Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

One Mama’s Free Advice

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

This week’s Free Ride* muses on the songs of Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas, that four-part harmony folk sensation of the late 1960s. Michelle, who turns 67 today, was married at the time of the Mamas and Papas popularity to “Papa” John Phillips. She shared songwriting duties with him, co-writing such hits as California Dreamin’ and Creeque Alley. Another of their collaborative compositions fits into our freedom theme: Free Advice, on the third album, The Mamas and the Papas Deliver. During the period leading up to this album, Michelle Phillips had been having an affair with band-mate Denny Doherty, and like several of the group’s songs, this one has a real autobiographical feel to it. In that libertine era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, the song sounds like it could be talking about the indiscretions in either of the first two categories:

A bit of free advice
We’ll tell it to you now
If you’ve got some habits
Some people won’t allow
Be cool; be clean
If you know what I mean.

Be neat, discreet,
And keep your ear to the ground.

It seems to me that the song could have a very different audience today than it did in 1967. Then, the Phillips were no doubt walking the fine line of promoting a libertarian lifestyle, but also promoting the good common sense not to always flaunt it, to keep some of those behaviors private. Today, it sounds like they could be giving their free advice to public figures who can’t seem to keep their libertine ways off the social media networks. In an era when anybody with a cell phone can immediately broadcast anything they see you doing, the free advice to be cool and be clean seems to be the wisest course of action. But, the song knows human nature too well, reminding us that we all have our ups and downs, it’s just that some of us are careless and leave them laying around. So, if we can’t be clean, be discreet. That’s our cultural code of ethics. And it’s a bit of free advice that’s getting harder and harder to follow.

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