I bought Penelope Bagieu’s new graphic biography California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas to read on my Kindle, without realizing that “graphic” didn’t mean dramatic but rather “illustrated cartoon” novel. It’s hard to read on a Kindle, so if you’re going to get the book, buy this one in hardcover.
That said, the book perfectly captures the irrepressible Ellen “Mama Cass Elliot ” Cohen, from the time she was a little girl. She was a big presence even as a small child, and Oh, that voice… She clearly carried the Mamas & the Papas — her voice was way better than John and Michelle Phillips and Denny Doherty — and the music she was creating after she left the Mamas & the Papas was some of her best. She died at age 32, the likely cause being heart failure due to fatty myocardial degeneration. She had a daughter, who outlives her. So does her fame as an icon of the era. So do her best songs. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” anyone?
I’m a great reader, and when I open a book I expect a lot of words. This book has many fewer words, and a lot of artfully drawn sketches, and Mama Cass is all there. I loved the Mamas & the Papas music, so perhaps I brought a lot to the story. But this book is a keeper, especially f California Dreamin’ was part of your young adulthood as it was mine.