Seeing the Monkees

by Harry on January 16, 2015

I grew up watching The Monkees on TV. Even when I was 8 or so (when I first watched them) I could tell that the carefree, enthusiastic attitude they seemed to have toward life was not going to be for me, and I was stupid enough to find Davey’s English accent utterly confusing (where did he get that accent from in California, I thought—I was equally befuddled when some character turned up in the Archers with an American accent, having lived in the US for 30 years). But I did love them, and even in my teens, when I my musical tastes were very much for the authentic and not-over-produced (I went, alone, to see Kevin Coyne live at the Marquee, for my 21st birthday, for example), I still enjoyed listening to them, and never blamed them for not being the Beatles, which seemed a pretty minor crime.

So when The Monkees DVDs first came out I bought both seasons, basically on a lark. The kids proceeded to watch them, over and over; and SW, the eldest’s friend, borrowed them for a year during which I suspect she did nothing except watch them. My middle kid is a particular fan, so last spring, when I noticed that the remaining three were performing in Milwaukee, I (with the help of SW) convinced the whole family to go together. A nice woman in Minneapolis who had gotten groupon tickets mistakenly thinking that the performance was there sold me her tickets over CraigsList, and seemed much more concerned about someone using the tickets than getting the money—when I couldn’t get Paypal to work, and given that there was some doubt that her groupons would actually transfer validly (they did), she told me to send her a check once I knew everything was in place. SW’s dad called to ask if he could come along. Which actually put the pressure on me, because he’s i) not a kid and ii) an accomplished and discerning musician. So I got another ticket at the regular price.

There was no opening act. The Monkees stage act combines musical performance (yes, they play their own instruments) with film—and opened with the backing band on stage watching archive footage of the boys auditioning for the TV show. Then, to the sound of Hey Hey…, and with the opening titles of the show up on the screen, three ancient men walked on stage. I had a moment—well more than a moment—of complete horror, thinking how annoyed my party was going to be at seeing three old men who should be in a home singing out of tune on stage. Tork, in particular, looked in a bad way, basically hobbling onto the stage. And they definitely seemed not up to much…. for about 2 minutes. Then, toward the end of the first song, some sort of transformation happened.

Tork has had a hard time lately, and certainly seemed the least on form, but even he sang more or less in tune, and is still a talented physical comic. Nesmith is in good voice, and remains a powerful presence, somewhat in the background. But Dolenz was just incredible. What happened during the first song was that he shed about 40 years, went from being a rather creaky old an to being a fit (if sightly overweight) highly energetic thirty (or, possibly twenty) – something. It was a joy to experience. If anything, as a friend who had seen them just after Davey’s death pointed out, they may be better than when there were 4 of them, because Dolenz has to do more heavy lifting on stage. He is charismatic, seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself, and his voice is true, and in very good shape (I saw in an interview somewhere that he attributes this to having not actually done any singing for a long time: while other singers of the same age were wrecking their voices, he was making children’s TV shows in the UK. They handled Davey’s absence well—never mentioning him, but with a nice musical/video tribute to him strategically timed to be just at the point that you are wondering whether they are going to acknowledge him at all.

When I mentioned seeing them recently to one of my classes, many students had no idea who they were, but one English girl said “Aren’t they all dead?”. I’m glad to report that they’re not. We all had a great time, including SW’s father. See them if you can!

{ 33 comments }

1

Mike Schilling 01.16.15 at 7:24 am

It sounds like the Monkees actually live are doing better than Monty Python filmed live; Terry Jones was literally reading his lines off a cheat sheet, and not well.

2

PJW 01.16.15 at 1:16 pm

What fun! I like several of their tunes. Nesmith is particularly interesting with his mother making a fortune for creating White Out and also for his revolutionary idea of a 24-hour music channel that led to the creation of MTV.

3

Anderson 01.16.15 at 1:50 pm

This may be me at a Sleater-Kinney concert in 30 years.

4

Lynne 01.16.15 at 1:59 pm

What a fun post. I still listen to The Monkees sometimes. Dolenz always had a wonderful voice—“Sometime in the Morning” is still a lovely song. I laughed out loud at your horror at the old men coming out on stage. I have a friend who is my age, who I’ve known for fifty years, and now and then I see her face and am amazed at how old she has got.

