Dedicated to the one we love

Dedicated to the one we love
Reviewer: mdurshimer
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My Mama, Cass:
A Memoir
288 pages
May 07, 2024
ISBN 10:
ISBN 13:

A long-awaited, myth-busting, and deeply affecting memoir by the daughter of legendary rock star “Mama” Cass Elliot

Mama Cass was a mother of invention.

Crosby, Stills & Nash? Her idea, conceived in the comfort of her Laurel Canyon home.

50 plus years ago, the crash pad that California Dreamin’ built was the epicenter of the hippie scene. If you were a musician, you were hanging out at Cass’ place. It’s the subject of many Henry Diltz photographs, fairly recent documentaries, and books, including the long-awaited “My Mama, Cass,” written by her daughter, Owen.
One of my favorite Diltz captures features baby Owen in the foreground, with Joni Mitchell strumming her guitar, Eric Clapton engrossed in her music, and David Crosby offering up a joint he is smoking. Oh, to have been baby Owen and experienced that daily pooling of talent firsthand.

Of course, Owen was very young when she lived with her mother, Ellen Naomi Cohen, in that history maker, but what she can’t remember, others can, and she wisely interviewed them to piece together the past. It’s an easy read, not overly sentimental, full of answers to the fill-in-the-blank questions that have been asked over and over in the last 5 decades, including: Who is Owen’s father? Did Cass really choke to death on a sandwich? And why Cass Elliott?

The journey through both ladies’ lives is bittersweet: Cass missed so much of her daughter’s life and vice versa. Time does not heal all wounds, as they say (anyway, who says that?), but Owen, who admits she was traumatized by the sudden loss of her mother, has been able to use this project to find peace. Speaking to people who knew and loved Cass (yes, I am talking to you Michelle Phillips), unearthing old print and television interviews and performances, and relying on her young memory, Owen paints a beautiful portrait of Cass. She doesn’t gloss over the ever-present fat-shaming that Cass endured, nor does she give her father a hall pass for their lack of a relationship. But she does not dwell on the negative, much like her mother, who always seemed to do what she wanted to do and find the joy.

And Owen was able to do that while being raised by her mother’s sister, Leah, who just so happened to be married to the legendary drummer Russell Kunkel. Still traveling in well-known music circles, Owen’s best friends included the Wilson sisters and Chynna Phillips, with whom she would form a group that eventually became Wilson Phillips (yes, without her).

A few years back, Owen accepted Cass’ start on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Stills was right next to her and shared well wishes from both Nash and Crosby. A fitting and long overdue tribute to a cultural icon who encouraged everyone to make their own kind of music. And that, truly, is her legacy.