Wednesday, June 14, 2017

California Dreamin' by Pénélope Bagieu

All the leaves are brown
and the sky is grey
I've been for a walk
on a winter's day . . .

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN': Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas is a graphic novel by Pénélope Bagieu, who also wrote and drew Exquisite Corpse, featured in this post last year. The book was originally published in French, then translated into the English by Nanette McGuinness.

This graphic novel tells the story of Ellen Cohen, known by most people as Cass Elliot (a stage name based on a reversal of her initials), known by still more as "Mama Cass", from her childhood in Baltimore to her 24th birthday, shortly after signing a record contract as part of The Mamas & the Papas. There are no color spreads inside the book, but the colorful story telling and clear identification of characters by image make it easy to follow.

Nearly every chapter is from the perspective of a different person in Cass's life, from her sister to her parents to high school friends to fellow musicians. And it totally works in conveying the essence of her persona - her charm and wit, her social consciousness, her insecurities, her desire for love - with its spare telling of incidents and chapters in Cass Elliot's life.

It's an honest portrayal, complete with drug use and language, and is a page-turner in the best sense. While many of the pages include frames and boxes for images, there is an interesting fluidity to Bagieu's style, as in the chapter entitled "Bess", which is named for her mother. While Bess is framed throughout, she finds Cass in the basement with Michelle and John Phillips and Denny Doherty, completely tripping on acid. Those pages are rather free-form (except for any appearance by Bess).

The book does not cover Cass's success with The Mamas & the Papas, or her later solo career, but it paints a clear picture of her childhood and early development. A truly clever biography.

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