California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot before the Mamas and the Papas
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Scott
The Mamas and the Papas were a musical phenomenon of the sixties and it was the song California Dreamin’ that propelled them to the charts. Enter the year 2016 and the song is still being played and enjoyed by new generations of listeners. Behind that phenomenon was Mama Cass (nee Ellen Cohen) the singer who was multitalented and could hold her own against even the pop stars of today. California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot before the Mamas and the Papas,(hereafter California Dreamin’) Is a well-researched, fictionalized story of Mama Cass, from childhood to success. The graphic novel is satisfying in this way as you are left ‘dreamin’ ‘ of her better future, rather than her tragic death in July of 1974.
The story is somewhat piecemeal, a free-flowing excursion into how Cass (she got the name possibly from actress Peggy Cass, and note it’s ‘Cass’ not ‘Cassandra’) Elliot (who adopted that name after a fallen friend) would have acted from her youth right into the period before the Mamas and the Papas became a household name. It pulls glimpses from her past, for instance, her parent’s love of opera; her singing talent debuting at a young age; and perhaps the driving force: her determination to be a star. California Dreamin’ paints an almost surreal atmosphere throughout the novel, and captures the essence of sixties counter-culture and drug culture movements and the commune ideals of the time. Cass is depicted in all these social movements, on her way to becoming the iconic voice of the Mamas and the Papas. The writing is a little over the top, though, switching narrators, intrusive dialogue and other nit-picky things I could go on about; the important part is that it works in the end.
The art is incredibly loose, almost pen scribblings on paper. Simplified form and shape make this style work well with the subject at hand. The free spirits of the sixties come alive in this (incredibly) loose style much in the same way The Yellow Submarine simplified the Beatles. Using a very eclectic style makes this story flow the more you read. I’ll have to admit though it was awkward in the beginning getting used to it. Once you get over this threshold you begin to understand why the art is done the way it is. Bagieu can draw but her choice to almost leave pencilled roughs in for a more ‘realistic’ style is part of the appeal of the story. There is no glamorization of figure and form just as Mama Cass didn’t mind the way she looked, or anyone else looked, for that matter.
Overall, California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot before the Mamas and the Papas is a go-to book on Mama Cass’ early life. There is a list of biographical research at the end if you’re still in the mood for more. Lovers of that sixties feel good vibe; that anti-authoritarian, drug-inducing, pre-rock star way of life; or fans of Mama Cass and her work with the Mamas and the Papas or her five solo albums afterwards. In any case you can land right here and pick up the authoritative graphic novel of one of the sixties greatest contributions.