5

MPAVictoria 01.16.15 at 2:54 pm

“What a fun post.”

Agreed! It sounds like a great experience. :-)

6

Bill Benzon 01.16.15 at 3:57 pm

I know of the Monkees, of course, and I’ve no doubt heard them incidentally here and there, etc. Which is neither here nor there.

My comment’s about the transformation thing. I’ve read that about many codger/geezer musicians, including conductors (who are, after all, musicians even if they don’t play an instrument during performance). They hobble onto the stage and once they start performing, the years melt away. I’m thinking particularly of Pablo Casals, who performed into his 90s (& married a much younger woman when he was 81 and she 20). The music gets the body in tune and you’re young again.

7

Bruce Baugh 01.16.15 at 4:00 pm

Thanks, Harry! I also have often enjoyed the Monkees, and their show had a lot of genuinely creative weirdness in it. (There was a stretch where in the Los Angeles area, you could watch the Monkees, kill half an hour, and then watch the Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show. That was a good stretch.) I’m really happy to hear how they’re doing now.

8

bluefoot 01.16.15 at 4:06 pm

Nice. I had seen the Monkees on a reunion tour some time in the mid-to-late 80s. They put on a really fun show. They were funny, the music was good, and they (and we) were all obviously having a great time.

9

Alan White 01.16.15 at 4:46 pm

Harry–thanks for this. I watched them as a young teen and appreciated their deliberate projection of stable goofiness as against the ever-molting Beatles at that time.

I especially loved Jones’ voice in “Daydream Believer”–did they cover that with Dolenz?

And I can never forget that Nesmith’s mom invented Liquid Paper in her kitchen (supposedly), leaving him a substantial fortune (sold to Gillette in the 70s for over 40 million!) and making my paper-writing life (precomputer) bearable on my old trusty Smith-Corona.

Pleasant reverie!

10

js. 01.16.15 at 5:31 pm

This sounds amazing! I’m not old enough to have seen the Monkees on TV, but I somehow love them (own several of their LPs, etc). And I would be instinctively wary of seriously old dudes trying to recreate something they first did close to half a century ago, but this is making me rethink that.

11

Shelley 01.16.15 at 5:32 pm

Art gives life.

12

JanieM 01.16.15 at 7:03 pm

Daydream Believer was my slogan during my senior year in high school (1968); it’s in my yearbook blurb! The linked version has a cute bit of byplay right at the start.

Apropos of musicians getting older:

When I was just out of my teens I became strictly a folk music fan, so I missed a lot of other music that came along after the early seventies. In more recent years, some of the music my kids like has grabbed my attention, as have suggestions from CT-ers (Kacey Musgrave and Fleet Foxes among them). And there are times of an evening when I just poke around on YouTube following “related” links and discovering stuff that’s new to me. (It’s never too late!)

One of my music bookmark folders is called Emmylou and Friends. I’ve discovered that I love Emmylou, in part because she’s so often singing with someone, and her voice blends so beautifully with other voices. And that in turn is how I found Mark Knopfler, whom I had never heard of [ducks…..], and am now a little obsessed with. (I had heard of Dire Straits, but I had never been a fan or paid much attention to them. I did enjoy the movie Local Hero when it came out, but without caring to find out whose score it was.)

So the interesting thing for me in relation to Harry’s story about the old guys coming out on stage is that I’ve become acquainted with Mark Knopfler backwards. My first sight of him was from just a few years ago, and my next was the one above (and then many others), with Emmylou. In all of them he’s a guy about my age (just half a year older; although these videos aren’t hot off the presses, for that matter). I watched an hourlong video biography in which he was interviewed a lot and came off as a sort of grand [oldish] man of music (in a good way).

Going back to watch videos of Dire Straits, I’m having to work a bit to absorb the fact that the skinny, sweaty guy with the sleeveless shirts and flyaway hair is the same person as the shaven-headed older, solider guy in the recent videos. With visuals alone it would be harder to make the leap. But when he starts singing or talking, it all makes sense.

13

JanieM 01.16.15 at 7:07 pm

14

JanieM 01.16.15 at 7:11 pm

Okay, I don’t know what’s going on with that link, but I’m on the train, where some stuff is blocked, although apparently some of Youtube works and some doesn’t.

