplin, who was known as a free spirit.
  • In the March, 2006 issue of Esquire magazine, Kristofferson was asked where he was when he came up with the line, "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose." His reply: "I was working the Gulf of Mexico on oil rigs, flying helicopters. I'd lost my family to my years of failing as a songwriter. All I had were bills, child support, and grief. And I was about to get fired for not letting 24 hours go between the throttle and the bottle. It looked like I'd trashed my act. But there was something liberating about it. By not having to live up to people's expectations, I was somehow free."
  • The line, "I pulled my Harpoon from my dirty red bandana" can be interpreted two ways. The more sanitized version considers the "Harpoon" as a slang word for harmonica. The second interpretation considers it a hypodermic needle, since a bandana was often used to tie off the arm before an addict shot up. (thanks, Victor - Boston, MA)
  • The version on Joplin's 1995 Greatest Hits album 18 Essential Songs contains an alternate version recorded as a demo.
  • Jerry Lee Lewis covered this in more of a Country style several months after Joplin's version was released. His version hit #40 in the US.
  • This was Joplin's only Top 10 hit. She was a very influential and well-known singer, but her bluesy sound kept most of her songs off the Pop charts.
  • The same year this was released, Kris Kristofferson released The Silver Tongued Devil and I, which was a successful album and finally solidified his place as a singer/songwriter. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
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Comments: 54

Other clues let you know Bobby McGee died: Janis sings "he's lookin' for that home and I hope he finds it." She's talking about that big spiritual home high in the sky, where all the pain and hurt of life can no longer touch you. She wants that for Bobby. Then she sings, "nothin', that's all that Bobby left me" because he died, and she's left with no home, no lover, no friend, no connection to anything or anyone.

Regarding the lyrics being written that Bobby McGee was a woman: perhaps that's how Kris K. wrote it, but Janis interprets it in her own style, and we know for certain that Bobby McGee is a man in her version.
Camille - Toronto, Oh
Here you have one of the best bluesy rock'n'roll songs of all time. The words are quite easy to visualize. The lyrics are heartfelt and speak of emotions that most people have experienced in some way. Janis sings "I'd trade all of my tomorrow's for one single yesterday, to be holdin' Bobby's body next to mine." Most of us have lost loved ones, not necessarily just romantic ones, and have felt that way about them. The desperation of Janis' singing lends me to believe that 'Bobby McGee' died, OD'd, never to return. She blames herself because she 'let him slip away'. He 'slipped away', just like someone in an accidental overdose. That's why she's not singing about trying to find him or get him back.Camille - Toronto, Oh
The best version I ever heard is right here -http://youtu.be/dS76LQs_xc4. It's sung by a lil known singer from Oklahoma by the name of Bret Graham - http://www.bretgraham.com/press.html . When he does this with his full band & Gruene Hall is packed, it brings the house down every time. People rush in from outside just to see if what they just heard is real.Russ - New Braunfels, Tx
As a fellow helicopter pilot, I had the pleasure of working with and getting to know Kris when I flew the Gulf of Mexico oilfields from 1967 to 1971. We even flew off the same platform, staying offshore for 7 days then having 7 days off.

During his time off, Kris would rush off to Nashville where he was just getting to know Johnny Cash who took a liking to him and really propelled his career in directions that Kris had not yet managed on his own.

It was a delight indeed to have met him while he was in that incredibly creative mode, even if I did have to cover for him and his lack of attention to flying now and then, and can only hope that he forgives me for setting him up with my wife's sister who turned out to be Hitler reincarnated..
Ken - Chiangmai - 9Jun10
Ken - Chiangmai, Thailand
Jennifer Love Hewitt covered this song :) I LOVE IT!Rocio - Canberra , Australia
Janis was recently voted one the top 100 best singers of all time in Rolling Stone MagazineLinc - Beaumont, Tx
this was the 3rd song I ever learned on the harmonica. I first learned "Dixie"--which took a few hours; it's actually quite difficult on a harp--then "Amazing Grace", which took a few minutes, then "Me & Bobby McGee". We had a party that night and I announced I could play the harp, played "Dixie", and was asked if I could play something else. I played "Amazing Grace". Afterwards, someone asked if I could play "Me & Bobby McGee"! My ONLY other song in the whole wide world, and I got a request for it!! I played it, then announced that was enough for the night!

