Picks and Pans Review: California Dreamin'

updated 05/19/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/19/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Michelle Phillips

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away—or so it seems—there were the Mamas and the Papas, who bridged the musical gap between folk and pop. In the 1960s these stylish hippies (Michelle and John Phillips, Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot) had four gold records, including the still-popular Monday, Monday and California Dreamin'. Now two of the group's alums have gone literary. John Phillips' 431-page autobiography barrels along like a runaway freight train. It begins in 1980 with Phillips' Long Island arrest for conspiracy to distribute drugs. From there it flashes back to his birth on an island off the South Carolina coast during a hurricane—an accurate omen. Phillips spends considerable time on his unhappy childhood, which lays a foundation for understanding his destructive actions later. His behind-the-scenes recollections of life with the Mamas and the Papas are wonderfully entertaining, including their early days hanging around the Bahamas, his marriage to Michelle and the group's debauched love of spending money. Particularly moving are his remembrances of Mama Cass, who, he says, used her fame to get boyfriends and who thought she could ease her unhappiness with drugs. (She died in 1974 of a heart attack.) Phillips' chapter on the Monterey Pop Festival makes you ache for the innocence of an era that quickly turned sour. After the Mamas and the Papas broke up, and he broke up with Michelle, John eventually became addicted to heroin, cocaine and alcohol. By then his third wife, actress-singer Genevieve Waite, was also having drug and alcohol problems. Their desperate life in the staid suburbs of Connecticut plays like a Joe Orton black comedy. One of Phillips' lowest moments comes when he realizes he has just injected cocaine into the arm of his daughter, actress Mackenzie (One Day at a Time) Phillips. The book is full of passion and pathos, humor and hope. California Dreamin', on the other hand, seems shallow. The slim, 174-page book about the group offers little insight into their popularity and turbulent inner dynamics. It's telling that the most vivid part of the book is Michelle's guilt-ridden description of how she and John mucked up Jeanette MacDonald's Bel Air mansion with their remodeling. (Papa John, Dolphin, $17.95) (California Dreamin', Warner Books, $16.95)

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