Happy Friday!

15

mdc 01.16.15 at 7:54 pm

They had some good tracks in the ’90s.

16

dairy queen 01.16.15 at 7:54 pm

Seeing Dr. John aka Mac Rebennack a couple of years ago was a very similar experience, although there is some residual sadness there as I kind of suspect that he wouldn’t have been touring if he hadn’t really needed it financially, but who knows.

Dan Rebellato wrote a really wonderful piece, Dr. Theatre, about this from the performer’s side, I very much recommend it: http://www.danrebellato.co.uk/spilledink/2014/9/20/dr-theatre.

“There’s a slightly campy thing that actors say to each other if one of them is ill and has to go on: ‘Dr Theatre will sort you out’. It’s half a joke but half a way of talking about the strange thing that really quite serious debility can sometimes fall away when you step on stage. You feel sick, blocked up, headachey, fluey, but you step on stage and you feel powerful, clear-headed, energised. It tends to be explained as the rush of adrenalin, which is a pain killer and also by raising your body temperature and increasing your heart rate, clearing your head and giving your the feeling of energy. But can it be just that?”

17

TheSophist 01.16.15 at 8:54 pm

JanieM: It was on a thread much like this that I was extolling Knopfler’s music about a year ago and finding to my delight that a couple of folks took the time to check him out as a result. Quite literally last night I was looking at my summer itinerary and discovered to my rapturous joy that he’s going to be in Hamburg right after I’m in Amsterdam, but before I have to be in Berlin. So I’m going to see Mark Knopfler in Hamburg! (Given that I live in Phoenix, this is a very big deal for me.)

ps. Anybody got any suggestions about Hamburg beyond reading lots of LeCarre before I go?

18

Anderson 01.16.15 at 9:06 pm

16: “One of the world’s very greatest history museums“?

There is also said to be a new museum re: the Allied bombing of Germany, which *I* would go to, despite all the first links on Google being to Stormfront-style websites. Richard Overy apparently was a consultant to it, which is a good sign.

19

TheSophist 01.16.15 at 9:13 pm

A thank you to Anderson. Also, one last comment to JanieM – your taste is exquisite, in that you link to “Piper to the End”. A gloriously beautiful song, one that I can never hear without getting a tear in my eye.

20

JanieM 01.17.15 at 1:14 am

@TheSophist – it’s interesting about “Piper to the End,” because if that or “Done with Bonaparte” hadn’t been one of the first ones I heard, I might never have been hooked. I don’t have any real vocabulary for this, but it seems to me that both those songs, and the Local Hero music, are “simpler” than a lot of his other stuff, including what I’ve listened to of Dire Straits, where “simpler” partly means songs for which I could figure out the chords if I wanted to…no augmenteds, no funny “jazz” chords, etc. This is a circular definition….and obviously a completely idiosyncratic one. But maybe you get what I mean: these are, in fact, more like folks songs than a lot of his other music is.

But the next interesting thing is that because I like him so much, I’m listening to a lot of music that isn’t the kind I’ve liked in the past, and that doesn’t immediately grab me, but that is growing on me as I go along.

P.S. I haven’t yet gone back to try and read all of Infinite Jest. Maybe someday. But I’m already on my second trip through The Bone Clocks; does that count? ;-)

21

js. 01.17.15 at 1:29 am

A propos of this post, I was going to mention to TheSophist that there’s a (not very good, from what I remember) Beatles museum in Hamburg (because, iirc, they spent a bunch of time there very early on), but a quick Google search indicates that it’s shut down.

22

ZM 01.17.15 at 1:30 am

I have not really watched The Monkees. Our lovely choir leaders in town are maybe a little bit like a folk music version of The Monkees, they have a family band and have travelled around adventuring together and learn songs they might bring back here. . Two of their daughters put out their first record with another friend as a The Mae Trio last year, which was one of my favourite records of the year

http://youtu.be/nvtyQ5Hw0Dc

23

JanieM 01.17.15 at 1:35 am

P.S. for TheSophist — It’s great that you’ll be able to catch Knopfler in concert! I’m envious! One of the first things I did was look up his tour schedule, but since I won’t be in Europe in the plannable future, there was nothing I could reasonably hope to see. Maybe someday.