By the way, a harmonica is customarily stored in its case, placed in a special bag or wrapped in a bandanna; it's very important to keep it clean. It's also called a harp or harpoon in the South; the idea that the song is referring to anything but a harmonica is ludicrous.
~DJ
Dj - Denver, Co
This song was written in late 1968.
Listen to the song again but this time picture it to be about Bobby Kennedy, who died June 6, 1968.

My bet is when writing it KK found Kennedy too long of a name to fit, musically, so he used McGee because it rhymes.

We're talking about a Rhodes scholar here, so I expect the song goes deeper, metaphorically, than where most people try to find an answer.
Ken - Ruskin, Fl
I love this song, maybe because I've spent some time on the road and it really catches the feeling of that. Plus, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" was a new concept to me. I've been working on it ever since I heard that.

Everybody and his/her cousin has recorded "Me and Bobby McGee" at one time or another. The two versions that stick in my head are Janis Joplin and Charley Pride.
Calvin - Columbus, Oh
So incredibly beautiful, it makes me realize that the world really lost something when she died.Joe - Rocky Ridge, Md
This song reminds me of how life was when I was growing up, and how when you are young you can be "free" of problems that come as you grow older. Judy Horsham PAJudy - Horsham, Ri
I love the song and I think it is about being free, which is one of the most important things. When I die my family are going to play the song at my funeral because it is one of my favourite songs ever.
Marija, Croatia
Marija - Karlovac, Croatia
I heard/saw Janis perform this back in the 70s when she did a concert at Cornell University - she was awsome. This song is amazing to hear but even more amazing to experience her singing it in person.Marie - Ithaca, Ny
The irony here is that everyone thinks that Janis was so free. Her only freedom was in her expression and she put EVERYTHING she had into that microphone. Still, she was never free from her heart. She gave that to everyone else.Hype - Austin, Tx
I've always pondered the meaning for "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose". But I concur with "It ain't nothing if it ain't free!". What else I've pondered is "Who is Bobby McGee?"Andrew - Birmingham, United States
This song has always been a favorite of mine. I hum it and/or sing it to myself at least once a week. Why? I don't know, but it's just a great old song. Thank you Kris Kristofferson. :-) I always thought that it was cool that it could be interpreted by a male or female singer.
Blessings....

Wikipedia says this:
"Me and Bobby McGee" is a song written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, originally performed by Roger Miller.
Some sources state that Gordon Lightfoot issued the first recorded version; another story tells how Kristofferson popped his head into the studio with freshly written verses as Roger Miller was recording the song. Regardless, Miller was the first artist to have a hit with the song, peaking with it at #12 on the US country charts in 1969. Lightfoot's version was a top 40 hit in his native Canada in 1970.
By far the best known recording is by Janis Joplin on her 1971 Pearl album. Joplin's version topped the charts to become only the second posthumous number one single in rock & roll history (the first was "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding). In 2004, the Janis Joplin version of this song was ranked #148 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Kristofferson performed the song live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 and a CD and DVD of the event were issued 30 years later as Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival 1970.
In the original version of the song, Bobby is a woman; Janis Joplin, who was a lover and a friend of Kristofferson's from the beginning of her career to her death, changed the gender and a few of the lyrics in her cover. It was the last song she recorded before her untimely death. Kristofferson states he did not write this song for her, but the song is associated with her. Especially, he has said, in the line, "Somewhere near Salinas, Lord, I let her slip away."
Kenny Chesney makes a reference to "singing Bobby McGee on the hood of my car" in Don't Happen Twice.?
Eb - Orlando Metro, Fl
I'm sure that when Kris wrote "I pulled my harpoon from my dirty red bandana" that it meant Bobby was pulling a tampon from her dirty vagina. Oh give me a break. How stupid can you get. Why would you even bring up something as ludicrous as that. Now every time I hear one of my all time favorite songs, I going to think about Bobby changing her dirty pad. Thanks Alot!Jane - Los Angles, Ca
In a recent interview:

Kristofferson says. "I never heard her sing it 'til the producer played it for me after she died."

