Tuesday, November 2, 2010

High on Arrival

by Mackenzie Phillips with Hilary Liftin,
Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009

Sex, drugs, rock 'n roll. There you have them - the key elements of your standard celebrity bio. And Mackenzie Phillips - best known for playing Julie on the sitcom, One Day at a Time - writes about enjoying a plethora of all three, but especially the drugs. Daughter of John Phillips, most notably of the Mamas and the Papas, it was almost inevitable that Mackenzie herself would succumb to the snare.

It's been said - and rightly so, I think - that every girl seeks her daddy's love and approval. But John Phillips was a self-centred man - a man bent on pursuing hedonism to the utmost, as Mackenzie well describes. While she yearned for a close relationship with him, what she often experienced was abandonment. Deeply into the drug subculture, Phillips used narcotics and women freely and without care, and allowed his children to live as they pleased, without any boundaries or rules. When he invited Mackenzie, age 10, to learn how to roll joints for him and his friends, she was a willing participant. Maybe by being useful, she would get more attention. Maybe by emulating him, she would enter more fully into his world. It wasn't long before she was using drugs herself. It wasn't long before her life would enter a downward spiral that would take years to exit.

After reading about many of Mackenzie's escapades, I laughed out loud at her description of herself as "a good girl" (p. 78). It's amazing how we can deceive ourselves, and evident how desperately Mackenzie wanted to be accepted. What's more amazing is that even after years of self-abuse (including drugs and presumably unprotected sex with multiple partners), incest and rape, Mackenzie is still alive to tell the story.

It's a story she writes in order to set out the truth so that she herself might become "real and whole." It's a fascinating, ugly story, full of insanity, bad choices, hopelessness and despair, interspersed with periods of sobriety and well-being. It's a cautionary tale for those who might think the drug life is linked to freedom and fun when it is anything but.

Mackenzie's book sparked a lot of controversy when it first appeared. People don't like to talk about incest. Family members and friends didn't want to believe that Papa John could be quite that depraved. But I believe Mackenzie is right when she says that under the influence of drugs a person will do anything. And so perhaps the best service the book provides others is to encourage discussion of this taboo topic. As the author says:
  • "If nobody ever rocks the boat, if real stories of love and incest and survival are kept behind the closed doors of therapists' offices and judges' chambers, then current and future victims are destined to do what I did, to weather it alone, to blame themselves, to hide behind drugs or whatever other lies and oblivion they can find. It happens, it happened to me, and the desire to preserve my father's legacy is not reason enough for silence." (p. 188)
The book is most suitable for people who can share the author's experience and possibly learn something from it, those who are looking for a reason not to get involved with illegal drugs, and those who feel they absolutely must read all the gory details of a celebrity's life. As for me, I think I'm done with these celebrity bios. But don't quote me on that.

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