Papa John Essay - Critical Essays

Papa John

A restless youth unable to adjust to the discipline of mostly military schools, John Phillips as a teenager was typically rebellious. When given a cheap guitar by an in-law, he suddenly found his niche. His road to fame and fortune was rough and erratic, complicated early by marriage and fatherhood. Such responsibilities failed to deter John from leaving family behind and hitting the cross-country concert tour trail with a succession of folk music groups. Things finally came together, first at San Francisco’s famed “Hungry i” club, where he met second wife, Michelle, and later in the Virgin Islands, where they teamed up with Mama Cass Elliott and Denny Doherty to form the Mamas and the Papas.

It was a magical time--the heyday of the hippies, flower power, and the love generation. Probably no group better epitomized it all with their close harmonies, mellow style, colorful appearance, and tuneful songs: “California Dreamin’,” “Monday, Monday,” “Creeque Alley,” “I Saw Her Again Last Night.” The hits came one after another, and their careers went into high gear: John and Michelle bought a fabulous Beverly Hills mansion with his and her Jaguars, leased Learjets and limousines, and indulged in a sexually swinging life-style with jetsetters, Hollywood movie stars, and the international rock and roll aristocracy. Unflinchingly candid, John names--Mick Jagger, Jane Fonda, Roman Polanski, and even Princess Margaret--and tells it like it was.

Yet dark clouds gathered: Clashing egos and constant partying took their toll in discord, and the band acrimoniously came apart at its seams. John progressed from pot, pills, and alcohol into the hardest of drugs, and his creative juices stopped flowing. His long-planned and awaited “space rock” musical closed after one disorganized performance, and with his new third wife, Genevieve Waite, he descended into a near-death trip that culminated with a $1,000-a-day heroin addiction. Finally, his arrest by federal drug agents brought a late but timely reality into his nightmare existence.

Now reformed and clean of drugs for five years, Phillips has embarked on a second career, touring on the “oldie, goldie” nostalgia circuit. His autobiography, a compelling account of degeneration followed by regeneration, is hard and honest with a glamour tempered with grimness.