What was his reaction?

"Oh, it was very painful to listen to. I really liked Janis. She was a very bright, sad person, but very special and I loved the way she sang. When I was with her she was kicking the heroin habit and she was clear for the couple of months that I knew her. She said that if things didn't get better for her she was going to get back on it. And I guess that's what happened. But it was hard to listen to that song for a long time. And I know she was just tickled to death to know what my reaction would have been. She knew it would knock me out."
Charles - Bronxville, Ny
Here is the lyric:
I pulled my harpoon from my dirty red bandanna, and I played it soft while Bobby sang the blues."
It's a frakkin harmonica.
I love that Bobby could be a guitar!! That is real poetry.
Charles - Bronxville, Ny
I love this song...I cry when I listen to it !!! I feel so happy when i listen to her !!! She sets me free inside ! "I'd trade all my tomarrows for one single yesterday"...what poetry !!!Nora - N/a, Fl
Iriswiglecutforth's ramblings below notwithstanding, I heard what is probably an apocryphal story about Janis and Kris: They were living together at the time she recorded "Bobby." She recorded it as a surprise for Kris. But by the time he heard it though, she was already dead. Like I said, probably not true, but a great romantic tragedy.Guy - Woodinville, Wa
Kris Kristopheson never had an affair with Janis Joplin. Arguning during the making of Alice (nor janis, nor lee, nor julie, nor audrey, nor johnnie, nor connie, nor Mrs. Rich, Nor edith, nor all the 100 names) live here any more. He always at the most antagonized all of the above which included Janis Joplin. But, if he jammed with Jerry Lee Lewis then there is some hope for him as a person. Nor did she have an affair with Ryan O'Neil, nor did she have an affair with Robert Redford. Janis Joplin composed her songs while she was fighting with Bobby Darin, compare the veins on her hands with Sandra Dee. In the song Turtle Blues one can hear Bobby Darin egging for a fight and asking Janis to step outside. The guitar player picks up the comment by the bar man, "no fighting" and you can hear the words interrpreted into notes on the guitar and one bottle breaking...a bottle that Bobby threw towards Janis but not close enough to hurt her. She was mimimcing Bobby's bad grammer and the sound of his voice to rattle him and he was rattled and he had a severe heart attack and Janis decided not to sing anymore dying instead by her own pen and not by alcohol. Audrey Hepburn 1 did the same with Holly Golightly and Truman Capote. And Janis may have composed the song Saying Goodbye to Sandra Dee, not that Sandra died, but that the character of Sandra died with Janis in October 1970. It just took longer for her to kill off the Sandra character and janis may have added her input into the song Drowning Mona in Drowning Mona and she may or may not be Amy who composed the song, Bury me, Bury Me, Bury Me...but bury me in your own hands...aboriginal theme song and she may or may not have been the female washing the car. But, She never had an affair with Kris. He probably said that, if in fact, it was him, because he knew it would piss her off.Iriswiglecutforth - Toronto, Ont , Ca
teh comment on the hypodermic needle isn't what is meant in teh song. harpoon is southeast texas name for a harmonica, so yeah. just saying.Clare - Dallas, Tx
Maybe Bobby McGee was one of those morphodites. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.Dave - New Orleans, La
About 30 years ago, a friend of mine swore that Janis was actually singing, "Bobby motherf****n' McGee" in the chorus. Every time I hear the song nowadays, I swear he's right.

After all, Bobby's gone, and one could say that by the time Janis gets to the end of the song, she's starting to feel angry and scorned because of the loss. Listen carefully.

Or does everyone already know this?

I always thought Janis was hot... in a, well, hot sort of way. Always wondered what she'd be doing now, had she lived.
Dave - New Orleans, La
One of the 60s/70s greatest songs, IMHO. I get so tired of it, I don't do it for years; then I happen to pick it up again, and it's just like new. Been recorded by half the singers in history, it seems. Clearly adaptable to either gender with a simple change of pronouns, maybe intentionally, maybe not. I think Kris was probably smart about that.

J.D. in Detroit ("Don't forget the Motor City!" -- but that's another song...):
Funny you should mention Gordon Lightfoot. Thereby hangs another part of the tale of this song.

