As the soul of Davy Jones moves into its next journey, the pop-tonic of grief, praise and nostalgia continues to be served up fresh and strong for the past week. For those of us who are old enough to remember the breakout of the Monkees sound on A.M. radio and network television, we knew then something was different about the band.
Sandwiched between the psychic sex wave of Jim Morrison and the cannabis-stoked mother of all festivals, Woodstock, the quirky animated and corporate -assembled Monkees thrived without any intimidation from the music icons who surrounded them.
Didn’t bother me, either. I found a place for them all. The Monkees, however, were the easiest, most comfortable fit. By now, the Beatles were hanging out in India and having flashbacks, I was too young to travel to Yasgur’s farm and none of the other pop rockers had a bizarro sit-com.
One of my all time favorite Christmas presents was a blue and turquoise polka-dot Sears record player and a copy of Headquarters propped up against it. I had been a die-hard pop rock fan since I was in grade school and my aunt dated a DJ. Access to records was heaven and I figured I had to be happier about the relationship than my aunt.
In the 60s I had a network of radios from transistor to the family car and an Admiral console in the living room. When living in Memphis, Tennessee I burned up the request line at WHBQ where George Klein was kind enough to honor my urges for “Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow.” I felt like my mind and body knew a well-crafted hit tune and I’m sure this occurred to Neil Diamond who wrote the damn thing.
Despite my immense collection of 45s and LPs, radio growing out of my ear, and endless quest for knowledge via 16 and Tiger Beat magazines, I was capable of total dignity loss when it came to the Monkees. I went on to be one of those 12- year-olds who ate Hershey bars and left chocolate kisses on the Magnavox screen.
I’ll never forget the summer night in 1967, when I found three tickets to the Monkee’s concert at the Mid-South Arena laid out on the kitchen table. The whole cost was $15 so I knew Dad had considered himself the big spender of the day and would be immediately and forever worshiped by his two young daughters.
My little sister and I were driven into certain ecstasy by our mother in the comfort of the family’s Ford Ambassador sedan. I felt as if it were a limo that night, maybe even a pumpkin with harnessed mice. Hell, I was going to see the Monkees! The cute one, the serious one, the zany one and the one with the hat. A mantra, but I didn’t know it then.
Mom chain smoked in her stadium seat and Susan and I screamed and jumped louder and longer than we had if our parents had asked us to clean our room. I scrawled my name, message and phone number on a sheet of paper and threw it as far as I could over the railing toward the backstage area after the show. It was a magical moment, a cross between networking and littering. I’m still amazed that a janitor never called.
Almost two decades later, I was working L.A. press with a few industry trades and a few alt-weekly pubs. Not only did I receive a boxed set of the Monkees music from Rhino Entertainment but I was thrilled beyond belief to have the opportunity to see them in concert again.
This time at the Greek Theater and of course, my sister had to fly out. As predicted, we screamed and jumped but the one thing that was different was we got to meet the band. Thanks to my friends at the Rhino label, we were able to spend some quality meet and greet time with our beloved Monkees. Thank you Gary Stewart and Stan Becker for that gesture.
The perfect storm for the night allowed the presence of Michael Nesmith, who donned in a head-to-toe white suit looked like a a Good Humor man or an evangelist – hard to tell – but what’s a media visionary supposed to look like, anyway? Mickey glad-handed as a human cartoon and Peter Tork had an unfortunately loud communication breakdown with the paparazzi but all in all, it was a grand night I spoke mostly with Davy.
I don’t remember much about the event because my blood pressure was probably squirting through my ears. This happens with a true fan. I do recall confessing all my unrequited pre-teen sins to the Brit while waxing on his non-mainstream favorites of mine. We both agreed about “Early Morning Blues and Greens” being a song both sweet and dark.
Davy was cordial, professional and candid. A good human being and one of my favorite singers. (Did you ever notice his British accent makes it through on recordings?). I placed my hands on his shoulders to move into a hug and was astonished that my hands kept sinking down, down…down as the foam shoulder pads finally allowed me to make contact with his clavicle. A plush toy came to mind but I blinked it away. He looked a bit sheepish but grinned all the same. They did not make him look taller, just softer. Hey, it was the 80’s, deny it if you want but we all wore them.
