As the old line goes, if you can remember the ’60s, you weren’t there. Denny Doherty could remember them better than most, anecdote after anecdote—sharing spliffs with Lennon and McCartney at his pad in London, shooting the breeze with Dylan when he swung by the coffeehouse in the Village with another quatrain for “Blowin’ in the Wind,” neglecting to turn up at Sharon Tate’s party one summer night in 1969 Those boomer rock guys not technically dead are mostly so zonked that, showbiz reminiscence-wise, they might as well be. But Doherty brought an old-fashioned Friars Club polish to rock-and-roll anecdotage.
If he wasn’t there, he at least gave a plausible impression that he’d been nearby for pretty much every seminal event in the decade. At dawn, the morning after the night before, John and Paul went back to the day job, off to Abbey Road to continue working on an LP about someone called Sergeant Pepper; Denny headed back to the party.
It was the Summer of Love. Free love, of course, but the sex came at quite a price. Denny bought Mary Astor’s old house in Laurel Canyon and opened his doors. Everyone who was anyone dropped in to say hello, and a lot of people who weren’t anyone at all dropped in and never dropped out. When he needed a break from the party, Denny’d have to buy the spongers and hangers-on tickets to Europe to get them to leave. But what did he care? It was one unending roundelay of sex and drugs and light vocal harmonizing with the Mamas and the Papas. As one interviewer wrote:
Before they hit the big time, the group dropped acid, smoked dope, and drank. After they hit the big time, the group dropped acid, smoked dope, and drank.
In between came a handful of singles that evoke a pop-culture moment with absolute precision: “California Dreamin,” “Monday, Monday,” “Creeque Alley,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” er well, OK, maybe not a handful. But they’ve held up better across four decades than most of the other stuff in the hit parade back then. And to achieve that pure and translucent and cleanly harmonized a sound on that much hash, heroin, LSD, mescaline, and Black Beauties is quite an achievement.