I first heard the song (whether this was the first national performance I'm not sure, i.e., whether it happened just before or just after Kris released his recording) when Kris appeared on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, ca 1970-71. Tommy S. intro'd Kris, who then sang it solo with only acoustic guitar. The whole effect was, he absolutely nailed it! -- Put away the instruments and go home to bed; nothing more could possibly be said.

A bit later, I started hearing it on radio by Gordon L. Much later, I heard Dick Cerri (who hosted a folk/acoustic radio show for ages) tell the story that Kris had, right out of the box, turned the song over to Gordon, with the understanding that GL was getting exclusive recording priveleges. Gord's version started up the charts when, BANG, along comes Janis' version and blows it outa the water. Mr. Cerri relates that after that, Gord was no longer speaking to Kris.

Personally, I always liked the GL version better (for one thing, he's truer to the orig lyrics; I esp. wince at Janis' omission of my favorite line, "Nothin ain't worth nothin, but it's free"). I never thought this song was quite 'Janis,' she's so dy-no-mite on so many other songs that no one can touch now that she's done them, and this one seems too far from that style; she really had to work -- maybe a little too hard -- to 'blues it up.' But I've come to realize that this song is all the more remarkable for its flexibility to come off A-1 by singers as stylistically opposite as Janis and Gordon. And my impression of the Janis version might derive from my first having heard Kris, then Gordon, do it in the folk/acoustic style. Others who know only the JJ version are probably spared this impediment to their enjoyment of a performance by one of the 20th century's greatest female song-belters.
Fred - Laurel, Md
Best song to sing along to and mellow outMadalyn - Greensburg, Pa
This is a great song to listen to while your "getting to know" the person you love, and I don't mean that in a tacky or dirty way.Katie - Tuscaloosa, Al
As to the harpoon, the Graateful Dead's cover I think gets the original lyric right. It is, I pulled my harp on outta my dirty red bandanna. The harmonica then is the musical accompaniment for the singing in the truck
Guy
Guy - Newport, Ri
ONE OF THE BEST SONGS IN HISTORY AND BY ONE OF THE MOST HEARTFUL SINGERS.THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES!!!Denise - Franklin, Tn
Ya gotta LOVE Pearl...she was ust so damned lovable!...not to mention her voice. I'm getting misty here..Janis Joplin(aka Pearl) was sooooooo good. Damn!Greg - Victoria, Canada
I don't know if this is what is meant in the song, but "harpoon" is slang for a tampon and "dirty red bandana" could refer the menstrual cycle or a pad. Sorry guys, I know you don't want to hear that, but it's true. Whether or not it's what is meant I don't know.Lacey - Slippery Rock, Pa
Shawn in Loganville,
I don't know what it means, but I choke up every time I try to sing it, so it must mean something.

Z in Montreal,
I liked your tracing it back to Jimmie Rodgers. I get a nice ovation when I sing, "Waiting For a Train", along with requests for more Jimmie Rodgers. BTW, it is NOT on this site. I just wrote the lyrics into a Word file. Now, can the new kid figure out how to get it into the list?

It reminds me of "500 Miles", and "In the Early Morning Rain" by Gordon Lightfoot. I sang the latter in Summer School for my Classroom Voice solo. I got a A+ for it, and many nice written comments.

I think my favorite line is, "I'd trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday, to be holding Bobby's body close to mine." So Bobby can be a human, a dog or a guitar--I make love to all of them. I know they are what I will miss when I get put on life support.

What is your favorite line, and what other songs are like this?

