For being a member of what was called the "Pre-Fab Four," a take-off of the Beatles during the "Hard Day's Night" flavoring, Davy Jones could beat a tambourine and dance around better than most of the 60's pop generation. Alas, today we say a sudden, unexpected farewell to Davy, who passed away from a massive heart attack at age 66. For me, even when I saw him in person, Davy will always be that youthful, boyish Brit with the smooth voice and groovy bell-bottoms.
The television show was an immediate hit in 1966 when it first hit the air. The show wasn't your typical sitcom. It was slapstick, original, witty and the musical interludes were more than entertaining. The Monkees quickly became pop culture icons and found themselves with enough street credibility in the United States to actually become FRIENDS with the Beatles, one of my favorite moments being Michael Nesmith (and perhaps Micky Dolenz, I don't remember) attending the monumental recording of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life" from the "Sgt. Pepper" album. I have a picture of Lennon and Nesmith sitting beside one another and another one of Harrison and Lennon chewing the fat that just warm my heart.
I give The Monkees a lot of credit for escaping their pre-fabrication and fake-band image by releasing later albums that weren't governed by Colgems Records (a division of the production team of the accompanying television show) and irritating, controlling record producer Don Kirshner. When you think about it, yes, the Monkees were a fake pop band when they started out, with only Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith as the "real musicians" in the group, who's musical abilities were largely ignored in favor of them being replaced by studio musicians early on, but then they sort of got all punk on the music business, lobbied and won to fire Kirshner and took over creative control of all of their music, starting with the release of their first real album, "Headquarters" in 1967. That same year, they'd release one of my favorite albums of all-time, "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd."
The Monkees also deserve credit for introducing pop culture to performers at the ending of several shows who would ultimately become iconic in their own fields, such as the late folk singer Tim Buckley, playwright and musician Charlie Smalls, who wrote the musical "The Wiz," and my favorite Monkee moment, Frank Zappa (before the Mothers really hit it big) and Michael Nesmith in a vignette pretending to be one another, after which they were shown smashing up an old car with giant hammers and called it "playing a car." That's just brilliant!
The television show and massive, crazy tours (liken it to screaming Beatlemania) would last merely from 1966-1968, when, during a world tour, someone had the EXTREMELY POOR idea of hiring a young Jimi Hendrix to be the opening act for this pop band. His sexual overtones and heavy acid rock flavors didn't taste good on the tongues of the largely youthful audience at a Monkees concert.
Nesmith would regale in later interviews that all the screaming girls would shout out "DAVY!" when Hendrix would try to sing the "FOXY!" part of "Foxy Lady." Very early on in the tour, Hendrix would ultimately give the screaming the crowd the finger and he quit the tour.
Burnout and in-house conflict between the members (Tork being the first to leave the group), and malaise after their psychedelic failure of a feature film, "Head," would bomb and ultimately pare down the foursome to a trio, then a duo (Jones and Dolenz hung on until the bitter end). It's a shame that "Head" didn't get the credit it deserved, even if it was written in a hotel room with a very young Jack Nicholson, everybody smoking pot and poor publicity since the TV show was cancelled in 1968. Just 2 seasons of the show, I *think* 48 or 58 episodes in all, which thankfully I now own all of on DVD.
"Head" remains one of my favorite movies of the 60's. It was The Monkees' last chance to exert themselves as serious artists, and has a great soundtrack, even if the plot was choppy and their entire purpose was to dissect and kill their fluffy pop band image, rebelling against corporate music. It's not every day when you find Annette Funicello and Frank Zappa in the same flick, you know?
My first exposure to The Monkees was when I was 4 years old. (I had the unusual memory to learn songs and remember words and musical groups even back then.) I went to a garage sale with my mom and bought a beat up copy of their second album, "More of the Monkees" (1966) for like a nickel. AT THE TIME, anyway, I took a pen and inked out the faces of every other Monkee except Davy Jones, who as, well, a pre-schooler, I thought was the cute one. Come on, I *liked* all of them, but what would compel me to black out all of the faces except for Davy's?
Soon, though, I dumped Davy for Michael Nesmith, ol' "Wool Hat." (I guess Davy was simply too young, short and fresh-faced for my tastes by the time I turned 6 or something.) Michael Nesmith was the first celebrity I wanted to marry when I was a little girl.
My brother and I would watch Monkees reruns EVERY day. We knew all the songs, knew the dialogue of the shows, and then as years went on, they sort of went off the air and off the musical radar until a comeback tour was announced in 1986, with The Monkees making an appearance together (with Nesmith) in Los Angeles for a one-nighter reunion of the original 4 of them.
