“I’m living my life instead of watching it. I’m free.” Mackenzie Phillips, High on Arrival, A Memoir
“High on Arrival,” is the memoir of 70’s TV sitcom star and singer Mackenzie Phillips. Best known for her role as “Julie Cooper” on the TV sitcom “One day at a time” and as vocalist in her father’s re-vamped musical group the New Mama’s and the Papa’s, Mackenzie Phillips chronicles a life of drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll common in an era defined by tumultuous and excessive living, the difference being that Mackenzie Phillips was exposed to this lifestyle at a very young and impressionable age. When other kids her age were playing hide and go seek, Mackenzie was weaving in and out of two homes, her mother’s home where in her early childhood there was some semblance of order and responsibility, and her father’s home where hedonism was the name of the game. Mackenzie Phillips teetered on the edge of both of these worlds, but in the end, it was the anything goes, no discipline, no limits lifestyle that would engulf and define her childhood and the better part of her adulthood.
From the very beginning of the book, Mackenzie Phillips sets the reader on a winding and quickly unraveling road laced with drugs, sex, and complete self- destruction. Given the world that Mackenzie Phillips was raised in, it should come of no surprise that she fell prey to the destructive lure of drugs and alcohol, resulting in her total rejection of all stabilizing forces in her life. Without honing in on the specifics of the book, something that I believe would taint ones gut reaction to the storytelling, Mackenzie Phillips off the charts drug use and other manifestations of destruction stirred in me an intense reaction that in the end made me question myself more than Mackenzie. Peeling back the layers of my reaction to the experiences shared by Mackenzie throughout the book, I was able to focus in on a broken woman, broken by a disturbing and deranged upbringing and adulthood which crossed into the early parts of her role as mother to her son Shane. Viewing the book through the lens of Mackenzie’s broken self helped, in part, to place into the context the extreme and foolish behavior she engaged in, as well as understand why the “Aha” moments I believed should have come at several points in her life never appeared. This is not to say that I give a pass to or condone the behaviors depicted throughout the book, behaviors that Mackenzie herself denounces. I simply realized that there was no way I could relate to the utter insanity and hell that her life devolved into, no more than I can understand the tales of the seemingly normal and traditional upbringings detailed in some memoirs.
The ironic and tragic reality of Mackenzie’s life is that it was couched in the counter- cultural movement of the sixties and seventies, a movement that promised its followers freedom from establishments that sought to enslave them. Sadly, much of this movement was marred by perilous and excessive drug, alcohol, and sexual exploits that left not only lasting and destructive consequences for its followers, but accomplished the very thing it set out not to fall victim to, enslavement. Enslavement to drugs and alcohol ravaged many of this cultures devotee’s, for some resulting in death i.e. Janis Joplin Mackenzie Phillips was close to death’s door, she managed to evade death’s grip but at a very heavy cost. However, today, it seems that Mackenzie Phillips has remained on the course of sobriety and one can only hope that she will continue down that path. For me, Mackenzie Phillips memoir highlighted the dangers of a life with no boundaries, seared with rampant drug use and other forms of abuse. Although I cannot claim to relate to the privileged and utterly dysfunctional environment she was raised in, like all good memoirs, Mackenzie Phillips memoir ropes the reader into a space where understanding and empathy can grow.
“High on Arrival” is an extremely raw, and oftentimes, disturbing book. Understandably, some of the subjects discussed in this book are too rough for sensitive readers, but for those otherwise inclined, I would highly recommend this book. In my opinion, this book is a definite page-turner that will challenge the way you process how family relationships and experiences influence our lives.