Design on TV: California Dreamin’: The Songs of ‘The Mamas & the Papas’


Sometimes the design gods just give you a good little chuck on the chin to remind you there are delicious lessens of pretty to be learned from your tiny hotel TV. While it would have been easy for us to take the train to bummer town when the faulty satellite of our boob tube prevented us from enjoying NBC’s Thursday night lineup, the tambourine-loving deities sent us to the welcoming arms of PBS for a documentary on the Mamas and the Papas called California Dreamin’: The Songs of ‘The Mamas & the Papas.’ Clever.

While there are multitude of lessons to learn from the group about harmonies, dating, mustaches, LSD and ham sandwiches, the thing that wowzified us the most were the sets they crooned in front of. These were the good old days when evening television shows had sets that didn’t look like the inside of a train station. The multiple performances at The Hollywood Palace and The Ed Sullivan Show included brightly-painted graphic backdrops with swirls, stripes and concentric circles, and a band decked out in equally bold colors and prints.

Check out Cass’s red painterly swirled dress as she sings “Monday Monday.” To steal a trick from the fresh in the ground — Domino, we’d turn that set into a room by taping the shit out of our walls, going color crazy, and then using her dress fabric to upholster our couch. We don’t mean that as a knock, because reed-thin John’s kelly green pants would also make a fantastic seat. Yes, we were going for double entendre. We know what you’re thinking — but Flavorwire, I’m not that into ’60s stuff, or four part harmonies. Well it’s not all swirly pop art. Notice the global bazaar style of Cass’ set as she belts her first solo tune, “Dream A Little Dream of Me,” in front of a blue and green Arabian Nights backdrop, complete with 2-D tent. Also on hand are set props that include: a silver tea service, a candelabra with pink candlesticks, and a pink china coffee cup. The surprising color combo and mix of rich textures — her sherbet-colored silk dress is the perfect foil to a plywood tent for entertaining lovers — is hard to resist. We’ll reminded ourselves to steal our mother’s tea service next time we’re forced to travel home.

Not interested in that either? Well let’s go back to acid trip land for the orange and yellow optical illusion set featured when the band played “Dedicated to the One I Love.” The split lines through the circles appear to be moving even before the drugs hit you (and were obviously inspiring to Animal Collective’s Magic-Eye album cover). If you paint that on your bedroom walls (or find a less DIY-intensive poster to frame), you don’t even need a TV trip out. Just put on some old records, lie down and stare.

But don’t stop reading this column. You need us to tell you what you’re missing.