Nesmith would bow out of the comeback tour (his mom having invented Liquid Paper and him having a load of cash and not to mention, he was too intellectual and had his own projects on which he was working...), leaving Davy, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork to perform as a trio. I saw this concert at the (former) Rosemont Horizon in Chicago, as they headlined, backed by Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits and Gary Puckett. The Monkees stole the show, however, and that was when the new wave of Monkeemania hit the world. I fell in love with all-things-Monkee all over again, even if it wasn't the cool thing in high school (but come on, I liked INXS before the world had heard of them in high school, so I was both ahead and behind my time).
Tours would continue with the trio over the next few years, one memorable one I saw with Weird Al as the opening act during the summer out in Tinley Park (whatever incarnation of that venue was called at the time, I don't remember). Davy, Micky and Peter released an album of all new songs, called "Pool It" that was well-received but in hindsight not very good (from a critical standpoint). To me, anyway, "Pool It" was a back step into unoriginal, flaky pop that wasn't awesome the way their other songs were awesome.
In 1996, the complete original lineup (including Nesmith) would gather together and record one last original album, "Justus." Critically slammed, sort of banal and by that time, the 60's weren't the cool thing anymore. Remember, in the 90's, the 70's were resurrected as the "it" decade to trend along with. (What a scary thought. Does that mean in 2012, we're now idolizing musicians from the 90's? Heaven help me!)
I had the extreme pleasure of meeting and chatting up the late Davy Jones twice in the late 80's (look, we both had mullets!) when he was doing book signings and appearances for his autobiography, "They Made a Monkee Out of Me." I was a 15/16-year old Monkeemaniac, also a Beatlemaniac, and loved all classic rock/pop, though I wasn't above listening to and enjoying The Cure, REM and college rock bands too.
I knew Davy was short, having known he was a horse jockey for many years, and having seen him onstage, but I couldn't get over how much shorter he was than I was. He was delightfully smiley, took his time with all the fans and posed for hundreds of pictures along with nutty teens like me and women (chiefly) who were caught up in Monkeemania in the 60's.
"Justus" and a made-for-television special that all 4 members participated in was truly the group's last hurrah and final chance to hit it big again, but timing and quality of product eluded them. The trio went on another tour, in which Nesmith chose not to participate. That said, their legacy and contribution to popular music all over the world is an indelible imprint.
After I got the 2 seasons of the show on DVD, Luke would watch them with enthusiastic curiosity and he enjoyed them very much when he was younger. Luke was also saddened today when I gave him the news on the car ride home that Davy Jones had passed away.
(Apart from meeting Davy, my other personal Monkee connection is work I did on Michael Nesmith's first beta incarnation of his online web-world community, Videoranch (www.videoranch.com). Videoranch was looking for people willing to critique and help Nesmith launch his web-world, and I emailed his wife my resume with what I must say, woot to me, was the most well-crafted cover letter I've ever written. Nesmith's reaction when his wife (also his working partner) showed it to him was "Call her first. Call her NOW." We never met in person, but Nesmith was the first person to give me advice about stage fright when I first joined my band in '06. He's a helluva guy too. I'd still marry him.)
Forgiving and forgetting the group's inner conflicts and appreciating the time Jones and Nesmith grew together are evident in the comment Papa Nez (as he's called) published on Videoranch today after hearing the news that Davy died.
I loved his written tribute:
"From Nez..... "All the lovely people. Where do they all come from? So many lovely and heartfelt messages of condolence and sympathy, I don’t know what to say, except my sincere thank you to all. I share and appreciate your feelings. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. While it is jarring, and sometimes seems unjust, orstrange, this transition we call dying and death is a constant in the mortal experience that we know almost nothing about. I am of the mind that it is a transition and I carry with me a certainty of the continuity of existence. While I don’t exactly know what happens in these times, there is an ongoing sense of life that reaches in my mind out far beyond the near horizons of mortality and into the reaches of infinity. That David has stepped beyond my view causes me the sadness that it does many of you. I will miss him, but I won’t abandon him to mortality. I will think of him as existing within the animating life that insures existence. I will think of him and his family with that gentle regard in spite of all the contrary appearances on the mortal plane. David’s spirit and soul live well in my heart, among all the lovely people, who remember with me the good times, and the healing times, that were created for so many, including us. I have fond memories. I wish him safe travels."
(Nesmith was best friends with the late science fiction writer Douglas Adams, what do you expect?) If only we all had such a beautiful conception of the frailty of mortality and the force of the soul in the universe.
Today is sorrow-filled for family, friends and fans of Davy Jones. I posted the whimsical "Daydream Believer" on my Facebook, because Davy just shines in that video clip as a front man. But for now, quietly, I'll say goodbye to one of my childhood idols with this melancholy track from "Headquarters," called "Shades of Gray."
"But today there is no day or night. Today there is no dark or light. Today there is no black or white. Only shades of gray...."