J.D., Motor City, MI
J.d. - Detroit, Mi
This sonng was influenced by "Waiting For A Train" by Jimmie Rodgers from 1928. It is a Hillbilly/Oldtimey style of song.Z - Montreal, Canada
Janis died just 4 days after recording the song.Allen - Dothan, Al
Janis ForeverJason S. - The Other Side, Mo
James from New York. She does say "That's It" at the but she also laughs too. It's pretty funny. By she, I mean Janice Joplin.Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
Bobby is a woman in the song(written by a man)...it is pretty obvious if you read the lyrics. Obviously the gender changes depending on the gender of the singer.
Anyone who has ever hitchhiked knows that a woman will get picked up before a man.
No guitar is even mentioned.The "harpoon" is slang for harmonica.
It was a harmonica being played while Bobby sang.
They were holding hands while singing "every song the driver knew"
Sailor - San Antonio, Tx
You can see a live version of this by Kris Kristofferson in the film MESSAGE TO LOVE, which is about the Isle of Wight Fesival in August 1970. As the sound system was feeble and various radical groups were attempting to disrupt the festival, KK was met with a an appaling reception from the audience. He is forced to abandon the stage following this number. Luckily, his return performance a few days later was better received.Barry - New York, Nc
This is #148 on Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs.Ross - Independence, Mo
I believe Kris wrote the song to a woman. In his version and every other male version they use "she", "her". The guitar theory is interesting but I disagree only because the lyrics say "Bobby sang the blues," and "Bobby clapping hands,".Paul - Russell, Ma
From what I've heard, it's definitely about a guy. Although the guitar metaphor somone mentioned is an interesting possibility. All the lyrics suggest it could be both; however, the only thing I can say to refute the "guitar" claim is that she says "Bobby thumbed a diesel down", which I take to mean her man stopped a diesel truck while hitchhiking. Great song nonetheless...Charles A - New York, Ny
I agree with JasminAj - Cleveland, Ga
i'm from the same place Janis was and that always interested me but now i know i absolutly love her ive listened to her songs im a fan for everLeah - Houston, Tx
Janis Joplin had to have been on of the best female singers of her time..alot of ppl argue with me about this..but its just my opinon that she was..she is a great inspirtion to me..and well, like my idol..its a shame that she died when she did..and how she did..i wish more ppl would recoginze her and her work..does anyone know is "the rose" a movie staring Bette Midler was supposed to be about her?Jasmin - Waterville, Me
Oops! my memory is old and fading. Janis just says "that's it" at the end of Mercedes Benz. I was thinking of "BIG YELLOW TAXI" by joni mitchell on her "Ladies of the Canyon" album from 1970 where she laughs at the end. My apologies.James - Ragin' Rochester, Ny
C'mon guys, doesn't anyone watch Austin City Limits or been exposed to Willie Nelson's many TV interviews? Kris explained who a Bobby McGee is to singers.
Folk guitar players call their guitars a Bobby McGee. "Holding Bobby's hand in mine" and "we sang every song that driver knew" were just euphemisms for using the only friend traveling singers can count on.
When it speaks of letting him slip away-He's looking for that home, and I hope he finds it, It means she had to pawn the only thing she had that was worth anything.
I find it very funny that the lyrics posted at http://display.lyrics.astraweb.com:2000/display.cgi?janis_joplin..pearl..me_amp_bobby_mcgee include as the last line:
"I'd like to do a song of great social and political import.
It goes like this:"
That is what she says on the album to introduce the next song called "Oh Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz?" It is not part of the song.
At the end of that fantastic sing-along number, she says "that's all Ha Ha Ha." Everyone should be required to know the words to Mercedes Benz as it is a hippie anthem on parallel with "Why Don't we get drunk and screw" or "Margaritaville", both by Jimmy Buffet.
James - Ragin' Rochester, Ny
forever 27...Natasha - Chico, Ca
Kris K. and Roger Miller were good friends back during the 60s when they were writing songs and getting started in the buisness... This song is good and propelled K.K.s career.. but "Sunday Morning Coming Down" was Kristopherson's best.Rich - Elkins, Wv
To Thomas in St. Charles: Yes, Janis Joplin's version is about a man--but the soing was written by Kris Kristofferson, not Joplin. He sang it to a woman: Bobvby can be either a man or woman's name.He used female pronouns...and I don't think Jerry Lee sang it to a guy.
Uh.
Chris - Frederick, Md
I LOVE this song!My mum used to sing it for me when I was a baby!FREEDOM IS JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE!Janis - Port Arthur, Tx
uh, the song is definately referring to a MAN. "He","His" stc. are male pronouns. I always just thought they were lovers.Thomas - St. Charles, Mo
Leanne Rimes remade thisMegan - Lambertville, Mi
what does this song mean?Shawn - Loganville, Ga