24

Ronan(rf) 01.17.15 at 1:36 am

Very nice, ZM. I like it.

25

The Temporary Name 01.17.15 at 2:01 am

26

PatrickfromIowa 01.17.15 at 4:02 am

Son House, whom I saw in Ann Arbor in 1975, labored onto the stage, sat down and ran his slide down the neck of his guitar, and the blues made him ageless.

As the master says,

“We age not by holding on to youth, but by letting ourselves grow and embracing whatever youthful parts remain.”
― Keith Richards

Yeah, they’re old, and ridiculously rich, but the rhythm guitar player still knows a thing or two.

27

PatrickfromIowa 01.17.15 at 4:10 am

Didn’t know this existed until just now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdgrQoZHnNY.

28

Meredith 01.17.15 at 7:51 am

For some reason beyond me now, our children were exposed to the Monkees before the Beatles. They loved the Monkees (those creations of Hollywood — okay, but). Once we realized this, we were distressed. Somehow, the kids have survived. They don’t listen to anything like any of this now, Beatles or Monkees (and lots of classical music training).

29

bad Jim 01.17.15 at 8:02 am

I didn’t watch them on TV, but I did see their movie “Head”, on the recommendation of my brothers, and it was indeed rather strange; I almost regret that I didn’t drop acid beforehand.

Steven Stills, I’ve read, tried out for the show but was rejected because of his teeth. He seems to have managed.

30

David J. Littleboy 01.17.15 at 12:12 pm

Both of the bands I play in have multiple players over 80; they’re all better musicians than I. Some of them cheat: they’re retired pros, and still make music worth listening to (this is a 12-piece big band). But the pianist in the quintet is 85, and only started piano after retiring from his day job. He’s a bit rough around the edges sometimes, but has what it takes to back up singers on standards down pretty cold. (This band does a private party once a month at which 20 or so amateur singers each sing two songs with the band.) I just chunk along with the drummer. I’m retiring a bit early and will be a much better jazz guitarist than I am now when I’m 65. Or at least that’s the plan. (Tokyo’s a good place to like standard jazz, fortunately.)

There’s an imprinting-like phenomenon in which most people really like the music that was popular when they were a teenager. I deeply believe that stuff like the Velvet Underground banana album, Bob Dylan’s early electric stuff with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield, the Paul Butterfield band’s Born In Chicago album, and everything Richard and Mimi Farina did is music that stands the test of time, but probably no one else does. Sigh.

Dave van Ronk’s Luang Prabang is still on my playlist…

31

David J. Littleboy 01.17.15 at 12:26 pm

Speaking of the Rolling Stones, I really liked the John Mayall album* with Mick Taylor and all the Mick Taylor period Stones stuff. (I never found any post-Stones Taylor that I liked though, go figure, sigh). A fellow translator friend here in Tokyo plays guitar in a Stones cover band, and invited me to catch one of his gigs. So I managed to find the hole-in-a-wall bar just as the first set was starting, and had a good time from the far end of the bar from the stage. But here’s were the friends are your worst enemies bit comes in. Said friend just got married, and his wife recognized me, and made space for me at the table by the stage and insisted I come join them. The seat she had cleared for me was the seat the drummer uses to keep his kit from sliding around, and I look up at my friend, and notice that he’s wearing ear protection, and realize I’m in serious trouble. But the good news was that their keyboardist couldn’t make it that night, so they could only play the Mick Taylor period stuff, and it was a blast, albeit a painful blast.

*: OK, so I was easily amused in my youth, sue me.

32

Anon for Now 01.17.15 at 2:58 pm

Your post carried my back into my great-grandmother’s sitting room, watching the Monkees on her console TV. Such great memories that haven’t been triggered in a very long time. Thanks for that. I had no idea that they were (or had been touring) – I’ll be on the lookout.

33

PatrickfromIowa 01.18.15 at 3:16 am

Just listened to a bunch of Mick Taylor Bluesbreakers stuff on Concert Vault (he’s 66 today). Good, good stuff.

John Coltrane would have been 89 this year, Miles Davis as well. 41 and 65 were too damn young.

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