Geoff Pevere: Monkee Love

When she heard the news Davy Jones had died, my daughter rang me from work. I can’t tell you how cool this was. She’s twenty-four and she’s always understood that a formative event in the obsessional unhinging of her old man was the first airing of The Monkees in 1966. Whatever the old man had become, and whatever pop culturally-prone material of his had managed to splash over from one generation to the next, was somehow accounted for by that fact. Somehow.

I was in the latter months of my eighth year when The Monkees arrived on TV, and I was proof that the band’s creators – Burt Schneider and Bob Rafelson – were right: there was a market for a pre-packaged pop band created exclusively for TV, and that the key word in that equation was TV. While the earthquaking successes of Elvis and the Beatles could be in no way extrapolated from their exposure on the medium, the fact was they were both acts that existed as recording entities first. TV helped rocket both to stratospheric status, but it didn’t launch them. What would happen to a pop band if it did?

Taking much of their inspiration from the Marx Brothers-goes-Mod model of Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, Schneider and Rafelson – whose film production company, BBS, would also vault the director-driven, short-lived golden age of the Hollywood 1970s – conceived of the show as a pre-packaged pop phenomenon that would blend some of the insurgent subversive energy of the era with the safe-as-milk formula of a family-friendly sitcom. Herein lay the fundamental schizophrenia of the show – in which the four carefully hand-picked band members (Jones, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and, my top fave, Micky Dolenz) would run around wreaking mild havoc while trying to make ends meet as a band. Naturally, they lived together in an awesomely funky open-concept loft-type apartment, and – not quite so naturally, but inevitably nevertheless – there would be no dramatic development that couldn’t be enlisted in the service of introducing yet another musical number. This, if you’d asked my eight year-old self, was the raison d’etre of The Monkees: the pop songs you could watch as well as sing along to. Everything else was mere filler to me, what I wanted was the music.

Interestingly, the real reason why these musical interludes on the show took the proto-music video, stream-of-consciousness, pop psychedelic free-form weirdness that they did was as much practical as visionary. At the time the show made it to air, the band members weren’t yet playing their own instruments, and the sheer pace of keeping the program up with record sales – and vice versa — meant that the music had to be played with whatever pictures could be conjured up and produced on the spot: so let’s have the guys running around in slow motion chased by people dressed up in animal costumes? What do you say? And maybe throw some fast motion and backward stuff too? How about unicycles? That might be cool.

Needless to say, I loved the shit out of it, and within less a month after the first airing my bedroom wall had become a shrine to the best-new-all-time-best-ever-group-ever. I knew every song there was to know, owned every record there was to own – which, at the time, amounted to one – and even composed a creative writing composition on how the only thing standing between The Monkees and even more untold glory and greatness was me. Only if I were in the band – as I was in this story, which my mother preserved for future generations’ benefit – would The Monkees reach their full articulation of artistic and popular phenomenality.

Since they failed to heed this advice from the now nine year-old career management guru living in London, Ontario, the band inevitably declined in popularity and went off the air after two seasons. If only they’d listened. But the point is I did, and I’d go on listening for years. While I might have drifted from my state of active enthusiasm for the band shortly after the show was cancelled in ’68 (although I did go and see, and was suitably brain-scrambled by, the Monkees-go-Godard band-movie Head later the same year), there was something in the band’s music that always found them enjoying at least some rotation in my own personal musical playlist. There were certain Monkees songs – I’m A Believer and Stepping Stone most prominently among them – that I could never tire of listening of, and this despite the fact that my increasingly fickle adolescent musical enthusiasms were sometimes downright hostile to anything smacking of bubblegum. On the surface, that is. Deep down I was a pop guy pure and simple, and there was something pure, simple and somehow true in the best of the Monkees’ music. (When the Sex Pistols played Stepping Stone, my heart leapt like a spring fawn.) My personal jukebox always had some of Davy Jones’ band’s music programmed into it, and it still does. At the root of all my musical enthusiasms, which have only multiplied, expanded and disseminated even more widely over the years, is the sound of More of the Monkees playing in scratchy mono on the record player that sat on my bedroom floor. Over and over and over again.

– 30 –

Geoff Pevere‘s column appears every Friday.

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Geoff Pevere has been writing, broadcasting and teaching about movies, media and popular culture for over thirty years. He can’t help himself. His column appears every Friday.

4 Responses to “Geoff Pevere: Monkee Love”

  1. Jim Chisholm in Campbell River Says:

    Thanks for sharing Geoff. I remember that spring … or was it early summer of 1966. As it turned out I was going through my first season of serious guitar playing. While me and my friends at the age of 13+- were well into the edgier sounds of The Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds and The Animals, The Monkees were just too much fun and each new show was a party in the rec room. Stepping Stone was one of those first songs that we learned and some other delightful songs like Last Train To Clarkesville, I’m Gonna Buy Me A Dog and even the totally mushy I Wanna Be Free were in rotation too. We got the memories. RIP Davey.

  2. I loved the Monkees when I was a kid…the music, the TV show…The bubble gum cards. I haven’t thought about those guys much until this week. My twenty-four year old son went through a Monkees phase, musically that is, when he was about ten…don’t know if he ever checked out the TV show on the internet…Anyway, TV was cool then, …Not the reality show that it is now. 😦 I forget …was there Monkee angst?… M*A*S*H* will always be my favourite.:)
    RIP Mr. Jones

  3. Chrisitne Says:

    I was born in 64, so I was a mere toddler when the series first aired. But, I remember even at that young age, the reruns, the albums, and the posters on my wall. By the time I was three I was able to work my record player to hear my favorite Monkees songs. Because of the love I had for their music, at such an early age, I became a professional musician and music teacher. I will never forget their influence and the music that keeps me smiling even today.

  4. If you couldn’t have the Beatles on TV every week, the Monkees were a damn fine substitute! Full of good humor and great songs, I loved these guys and still do.
    It was a shock. Thanks for the good times Davey.

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