Saturday, December 25, 2004

Mama was a Heavy Weight

Where's Kat? A number of you are e-mailing asking that. I don't know, she's turning into the Hunter S. Thompson of this site. Seriously though, there's a piece she's working on that she's sent a part of. From what I've read, I think you'll enjoy it.

But Kat's Korner is highlighting the need for us to weigh in on our popular culture with regard to music. Music is a driving force. And as Kat noted (and Frank in Orlando quoted her on in the Year in Review) if the right wants to play cultural wars, bring it on. We'll win. We have in the past and we will again.

I had a poli sci professor who was once asked why so many of artists were of the left and she offered the opinion that artists have to be more in touch with their feelings and expressing them so, therefore, they would be more outwardly concerned. I don't know how much validity is in that statement but I'd enjoy your feedback on the statement and/or why you think artists are more likely to be of the left. (I'll weigh in too when we do an entry on that.) (This is an opinion topic. And the site e-mail is

But as Kat noted ( we drew the line in the "sixties" and we can do so again. (Personally, I define "the sixties" by the mood, not the calender. I feel it begins with the arrival of the Beatles and ends with Watergate.) We can draw the line again and, I think, we should.

I'm going to quote from a section in Michelle Phillips book California Dreamin': The True Story of the Mamas and the Papas (Warner Books: New York, New York. 1986). The book is now out of print but you can buy it used in a variety of places (including Amazon and, again, you can check your local libraries. Librarians have been at the forefront of taking on the Patriot Act so please visit your local library if time permits.

The point in highlighting this section is two-fold (though there may be more than two things you can get from it). First, so many of us are trying to hang on to hope in these "interesting times."
I expected to get a lot of "Oh, we're going to start celebrating birthdays, are we?" e-mails decrying that an entry was used to note a birthday (belated due to posting problems) (see Instead, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Fans of Jane Fonda and those not familiar with her wrote in to say how much they enjoyed that post. Rob: "These are dark times, but we have seen dark times before. And just reading that and thinking about it reminds me that we do have power. Erika's right, we always have the power of 'yes' and the power of 'no.' We can go along blindly and keep our mouths shut or we can use our voices and our power of affirmation or negation." Erika noted: "I always loved Fonda's films but thank you for reminding us of her activism and her survival. We are sorely in need of a few like Fonda, [Phil] Ochs and [Joan] Baez today. Where are they in the latest crop of celebrities?" One may be Natalie Portman according to Domnick: "The tribute to Jane Fonda's birthday was great and reminded me of Natalie Portman's Good Morning America appearence and how they wanted her to change shirts and when she refused to remove her John Kerry t-shirt they refused to show it on the screen."

Keesha noted, "I like that we have a plate at the table for people who speak out. Whether it's Chevy Chase or Whoopi Goldberg or Michael Moore or Jane Fonda. We need to be sure that people know that we support them. The right is so organized about slapping them down in an attempt to silence them. When someone's trying to tell the truth and speak truth to power, we need to say, 'We suppport you.' We don't need to say, 'Oh well Whoopi's not my style' or anything similar. Whoopi is my style. She's an incredible woman who's very funny and also a strong dramatic actress. The posts on Chevy Chase, the birthday recognition for Jane Fonda and Kat's Korner, I've decided my monies will only go to films and CDs that feature artists who share my beliefs. I'm drawing the line firmly."

for the Chevy Chase & Whoopi Goldberg entry Keesha is referring to.]

Which is the second reason. The line gets drawn all the time. And in many ways, it currently exists. You can't listen to most talk radio (that includes sports talk radio) that doesn't express outright hostility towards people who have spoken out. (Personally, I love the "out" that so many "sports" talkers give themselves when they're caught in an inaccuracy or outright lie. "We don't do corrections because this isn't news, we're just average guys talking about what average guys talk about.") (That was sarcasm on my point, that I "love" that "out.")

They're dictating it and they're following a play book. It's the same one that was unleashed on Congress Rep. Barbara Lee among others. Attack, attack, attack and show America what happens when you don't "watch what you say" (to quote Ari on the last four words). Take 'em out and everyone else will be too imitidated to speak out. (Barbara Lee's web site is If you're unfamiliar with this strong and vocal voice in the U.S. Congress, please check out her web site.)

The one small voice factor only works when we back up those lonely voices. Frank in Orlando noted that he made his family go see Meet the Fockers this weekend. There was a split on what to see and Frank weighed in that a film starring Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand and Robert De Niro was one that they needed to not only see but also to support as well. (He reports it's hilarious and Hoffman and Streisand have great chemisty.)

