Musical Memoirs | Performing Arts

The daughter of Mama Cass Elliot of the Mamas & the Papas and Blondie guitarist Chris Stein share life stories centered in sound.

Elliot-Kugell, Owen. My Mama, Cass: A Memoir. Hachette. May 2024. 304p. ISBN 9780306830648. $30. MEMOIR

Elliot-Kugell recounts both the saga of her famous mother, the Mamas & the Papas star Mama Cass Elliot (a.k.a. Ellen Cohen, 1941–74), and her own personal and professional life. She begins with Cass’s upbringing in a middle-class New York Jewish household and her dream of Broadway stardom. The book charts the rise of Mama Cass’s career amid the folk music boom of the 1960s. She performed with the bands the Big 3, the Mugwumps, and finally the Mamas & the Papas. The latter scored a No. 1 single (“Monday, Monday”) on a No. 1 album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears. Elliot-Kugel describes the implosion of the harmony-based group after three tumultuous years, Cass’s catalytic folk-rock role, her subsequent less-than-stellar solo recording and television career, and her death at age 32, when the author was only seven years old. She also reveals stories about her life as a child, raised by her aunt and grandmother, her own nascent recording career, marriage, and motherhood. VERDICT A unique perspective from the daughter of a rock star. General audiences will get a fresh glimpse into the manipulative music business, which demanded ceaseless hard work, personal sacrifices, and a determined focus on glittery celebrity.

Stein, Chris. Under a Rock: A Memoir. St. Martin’s. Jun. 2024. 304p. ISBN 9781250286727. $30. MEMOIR

Blondie guitarist Stein, now 74 years old, begins his engaging memoir with his childhood in New York City. He details his middle-class upbringing in a left-wing family, his school days, his fascination with photography, and the phase that led to his hospitalization due to hallucinogens. He recounts his meeting singer Deborah Harry, the early days of Blondie at the NYC performance space CBGB, and the late-1970s New York punk scene. In the last half of the book, he chronicles the mainstream success of Blondie with the 1978 disco-influenced album Parallel Lines (which contained the song “Heart of Glass”), their increasingly funky pop on the 1980 single “Call Me,” and the group’s 1980 Autoamerican album (featuring “The Tide Is High”). The book ends with a description of Stein’s substance-use disorder, the end of his romantic relationship with Harry, his sobriety and family life, and the band’s ongoing tours and recordings. It also relates engaging stories about such notables as William S. Burroughs, David Bowie, H.R. Giger, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. VERDICT Written in an off-the-cuff style, this memoir offers a descriptive, highly impressionistic account of the author’s role in Blondie and his life in New York City. Will engage general readers.

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