Review: Papa John – An Autobiography: A Music Legend’s Shattering Journey Though Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Return with me to those glorious days of the 1960’s when we transitioned from folk music to folk rock. You will enjoy this book if you like a brutally honest account of the seedy side of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. John Phillips was driven, hugely talented, lucky, and a beast in terms of consumption. I read this book the first-time in 1986 and really enjoyed it. It reminded me at times of an old soldier telling war stories.

I had earlier read Michelle Phillips’ fluffy memoir, “California Dreamin’,” She had told us a Sunday School version of her marriage to John and the Mamas and Papas. I learned nothing-new from Michelle. I knew there must be more to the story of the Mamas and the Papas. Therefore, I sought out her ex-husband’s story. At more than two-and-a-half times the length, “Papa John” did not disappoint. It contained all the grimy details that Michelle chose to omit, and then some.

If you read the book you find yourself saying TMI, TMI, TMI (too much information) if you have little taste for very private information on drug use, personal sex life (he tells who, how, when, where, with almost XXX description of tryst, by tryst) for my taste. He tells not only of his private life but of a number of other celebrities as well. He admits everything from paying quarters for sex from a neighborhood girl when he was a young teen, to hookers and barmaids in Havana to explaining what it means to be “greasing on American Express”.

The story of the origins of the Mamas and the Papas including Cass getting hit on the head and it changing her pitch is included. The books later chapters deal with his and his daughter McKenzie Phillips heavy drug taking are in meticulous, mind-numbing, and often alarming detail. Perhaps putting it all down for the record was healing for John. Perhaps he was attempting to discourage others from going down the same path. At times, I felt like the priest in the confessional booth or the psychiatrist who was hearing it all. His descriptions were so nauseating that I quickly read them. It would make most swear-off or never go near drugs.

If pop music history is your thing, you won’t want to miss this unique slice of history of the son of a USMC career officer and Cherokee Indian mother. He is the father of Jeffrey Phillips, Mackenzie Phillips, Chynna Phillips (conceived during the Monterey International Pop Festival – the story of her conception is in the book), Tamerlane Phillips, and Bijou Phillips.

Also, after the book’s release John Phillips wrote the song “Kokomo” along with Scott McKenzie, Mike Love and Terry Melcher. Recorded by The Beach Boys in 1988, it became the biggest selling song of 1988. It is also the Beach Boys best-selling single and one of the best-selling songs of all time. It secured John Phillips financially for the rest of his life.

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