Cass Elliot, nee Ellen Naomi Cohen, had a voluminous voice that could fill all the empty spaces in anyone hearing it. She had a huge heart and was forever tending to the people around her. Unfortunately, that voice could not find the right words in taking away her own desperate insecurities. And that heart, broken in love and damaged by drugs, ultimately gave out on her.
Mama Cass played an integral part in the development of many of the bands that found fortune during the West Coast Sixties. She brought together David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash, and almost single-handedly was responsible for the wonderful music they'd come to make. She was house-sitter and babysitter, a home away from home, and a shoulder to cry on. She was everything to everyone but herself.
All those characters are revealed here in Fiegel's biography. And each one of them - caretaker, psychologist, mother hen - is forever tangled up in her physical appearance. During a period when an artist's physical looks had about as much impact as his
or her musical abilities (and in that respect, little has changed these past four decades), Cass was hobbled right out of the gate. At an early age, she was already overweight, and the fact that her father owned a deli in which she worked only succeeded in pouring more fat
onto the fire.
As most heavy people are wont to do, she tried to deflect the merciless taunting of classmates and the pretties of the world by attempting to become the punchline to her own jokes
- and early on adopting the mantra, "I'm going to be the most famous fat girl who ever lived." She came awfully close.
The book describes her horrific adolescent years and then her discovery of the Greenwich Village folk scene that was then evolving in the Sixties. The soap opera that was The Mamas and the Papas is investigated, and so, too,
is her subsequent solo career.
There are first-ever interviews with bandmates Papa Denny Doherty (one of the spurned loves of her life and a relationship that is beautifully examined here)
and Mama Michelle Phillips, as well as with David Crosby, Graham Nash, ex-husband Donald von Wiedenman, and sister Leah.
Without Cass and her uncanny ability to bring different types of people together and make them feel comfortable with one another, the musical profile of the Sixties and the music being developed in Laurel Canyon and Hollywood would have been entirely different. She cast a big shadow, figuratively speaking. When
The Beatles were in Los Angeles, John Lennon made a point of wanting to meet her (the depiction of that meeting is captured here). Her reputation was truly profound and well-founded.
She was a wonderful character, and Dream a Little Dream of Me fleshes it out.