Maybe you don't like comedies. Or you don't have the money for a ticket. That's fine. You can show your support in other ways. Someone at work is ragging on Hoffman or Streisand or De Niro, Susan Sarandon or whomever, you just say, "Oh, that's too bad you feel that way because I really enjoy ____." You don't have to start an argument. You don't have to yell. You're just noting your support for people on the left.

If you think about your workplace or your campus or your peer group, I'm sure you'll realize there's someone in the group who works extra hard at being funny. Extra, extra hard. They steal material. I'm sure most of us know something like that. Many of the people repeating "jokes" are only repeating them because some RNC stooge on talk radio said it. It was on the radio, so it must be funny! It was on radio, so it must be how all of America feels! Rush chuckled so it's gold, baby, it's gold!!!!

Noting your support will force those "borrowers" of material to rethink whom they take jokes "on loan" from. There are people who truly hate those on the left. If someone like that is in your circle a statement like, "Oh, that's too bad you feel that way because I really enjoy ___" will put them on notice. If they try to debate you and you're not suited for that or in the mood for that, you can respond, "I'm not going to argue this point with you."

We've allowed the right to use their echo chamber to redefine who is acceptable and who isn't.
Draw the line and start supporting people. And on the left, hold people accountable. You can do it in private, one on one. You can say, "That joke wasn't funny." Or, "I can't believe you stated you support ___'s right to free speech and agree with them on that but you think they can't sing/act/whatever. And you think that while they're being attacked this is really the time to offer pithy putdowns. I don't see that as supportive."

But the second point (getting back on topic) is that historically this has happened. People have drawn the lines. And when that happens we win. The music world can honestly live without Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake. We're not talking artists here, we're talking product with a shelf date. And both have them passed the expiration date sometime ago but a corporate owned and run radio system is more than happy to keep playing their nonsense instead of broadcasting songs that speak of the world today.

When we draw the line, we force them to answer to us. They may not want to get behind John Fogerty's new album, for instance, but if we're letting them know this is what we want and that we will say "no" to anything else, we can force this issue. But to do that, we have to be willing to draw the line and support the people who are attempting to relate to the world as it is, in a reality based way.

With that in mind, here's a section from Michelle Phillips book California Dreamin' (this cutting is from pages 142-143) that will either remind you or explain for the first time that, in the sixties, people were held to higher standards. When "J"'s poem went up last week (see
a few of you wrote in asking who the Mamas and the Papas were. They were a folk rock band (vocal) of the sixties: Michelle & John Phillips, Denny Doherty and Cass (Mama Cass to many) Elliott. I'll provide some links to web sites at the end of this post. Unlike Destiny's Child, this was a group that was a part of the world around them.

The sixties produced a very special combination of people with good intentions and a generous, sharing spirit, some of whom also had wealth, though that certainly wasn't the most important ingredient. It wasn't a myth; it was real. . . . We believed the media was increasingly on the side of the right against might. We were for peace, an end to the war in Vietnam, for sure, and it was a badge of honor to be disapproved by those who believed in the war. I remember I was asked to do a cover of Teen magazine. It was a very important monthly then and now. I was anxious to do it; it was a good opportunity to do something on my own -- not a Mamas and Papas thing but a Mama Michelle thing -- and I found it exciting. At the magazine's studio I found an art director and a photographer, of course, and they'd brought Carrie White in to dress my hair. The idea was to put my hair in braids, which was fine with me because that was how I often wore it.

Then I glanced into the art director's bag and noticed a green beret, neatly folded in a piece of tissue. "Look," I said, "that isn't for me, is it?" The art director said it was, and added that it was going to look great. I said, "I don't know whom you have to call, but you better call someone right now because I'm not going to wear that beret." She asked me what I was talking about. It was what they'd planned for the cover of that issue; it had all been decided. I had to wear it.

"I'm not going to wear a green beret," I said. "It's contrary to everything I believe in and everything I stand for. I cannot, will not put it on." In that case, the art director told me, I couldn't do the cover. "Fine," I said. She changed tactics, switching from threats to persuasion: hey, come on, no big deal, it's just fashion. . . . But nothing she could say would sway me on this issue. These were the days when every subtlety of people's views was examined: political stance, song lyrics, and everything else. Hard to remember that now, when everyone's buying GI Joe dolls for their kids. In the sixties (and, in fact, today) I certainly didn't buy war toys or wear green berets. Anyhow, that was the end of the Teen cover. They were not going to be pushed around by this little rock 'n' roller, so I was replaced this time. I felt good about it. There wasn't a person I knew who would have said, "You should have worn the green beret." There was an article in the following issue of Teen magazine called "Mama was a Heavyweight," with a picture of the four of us and a script that began: "You probably think we're talking about Cass but you're wrong. . . . " They ripped me apart for being un-American and all of that. I loved the article. I couldn't have put it better myself. Ha! Once again the idea was more important than the person. They, those green berets, were the
f---ing heroes. They were murderers. They said, some of them, later: "When it got right down to it, we were the guys slitting throats with piano wire." They were, however, glorified then.


