Mama Cass and John Denver Sing a Lovely Duet of “Leaving On a Jet Plane” (1972)

My issue is that it’s all very well to sit back and com­plain but when it’s your coun­try you have a respon­si­bil­i­ty. — Cass Elliot

What could be more heav­en­ly than Cass Elliot of The Mamas & The Papas and singer-song­writer John Den­ver har­mo­niz­ing on Denver’s “Leav­ing on a Jet Plane,” a tune many con­ceived of as a protest to the Viet­nam War, owing large­ly to folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary’s cov­er ver­sion.

Maybe some vot­er reg­is­tra­tion added to the mix?

Before break­ing into their duet on the late night TV musi­cal vari­ety show The Mid­night Spe­cial, Den­ver invit­ed Mama Cass to share a few words on her efforts to get out the vote in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year:

I’ve been trav­el­ing around the coun­try for the past year or so, talk­ing on a lot of col­lege cam­pus­es and try­ing to find out exact­ly what peo­ple are think­ing, and the thing that’s impressed me the most is, there is still in this coun­try, believe it or not, after all the talk, a tremen­dous amount of apa­thy on the part of peo­ple who maybe don’t like the way things are going and maybe want to change it, but don’t do any­thing about it, y’know?

It was August 19, 1972. The war in Viet­nam and the upcom­ing con­test between Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon and his Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger George McGov­ern were the top sto­ries. June’s Water­gate break in was a mount­ing con­cern.

Ear­li­er in the day, the New York Times report­ed that “Sen­a­tor George McGov­ern expects (South Viet­namese) Pres­i­dent Nguyễn Văn Thiệu and his “cohorts” to flee Saigon into exile and a Com­mu­nist-dom­i­nat­ed coali­tion to take con­trol of South Viet­nam if Mr. McGov­ern is elect­ed Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States on Nov. 7.”

Cass Elliot, a McGov­ern sup­port­er, had become much more vocal about her polit­i­cal activism fol­low­ing the 1968 break up of The Mamas & The Papas, as in this inter­view with Rolling Stone:

I think every­body who has a brain should get involved in pol­i­tics.  Work­ing with­in. Not crit­i­ciz­ing it from the out­side.  Become an active par­tic­i­pant, no mat­ter how fee­ble you think the effort is.  I saw in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­ven­tion in Chica­go that there were more peo­ple inter­est­ed in what I was inter­est­ed in than I believed pos­si­ble.  It made me want to work.  It made me feel my opin­ion and ideas were not futile, that there would be room in an orga­nized move­ment of pol­i­tics for me to voice myself. 

She remained diplo­mat­ic on the Mid­night Spe­cial, telling view­ers that “I don’t think it’s so impor­tant who you vote for, you vote for who you believe in, but the impor­tant thing is to vote,” though it’s hard to imag­ine that any­one tun­ing in from home would mis­take her for a Nixon gal.

Ear­li­er in the year she had ush­ered at the Four For McGov­ern fundrais­ing con­cert at the LA Forum, was in the audi­ence at Madi­son Square War­ren Beatty’s Togeth­er for McGov­ern con­cert Gar­den, and attend­ed a par­ty Amer­i­cans Abroad for McGov­ern held in Lon­don.

Short­ly after the elec­tion (SPOILER: Her man lost), dur­ing an appear­ance on The Mike Dou­glas Show, above, she inti­mat­ed that she might be open to a career shift:

 I think I would like to be a Sen­a­tor or some­thing in twen­ty years.  I don’t think I real­ly know enough yet. I’m just 30 now and I would­n’t even be eli­gi­ble to run for office for anoth­er five years.  But I have a lot of feel­ings about things.  I know the way I would like to see things for this coun­try and in my trav­els, when I talk to peo­ple, every­body wants pret­ty much the same thing:  peace, enough jobs, no pover­ty and good edu­ca­tion.  And I’ve learned a lot.  It’s fun­ny.  So many peo­ple in show busi­ness go into pol­i­tics, and I used to say ‘What the heck do they know about it?’  But when you trav­el around, you real­ly do get to feel–not to be cliche–the pulse of the coun­try and what peo­ple want.  I’m con­cerned and it’s not good to be uncon­cerned and just sit there.

Lis­ten­ing to her dis­cuss Water­gate dur­ing her final vis­it to The Mike Dou­glas Show, short­ly before her 1974 death, real­ly makes us wish she was still here with us.

What we wouldn’t give to hear this out­spo­ken polit­i­cal observer’s take on the sit­u­a­tion our coun­try now finds itself in, espe­cial­ly with anoth­er five decades of expe­ri­ence under her belt.

Per­haps there’s an alter­nate uni­verse in which Cass Elliot is Pres­i­dent.

If you haven’t yet reg­is­tered to vote, now would be a great time to do so. It may not be too late to par­tic­i­pate in your state’s pri­ma­ry elec­tions. You know that’s what Cass would have want­ed.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Tom Jones Per­forms “Long Time Gone” with Cros­by, Stills, Nash & Young–and Blows the Band & Audi­ence Away (1969)

Joni Mitchell Sings an Aching­ly Pret­ty Ver­sion of “Both Sides Now” on the Mama Cass TV Show (1969)

Janis Joplin & Tom Jones Bring the House Down in an Unlike­ly Duet of “Raise Your Hand” (1969)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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