Nope. I’m not going to do it. This is all hitting too close to home.
By this point, if you read this blog you have likely already heard that Davy Jones of the Monkees passed away, felled by a massive heart attack at the relatively young age of 66. Also, if you read this blog you likely know me, so you know how much I positively adore the Monkees. (The uninitiated can read about my quest to see them in concert last summer here.) Davy being the youngest of the Monkees, I never for a minute thought that he’d be the first one to go. I sat at the computer tonight with every intention of writing a tidy “In Memoriam” post…but it ain’t happening. Right now, there is simply too much love.
The better half and I talk about this concept a lot: every band we love will break up someday. Every musician we love will someday die. (Cue the Flaming Lips’s “Do You Realize??”.) Most of the artists I love are all around the same age, meaning that Michael Stipe, Bono, and Neil Finn could all leave this world around the same time. That’s when you will find me curled up in the fetal position in the corner, clutching a bottle of Bushmills.
The last time a musician died that I loved this much, it was when Paul Hester passed away in 2005. Hester was the ex-drummer for Crowded House. He had apparently been battling depression, and depression won. He was found hanging from a tree, a suicide. I heard the news via a friend’s text message, while hanging out at Renee’s Courtyard Cafe, at the time my Sunday night tradition. Simon and Sid played “Four Seasons in One Day”. I silently wept from my usual perch on the stairs. Good thing there was this charming man at the bar with me, one who kissed me later in the evening for the first time and set me on the road to marriage 5 and a half years later…
But anyway. I choose to write about what the Monkees mean to me. It’s small consolation that Davy was actually my least favorite Monkee. He was still a Monkee, and they wouldn’t have been the same back in the day without him. The Monkees were a source of joy for at least three generations. The first rode the wave of the band’s initial success in the 60s. (And what a huge success it was; their 1967 album Headquarters was the second biggest-seller of the year, behind only Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.) The second, in many cases (like me) the first generation’s children, who got turned onto the TV program via countless late-night airings on Nickelodeon and MTV, sparking an 80s comeback for the Monkees. The third generation may have just been solidifying, seeing as how fledgling network Antenna TV now runs The Monkees constantly.
For me, this tale of Monkee business and fandom began in earnest back in ’05. It was one of those rare Sundays when the gang wasn’t at Renee’s, and my friend Renee (no, she does not own the bar) brought over a DVD with some season 2 episodes of The Monkees TV program. Neither of us had seen the show since we were kids. After one episode, we were happy to have had the childhood flashback, and the evening went on without it. Renee returned the DVD, but decided to watch the rest of the disc first…and an obsession was born. Within what couldn’t have been longer than a month’s time, she owned the whole series on DVD, not to mention most of the albums and more memorabilia than you can shake a tambourine at. More than willing to give my childhood memories another nudge, I started watching the show with her.
Ever since I saw the reruns as a kid as part of that 80s Monkees-revival wave, I’d maintained that my favorite Monkee was Mike Nesmith. He always seemed to be so cool compared to the others, he was Southern like me, and he got all the best one-liners. And, of course, I thought he was the cutest. To this day, I would still proudly wear a t-shirt that says, “Save The Texas Prairie Chicken”. However, something shifted in me when I saw Peter Tork in just the right frame, and I realized that he perfectly fit what my adult self now considered to be my “type”. Many episodes later, I had a new favorite Monkee and a full-blown retroactive crush on Mr. Tork. Peter was the dumb one on the show, but somehow he still had a guileless charm. His innocence and comic timing were definitely appealing. So was his megawatt, absolutely adorable smile.
Our allegiances in place – Renee being firmly Team Nez – we set out, in that all-consuming first flush of a new musical obsession, to see The Monkees in concert. Yeah, seeing all four of them together wasn’t going to happen, and now never will again. But the individual members worked hard for the money, and played surprisingly often in California. In a short span of time – amid crowds where we were not only the youngest people there who could have driven themselves, but we were also the best-dressed – we were entertained by Peter at a book signing and with his latest band, Shoe Suede Blues; by Micky at an outdoor festival; and by Davy at a casino out in Palm Springs that was the epitome of cheese. I mean the casino was cheesy, not the concert. Actually, the concert was pretty cheesy, too. But it couldn’t be denied that Davy, and Micky, and Peter were all consummate entertainers who genuinely seemed grateful for their old fans and new. And the almost-reunion tour in 2011 with Davy, Micky and Peter completely kicked ass – 2 1/2 hours of the best tunes, obscurities from the Head soundtrack going hand-in-hand with “Daydream Believer”. Mike Nesmith, not as eager to take on the Monkee mantel, proved the most elusive; we finally saw him perform a few songs as part of the Watkins Family Hour at Largo back in November 2011.
Through all this concert-going, the Monkees became more human to me because we met them. All except Mike. Again…elusive. Sadly, my encounter with Davy was the briefest; I got his autograph in the lobby of the Egyptian Theater, at a screening of the Monkees’ 1968 cinematic acid trip, Head. We’ve actually met Micky twice – once by design at that festival, and once by accident at an exhibition of Henry Diltz’s rock photography. Micky chatted with us on the street for like 10 minutes, like he’d known us forever. Truly a class act.
Our first encounter with Peter – we’ve met him twice, too – was the most interesting for me. Meeting Mr. Tork at that book signing, I told him how we’d recently rediscovered the Monkees (which made him happy) and that upon watching their show again I realized my favorite Monkee was (and he points at himself with a mile-wide grin) him. Peter practically leaped over the table, arms outstretched for a hug and a kiss on the cheek. We have our photo taken together, I say “thank you” and lean in to give him another kiss on the cheek. And this is where I fell victim (?) to The Turn. The Turn, by my definition, happens when two parties are attempting to kiss, and one wants to steer the location of the kiss, either to get in line with what they think the other wants, or to direct the kiss to a different location than the other intended. Anyway, when I leaned in to kiss Peter on the cheek, he Turned and got himself in line to deliver a big ‘ol smooch right on my lips. “Hmm hmmmm,’ he chuckled like a Frenchman. What a cheeky Monkee! If only I could have reconciled all crushes in my life that easily.
All this fairly recent quality time means that the Monkees aren’t past-their-prime, pre-fab popsters in my world. Nor are they mystical, unapproachable celebs. They’re PEOPLE. I’ve kissed one of them, for Pete’s sake. Losing Davy Jones feels like losing a friend. And so, Davy, I bid you safe travels, and thank you for the time I got to spend in your orbit. I’m still a believer.
Here’s some of my favorite Monkees songs with Davy vocals:
“Cuddly Toy” (written by Harry Nilsson)
“Someday Man” (the B-side for “Listen to the Band”, the Monkees were a trio at this point)
“Star Collector” (take that, groupie!)