The Mamas and the Papas recorded four albums by choice and one under threat of legal action (People Like Us). Their hits included "California Dreamin'" (written by Michelle & John Phillips), "Creeque Alley" (ditto) (and "Bullies Without Borders" was inspired by that --
"Monday, Monday," "Dedicated to the One I Love," "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and several other songs are among their hits.

Information about Michelle Phillips can be found at IMDB;fc=1;ft=9;fm=1

Information about Cass Elliott can be found at The Official Cass Elliott Web Site

Denny Doherty's web site is Dream a Little Dream ( "The Internet Obituary Network" offers an obituary on John Phillips (

(John Phillips, as a composer, does have an IMDB entry; however, the page loads blank currently. You can search IMDB ( for Elliott and Doherty as well. The entry was provided for Michelle Phillips because she has been acting for more years than she was singing with the Mamas and the Papas.)

Information about the Mamas and the Papas can be found at Creeque Alley ( as well as at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum ( You can also check out Rolling Stone magazine's web site for their data base on the Mamas and the Papas (

Wikipedia ("the free encyclopedia") has entries on the Mamas and the Papas (; Michelle Phillips (; John Phillips (; Denny Doherty (; and Cass Elliott (

In addition to those web sites, there are numerous books about the Mamas and the Papas.
I'd recommend Michelle's book California' Dreamin' which is informative about the times and offers a well written insider's look. Matthew Greenwald's Go Where You Wanna Go: The Oral History of the Mamas & the Papas is a comprehensive look at the group and (coming out in 2002) is still in print.

I've spent a half hour going through my book shelves for my paperback copy of Papa John. Either I'm missing it or it's walked off without permission. John Phillips co-wrote Papa John with Jim Jerome. It's a thick book (I'm guessing over three hundred pages) and as I'm remembering it, we're not even to page one hundred when John Phillips loses his virginity.

My point here isn't, "Geez, I wanted some sex!" (The book portrays a sexual experience later in the sixties involving multiple well known people.) It's that I think very few people have a childhood that's so interesting it can take up a great deal of space in an autobiography. John's book focuses on his early life, his first marriage (Michelle is his second marriage), then finally the Mamas and the Papas.

While Michelle to chooses to end her narrative in 1968 (with the official end of the group) and then tack on an epilogue; but in John's book, we have approximately eighteen more years of narrative which includes his drug problems in great detail. Someone else might read it and love the book. I didn't. (Both Michelle and John's books came out in 1986.) I did enjoy the middle section, on the Mamas and the Papas.

To further contrast the two books, on page fourteen of Michelle's book, she's already seventeen and moving away from home and by page seventeen has met John Phillips.

I wouldn't have been bothered if Michelle's book had been longer (it's 178 pages); but with Papa John, I kept wishing it would move more quickly. John had kicked a very public addiction by the time he co-wrote his book and I'm sure his book helped many people and more power to him for that but I was hoping for a little more "Papa" John and a little less pre-Mamas and Papas and post-Mamas and Papas.

That seems so negative. But if you should pick it up (out of print, so seek out used copies or check your local library) because it's co-written by a founding member of the Mamas and the Papas, don't blame me if you're left wondering, "Where are the Mamas and the Papas?"
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger show up briefly in the seventies section so Rolling Stones fans might enjoy that. You'll learn about the classic folk song "500 Miles" and how John was wrongly credited with co-writing that. (That's not the hit from Benny & Joon' soundtrack by the Proclaimers. Nor is it written by "Red West" as some web sites claim -- I looked online in an attempt to avoid another physical search. Looking at the sheet music and CDs crediting the writer, Hedy West wrote the song.)

Point? There's information in the book (which I'm thinking now is over 410 pages) but if you're expecting John to relate a lot of great stories about the Mamas and the Papas, you'll probably be disappointed.

I think that "J" captured the era very well in the poem "I Was a Child When Things Mattered" so I'll steer you to

For a more somber view of this period, pick up Joan Didion's The White Album and read the first essay ("The White Album"). In my copy that's pages eleven to forty-eight. (Michelle & John Phillips are mentioned briefly, in passing, on page twenty-six.) This book remains in print and you can check, other book dealers (online and physical stores), used bookstores (ibid) and your local library.

(And I've been repeating myself as I do when it's late and I'm tired so, in the words of Carly Simon, "Let's close now.")