We all flee from the nest and create our own lives. Many people strive to find new identities outside of “son” or “daughter,” “cousin” or “niece,” and sometimes even parents have to find themselves outside of “mama” or “dad.”
The difference between all those and “mama” and “dad” is that you choose those titles.
As I was researching Ms. Cass Elliot I found where she was the one who brought up the name of being called a “mama,” which resulted in the 60’s rock folk group, The Mamas and The Papas. Mama Cass, as Elliot is often known as, was a persona she created on stage and in the studio. She was always known as the positive one and was known for her wise cracks.
Once The Mamas and The Papas were over, her recording career had empty nest syndrome. She was no longer part of the group, but the public still knew her as good ol’ Mama Cass. So she stayed in that rhythm. I’m sure she felt her career would decline without this character, even though she wasn’t fond of always being known as Mama Cass.
She wanted to be Cass Elliot.
This happened in 1972 when she released her album Cass Elliot. This was her fourth solo album and her first to not include “mama” in her name. This album shows her departure from what she was known for and what what she wanted to become.
The album opens with the slow tempo “I’ll Be Home.” A ballad that sets a precedent for the rest of the album. It is then followed by Elliot’s vulnerable rendition of “Baby I’m Yours” and the upbeat “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” These songs showed a deep departure from the style she rode to fame.
Elliott’s voice especially soared on “When Love Doesn’t Work Out.” This song was written by her sister, Leah Kunkel and was one of Elliot’s favorites. Her vocals sore on this ballad. It was as if the lid was finally off the jar and it was time that people heard her vocal chops. Sadly, I think she had also lived this antidote as well. This song is superb.
On side b Elliot covered The Beach Boys “Disney Girls” with Bruce Johnston and Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys backing her. This song can be interpreted in many ways, but I just found myself wanting to be the man that Elliot was channeling. But to be honest I don’t know what qualities he was to possess. Maybe it’s cause I’m a big bingo fan….
It saddens me that Elliot was not able to fully embark on this new musical endeavor. This album was not a hit in its day, but it was the beginning of Cass Elliot, the renowned singer and performer. She later teamed up with a new manager and created a cabaret style act that was highly favored by the critics. When she passed she had just achieved standing ovations for two weeks straight at the London Palladium. Her solo career was about to go places.
In the end, I have to say that I like Cass Elliot, but I don’t think she could ever rid herself of Mama Cass. Mother’s often have a niche for being warm and comforting. That’s what Elliot’s voice dictates. Her voice is encompassing in that respect. It’s that warm blanket or fire on a cold winter night. She was a vocal “mama”
So really Elliot was doing it all backwards. Usually the child is the one that grows up, but in this case mama was coming of age and that was tragically cut short.