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On Such A Winter’s Day

Penelope Bagieu gives us a look at Cass Elliot before she was a Mama.

On Such A Winter’s Day

BOOK REPORT for California Dreamin' by Penelope Bagieu

Cover Story: Standin' on the Turnpike, Thumb Out to Hitchhike, Take Her to New York Right Away
Drinking Buddy: Just a' Gettin' Higher
Testosterone Estrogen Level: When Denny Met Cass He Gave Her Love Bumps
Talky Talk: Becoming a Reality
Arty Art: No One's Gettin' Fat 'Cept Mama Cass
Bonus Factor: A Tent's Low Rent, But Keepin' Out the Heat's Hard
Bromance Status: Duffy's Good Vibrations and Our Imaginations Can't Go On Indefinitely

Cover Story: Standin' on the Turnpike, Thumb Out to Hitchhike, Take Her to New York Right Away

Great picture of teenage Cass, just starting out on her adventures. I love the smug smile.

The Deal:

A graphic novel biography (originally released in French) about 'Mama' Cass Elliot of the Mamas & the Papas. This deals with her early years, growing up in post-World War II Baltimore, her early ambitions, the lean times in New York and the Virgin Islands, and her friendships with other great musicians.

A long, 250+ page book, each chapter is narrated by someone in Cass's life.

Drinking Buddy: Just a' Gettin' Higher

Cass lived hard during those first years, not shying away from the drug culture of the 60s, and the book doesn't sugarcoat this. I would have liked to have partied with her. However, I would have enjoyed being her friend even more. All evidence points to an extremely nice person who wanted to be liked. She married Mugwumps bandmate Jimmy Hendricks (no, not that one) in hopes of getting him a draft deferment. She cared about civil rights. She hung out with David Crosby. She was the levelheaded peacemaker in a band full of egos.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: When Denny Met Cass He Gave Her Love Bumps

Cass was one of the most talented voices of her day, a musician for the ages. But at one time she was just Ellen Cohen. She had an almost pathetic crush on bandmate Denny Doherty, who in turn was trying to screw bandmate Michelle Phillips, wife of the last band member, John Phillips. Any wonder they broke up?

I find it sad that someone of Elliot's caliber was reduced to mooning over some guy. On the other hand, her rumored lovers include guitarist Chuck Day, Monkee Peter Tork, and John Lennon.

Talky Talk: Becoming a Reality

A very well done biography, especially for fans of the genre. The book ends with the band signing their first big contract, so we don't see their rise and decline, as well as Cass's early death. The author also had the maddening habit of referring to people only by their first name, leaving me wondering if they were someone famous I wasn't recognizing.

I personally liked this book, but I wonder how it will resound with the younger set, whose parents were born after the subject's death.

Arty Art: No One's Gettin' Fat 'Cept Mama Cass

The artwork is simple, with cartoonish black and white illustrations. I'm pleased that the artist didn't shy away from Elliot's obesity, which contributed to her death at age 33 (no, not like that).

In the 60s, the thin waifish look was in. John Phillips fought to keep Elliot out of the band, as a fat singer would hurt their image (and maybe he felt just a little threatened by her singing skills). Cass knew the score. She knew what people were saying. And she never let it stop her.

Bonus Factor: A Tent's Low Rent, But Keepin' Out the Heat's Hard

So the band was not an overnight sensation, and for many years they all kind of lived hand to mouth, crashing at Elliot's mother's (where they first wrote their breakout hit 'California Dreaming'); living on the road, and performing in the Virgin Islands until their venue burned down. Much better stories than say, someone who had their first hit album in their teens. This is old school, baby.

Bromance Status: Duffy's Good Vibrations and Our Imaginations Can't Go On Indefinitely

While the world may have forgotten good music, I'll never forget you, Mama Cass. And I hope this book can introduce you to a new generation.

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, who is responsible for like my past three reviews. But no money or acid. California Dreamin' comes out March 7.

The section headings are all from the Mamas & the Papas song 'Creeque Alley.'

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.