January 20, 2007

"Denny, you know there aren't many who can sing a song the way that you do..."

Goodbye to Denny Doherty.

The Mamas and the Papas, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, were one of the first major rock groups to include both women and men in equal performing roles, with Mr. Doherty, Mr. Phillips, Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot striking an image of casual, collegiate friendship. In reality, they were a destructive tangle of love affairs, accompanied by plenty of drugs and alcohol.

“It was an untenable situation,” Mr. Doherty said in an interview with The New York Times in 2000. “Cass wanted me, I wanted Michelle, John wanted Michelle, Michelle wanted me, she wanted her freedom. ...”
Everyone loved Denny.

Here's Denny's own telling of the story of the Mamas and the Papas, if you can get to it. (I'm seeing "bandwidth exceeded.")

How well I remember when their first album came out. What an impression it made, including the amazing cover photo:

See the sign superimposed over the toilet. The original photo, with toilet in full view, was considered too scandalous. But we still have the four singers crowded into the bathtub. That's Denny, over in the corner, underneath the beautiful Michelle and the luscious Cass. What an amazing life lay ahead -- we thought -- if those four hippies could get in the bathtub together like that.

And drink out of the same hat:

"The Mamas and the Papas Deliver." What a great album!

Note the continuing theme of shared, water-containing vessels. What did that mean? Like everything else about the Mamas and the Papas, it meant a world of peace, love, and understanding, achieved through communal living and musical harmony.

Back in the real world, those sexual crosscurrents broke up the group. But there were a couple years -- 1966 and 1967 -- when they seemed exactly perfect. I'm sure my life would have been completely different if I had not gazed on those two album covers and heard the songs inside and wildly imagined what these people were singing about:
You gotta go where you wanna go,
Do what you wanna do
With whomever you want to do it, babe


Ruth Anne Adams said...

Wake me when all the boomerism is done.

Meade said...

“It was an untenable situation,” Mr. Doherty said in an interview with The New York Times in 2000. “Cass wanted me, I wanted Michelle, John wanted Michelle, Michelle wanted me, she wanted her freedom. ...”

Everyone loved Denny.

Yes, but we all wanted Michelle.

Slowjack said...

I guess I'm too young (born in 1970) to get the full effect of that first cover. All I can think about are those greengrocer's apostrophes. The Mama's and the Papa's...what?

Then again, maybe I'm old enough to be a fogey because I'm a bit wistful about the idea that at one point, an album cover would have been scandalous because it included a toilet.

The Drill SGT said...

I heard them live at the Filmore West in 67. They put on a great show. Cass had the stronger voice, but God, was Michelle just honey for the ears and eyes ;)

David said...

Thanks for the post and the video, Ann. Creeque Alley was a great choice - they certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves (whatever the backstory might be).

What marvelous talent! What great voices and harmonies! What terrific songs! And now three are gone.

Go back to sleep, Ruth Anne. We're going to be around for a while longer. It's unfortunate if you're not able to appreciate this group, whatever your age. I've already begun exposing my nine-year-old daughter to this kind of music - she's a huge Elvis fan.

Rest in peace, Denny.

Brent said...

Mama's and the Papa's:

The best group of the 60's

apologies to everyone who might think differently (you're wrong)

Meade said...

Careful with those irreverent boomer-dissing wisecracks, Ruth Anne. You could end up in 60's Hell.

Duck said...

Poor Mama Cass. Did anyone have sex with her?

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Drill Sergeant: I'm 43. I was born in 1963. I'm a Baby Buster--which fell from 1958-1968. There were 10 consecutive years of rapidly declining birth rates. I surely benefited from the Boomers--new schools, new openness to women, and other things, too. But, good God, you're not the ONLY generation in this country.

The music is fine, but the narcissism of many of that era is just tiresome. And now we have a whole fleet of Boomers running for president except two--McCain and Obama. Perhaps therein lies some of their appeal.

Ann Althouse said...

Ruth Anne: You do realize that this post is a tribute to a man who just died?

Anonymous said...

I'm also at the tail-end of the Boomers, and I'm with Ruth Anne; I'm sick and tired of their "We're the only generation that mattered" mentality.

That being said, I do love "California Dreaming" - especially in January, when it's -10, and snowing!

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Drill Sergeant and Dave: I addressed my last post to Drill Sergeant erroneously. It was meant for Dave. Sorry.

Professor A: Of course I know he's dead. Eternal rest grant unto him and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

My comment on boomerism was directed toward your post more than his life.

David said...

As it happens, I'm also at the tail end of the boomers (born in late 1958). I consider myself a boomer more than a buster, but who knows? In any case, I'm missing the arrogance and "we're the best generation" that Dawn and Ruth Anne seem to think inhabit boomers (does my Elvis comment count?). There's certainly none of it in Ann's post.

I have been thinking about this, though, since Ruth Anne's second comment. Perhaps the problem is the fragmentation of the music scene starting in the 70s and being pretty much complete by now. In the 60s, everybody was mostly listening to the same stuff, so it's easier for the generation as a whole to identify with certain groups and singers. Are there popular performers today who will draw such universal nostalgia in twenty or thirty years. Marc Fisher in today's Washington Post magazine addresses this fragmentation issue to some extent.

Still, I see nothing in Ann's original post that smacks of "generationalism." I could well imagine her writing something similar about Springsteen or Norah Jones, if either of them were dead and their music had a profound effect on her life.

Chad said...

Best example of the beauty of Mr. Doherty's voice:

"Do You Wanna Dance" from the first album.

Probably the best version of that track and has never been given it's due for John Phillip's arrangement and Denny's performance.

Anonymous said...

The 'You don't understand...' vocal line in "Go Where You Wanna Go" is just fantastic, and the following section neatly expresses the conflict between the buoyancy of the chorus and the lonely feelings of the girl left 'three thousand miles' behind. A slightly deeper song than many Top 40 hits of the time...

Anonymous said...

Ruth Anne, Dawn et al.

Piece of advice.

Don't read the posts you don't like.