Just over another decade later, my sister and I were reunited in Monkee-dom in Lexington, Kentucky as they performed at the baseball stadium. And as you must know by now, we jumped and screamed for hours.
As a grown-up kid, I have taken on some flack for knowing every Monkees song and for still requesting their tunes on the radio from time to time. For the record, so to speak, I do not like “Last Train to Clarksville” or the Monkees “Hey, Hey” theme song. Apologies to Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart cuz I love the rest of their writing. As for the movie, “Head,” its unbearable acid, pop, Zen isn’t for everyone but was a long way from Harry Nilsson’s “Cuddly Toy.” I’d say light years. Where else would dialogue between Davy Jones and Frank Zappa take place?
I knew many a music critic over the years in L.A. and for the majority of them, Monkees music was solid.
Bill Holdship, former editor at Creem magazine, contributor to Rolling Stone, MOJO, NME and too many to list in this space, was also my long-suffering editor at Bay Area Music or BAM! magazine. To show range, his loyalty runs from Brian Wilson to Davy Jones, Lou Reed to REM. Bill posted on his Facebook page not long after the announcement of Jones’ passing.
“I’m in a state of shock over this one. Talk about a piece of your childhood suddenly vanishing from the earth. So glad I went to the Detroit reunion tour show, which was excellent, last summer. RIP, Mr. Jones.”
As both Holdship and I noticed in the days to follow, the description of “boy band” and how The Monkees ushered in that era, was springing from many a youthful broadcaster’s lips. WTF? Thankfully, Bill set it straight in another statement.
“And those who want to hold onto all the misconceptions about them (such as they were the original ‘boy band’) can bite me. Sick of arguing non-facts. No ‘boy band’ ever recorded ‘The Porpoise Song’ or made a movie like ‘Head.’ And i dare sat that no actual boys, at least the hetero ones, are fans of the modern boy bands. That’s no small difference. The Monkees were one of the ‘gateway drugs” for more than one generation of rock fans and musicians.”
One of the “white hats” in the music business is Gary Stewart. From stocking vinyl in West L.A.’s famed store, Rhino Records to putting the Rhino label on the world map in the 80s and beyond, Gary focused on the odd and the underdog, heroes and history and brought distribution and re-issues up to a major, yet independent, industry level.
He was over the Rhino A&R department and a producer when we became friends. His role with iTunes is the stuff of changing media and his role with LIberty Hill Foundation is the stuff of social justice.
In the middle of all that, Gary and I have one particular thing in common. The Monkees. Remembering not only the big heart of the diminutive singer is one thing, knowing the power behind the songs is another. Stewart recognizes and respects those un-sung talents. I asked him to share his thoughts.
“Overall his passing gives people another chance to reflect on The Monkees and many of the tributes I’ve read have done just that. Most of them contributing to the slow rehabilitation and the understanding that perhaps The Monkees were both natural artists and great artificial pop creators -in the best sense of the word. In many ways they were the white version of Motown who had the best writers and musicians at their disposal as did Colgems-with post-Girl Group era Brill Building songwriters (Carole King, Neil Diamond, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil), Wrecking Crew session musicians(Hal Blaine, Joe Osborn etc) matched with good singers/ performers, That’s on top of Mike Nesmith as a legitimate bonafide singer-songwriter, country/rock artist.”
“But back to Davy – I’ve only realized this since his passing, but in many ways he played the role of picking up the mantle of British Invasion singers like Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, Billy J. Kramer and Gerry Marsden, bringing that style of singing into a band that was moving on to folk-rock, psychedelia, country-rock, bubblegum pop and other strange and new sounds that AM radio in the sixties was offering up. In many ways “Daydream Believer” and “Valleri” are squarely in the middle between British invasion light pop and AM records that tried to incorporate things like psychedelia fuzz and other heavy rock influences. Needless to say a good Greatest Hits or a sampling of any one of their first four albums are all you need to confirm, reaffirm or recommit.”
He gets the last word. And here’s the last song, still my fave.
Go well, Davy!