Origin of Species

There are some things that have been so much a part of me for so long that I usually don’t think to bring them up to new people I meet. Like my years as a relatively serious classical musician, my vegetarianism, or my long-term obsession with The Monkees.

That’s right. The Monkees. The 1960s rock group.

Usually the first remark out of someone’s mouth when I mention this is a comment about how they “didn’t play their own instruments” or they’ll just start singing one of the well-known tunes like The Monkees theme song (“Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees, people say we monkey around, but we’re too busy singin’ to put anybody down…” Actually, most people don’t even know past the “monkey around” line). Besides being extremely annoying, it proves of course, that this person has no knowledge of The Monkees at all. So maybe it’s not terribly surprising after all that I don’t bring it up with new friends.

My fandom goes back to the summer of 1989, when I was flipping through television channels one afternoon during summer vacation. I happened upon a goofy man riding a wooden sawhorse, saying “The British are coming! The British are coming!” The man standing next to him, wearing a British Revolutionary War uniform, eyed the man on the sawhorse sternly. Their eyes met, and after a brief pause, the man on the wooden sawhorse said, “….over to my house for a party tonight.” (Hear the scene here.)

That was just the beginning.

Nearly 20 years later, I have met all four of The Monkees at least once. I have a fairly large collection of memorabilia spanning from pre-Monkees solo albums to their recently-published novels. I have Monkees friends across the United States that I have known and communicated with for a very long time (holla, Jen!), including some who do awesome covers and post them on YouTube (holla, Geoff and Joe!). A couple of years ago, I even had a group of around 20 people squeeze into my teeny house to look at my sizeable collection and laugh at clips from the infamous television special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee. (Photos from that visit here.)

FAQ

How pervasive was/is this fandom?
I want to avoid embarrassing myself here. Let’s just say that my entire sophomore honors English class was well aware of my obsession, as were many others. Although I am way less obsessive these days, about a week ago I told my mother how I knew about something through association. After explaining, she sighed and retorted, “only you would know something like that because of how it relates to The Monkees!”

Why do you like The Monkees, even as an adult?
The zany television show that originally hooked me when I was younger is a bit tiring to watch today, mostly because of the use of the overly loud laugh track. The second season is much less tiring, as you can see here.

Today, the reason I like The Monkees so much is that Peter, Mike, Micky, and Davy came from such different backgrounds and brought a diversity of musical styles to the group. Coming into the group, Davy was a Tony-nominated musical theater professional, Micky had roots in grittier rock ‘n’ roll, Peter was a classically trained musician who was mostly performing folk music, and Mike had mostly done country but was starting to evolve musically into country-infused rock.

If I listen to music the four made as The Monkees, I can listen to soul, twangy rock, classical, traditional folk music, slightly psychedelic music, and more, including songs that defy description.

Modern offerings (which I mostly listen to these days) include blues, tropical-infused rock, accoustic folk rock (holla JLS!), and more awesome stuff that defies description. And humor. Such humor from the guy who was always called “the serious one!”

In other words, there’s something Monkees-related to go with almost any mood, musical style, or time period. I won’t say I listen to something Monkees-related every single day, but I might. Certainly several times a week.

Which of The Monkees is your favorite?
This is a really tough question.  Originally Micky Dolenz was my favorite, as he was the clown, sang most of the best songs, and had an unusual look. When my peers were gaga about New Kids on the Block, I was swooning over someone 33 years older than me.

The warm and squishy feelings in my heart these days are shared by Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith. Both of them are complete human beings, and have involved themselves in a variety of interesting projects. I’ve enjoyed seeing how they’ve evolved as musicians and as people.

Peter is extremely down to earth and a love for humanity oozes out of his pores, especially when in the small folk clubs I think he’s most at ease performing in. He continues to involve himself with interesting new projects to share his excellent musicianship–and while he acknowledges his Monkees past in his new work, he doesn’t limit himself by being bound to it, as other ex-Monkees seem to be. Recently he has written a couple of insightful newspaper pieces (here and here), discussing his cancer battle and thoughtfully relating his experience with fame to the Michael Jackson issue. He’s a really  lovely man.

Nez is a constant experimenter. He produced the awesome cult movie Repo Man, won the first video Grammy, started a company that exclusively released PBS shows onto video for years, created a new age-y album/book meant to be experienced together, has written a couple of full-length novels, developed a highly interactive website using experimental technologies and ideas, developed an organ for his church, oversees the Council on Ideas, and more. Any other person with such a large inheritance might just spend the rest of their lives living on a tropical island–but Nez continues to produce new work in all media. Musically, he has evolved from a straight-up twangy country musician to a guy who can deliver a smooth, tropical interpretation of Cole Porter. Nez is about reinvention, although I also love his brainyness and his humor.

My favorite has NEVER, EVER been Davy Jones. Perhaps it’s because I’m almost always a contrarian about those seen as “the cute one.” I do appreciate his musical theater ability, although on camera it comes off looking cheesy as hell.

Which piece in your collection are you proudest of?
An original poster of The Monkees’ 1968 movie Head, which I bought in 1996 at a collector show. At the time of release the movie fared poorly because the circular plot and psychedelic execution confused all the teenyboppers who came to see their pop rock idols, but the movie has since achieved cult classic status.  I snatched the poster up and eventually saved enough money to have it framed in archival-quality materials. It hangs in my living room and regularly incites great conversation.

Did Charles Manson audition for The Monkees?
No. Not only because he was in jail at the time, but he was also well above the age range they were looking for.

Did The Monkees really not play their own instruments?
Yes, and no. Each member of The Monkees did play instrument(s) and have a background in some sort of music upon being hired. Micky had played guitar, and did need to quickly learn how to play drums. Three of the four guys had even released records before being part of The Monkees.

Studio musicians were commonly used by other bands at the time, even for groups like the Beach Boys. The Monkees record executives decided to use studio musicians on the first two albums, The Monkees and More of The Monkees.

Circumstances around the release of the second album made the four guys rise up against their studio boss Don Kirschner (including an incident where Nez allegedly put his fist through the wall and said “that could have been your face!”). Subsequently, the guys played on all following albums.

Any questions I can answer for you about The Monkees or my fandom thereof?

Uh…are you still awake?
Hello? Is this thing on?

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Origin of Species

  1. Shirley Eugist

    Save the Texas Prairie Chicken!

  2. I enjoyed this very much and posted a link to it on Facebook!

    • Therra, I’m also preparing a post about my adventures following Two Man Band around New England about ten years ago. It requires doing scanning some photos, but look for it soon-ish!

  3. MCM

    …but would the Monkees have been the Monkees and as successful without the cute, did you say cheesy one? All of the parts had to come together to make the one successful unit.

  4. Daena

    I found your blog post through Therra’s link on facebook and yes, I’m still awake. Like you, my peers do not always understand my appreciation of these musicians who became a large part of my growing-up years. I get a lot of “rolling of the eyes” when I mention it. I “found” The Monkees back in 1977 during summer vacation when they surfaced on a local UHF station. While I do vaguely remember their original 60’s run (I was 2 when it debuted), it was in the 70’s that their music became part of the fabric of my everyday life. I have fond memories of those days, even holding our cassette tape player mic up to the tiny TV speaker to record the tunes. For me, the joy over the ensuing years has been following the individual careers of these talented gentlemen and finding that there is so much more to them than meets the eye. If only the viewers back then had realized that TV isn’t reality…but wait…isn’t “Reality TV” reality?…some things never change.

  5. Pingback: On The Death of the Monkees’ Davy Jones | bookish

  6. Pingback: Geek Cred (or: An Argument for Encouragement) | bookish

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