Book Review: High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips

High on Arrival: A Memoir
by Mackenzie Phillips
Publisher – Gallery Books
Copyright 2011
320 pages

Rating – 8/10

Summary – Mackenzie Phillips recounts her life of incredible peaks and valleys in High on Arrival. Oh yes, she also says that she had a sexual relationship with her father for many years. For fans of celebrity gossip, High on Arrival is difficult to beat.

Review – If someone told you Mackenzie’s Phillips’ life story, you would dismiss it as impossible. She tells her interesting story in High on Arrival.

Living the Crazy Life

Mackenzie Phillips grew up as the daughter of show business royalty. Starting in the mid-1960s, her father, “Papa John” Phillips, hit it big with the Mamas and the Papas on their hits “Monday Monday” and “California Dreaming.” For better of worse, he took Mackenzie along for the ride.

Her childhood life was bizarre by any standard. Papa John lavished money on Mackenzie, but paid little attention to her. Mackenzie makes it plain that drugs dominated John’s life and he made no attempt to dissuade her from taking drugs as well. After The Mamas and The Papas disbanded, Papa John’s money ran out and he lived a strange life hopping from hotel to hotel, one step ahead of the bill collectors. Mackenzie was largely abandoned; in fact, in one scene in High on Arrival she finds herself alone in a Los Angeles mansion after her father takes a trip to New York and never returns.

Amazingly, show business lightning struck twice in the Phillips family. Mackenzie won a small, memorable part in the surprise hit American Graffiti, which led to a role in the popular TV show One Day at a Time. As with her father, Mackenzie’s success – and the money that came with it – helped to bring out her impulsive, self-destructive side. The tale of Mackenzie’s fast-lane living during these years makes High on Arrival worth reading.

Momentum Ebbs

After Mackenzie recounts her (involuntary) departures from One Day at a Time, High an Arrival gradually loses its momentum. Mackenzie’s career faded as her reputation for unreliability made her a pariah. She joined a latter-day version of the Mamas and the Papas with her father and struggled to stay clean. Eventually, she began the long road to recovery. This part of the book isn’t bad, but it’s just not as interesting as what came before. Drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll may kill you, but they aren’t boring. A single mom struggling to stay clean and and raise her son isn’t a fast-lane fantasy come to life. Still, the end of the book isn’t bad.

That Stuff About Papa John

Of course, if you’ve heard anything about High on Arrival, you know that none of what I’ve mentioned above has been the focus of most reviewers. Instead, people have focused on Mackenzie’s most-salacious assertion – that she had a sexual relationship with her father for many years. While, this material does not dominate the book, it is a major theme.

Back in the mid-80s, I saw Papa John promoting his own autobiography on David Letterman. He was so spaced out during the interview that Letterman jokingly told him to read the book and then come back to discuss it. Eventually, I read Papa John’s book and was amazed that – even by rock-star standards – it was a debauched tale.

Much of the commentary about High on Arrival has focused on whether Mackenzie’s tale is true, or whether it is an attempt by a faded to celebrity to recapture the spotlight. Obviously, I don’t know, but it’s fair to say that Papa John was a man who knew no limits. Judge for yourself.


Whatever else may be said about Mackenzie Phillips, hers has been a life less ordinary. High on Arrival isn’t great art, but it’s an interesting read.


About mobilemojoman

I have been a Mobile resident for about a decade. Working as a college professor keeps me off the streets and pays the bills. I am married to a woman (the MojoWoman) who is a much better person than I am and we have two beautiful girls who keep us both jumping. My interests are varied - food & drink, sports, politics, exercise, books, travel, Mardi Gras, and all of life's rich pageant. In the future, I'd like to learn more about sailing, photography, Cajun/Creole cooking, making beer and wine, and writing.
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