Last week, The Monkees released a great new single called "She Makes Me Laugh." This week, The Monkees released another great new track, "You Bring The Summer," which will appear alongside "She Makes Me Laugh" on The Monkees' new album Good Times!, which is due out May 27th.
I'm a first-generation Monkees fan. I discovered The Monkees TV show during its first season on NBC, fall of 1966, prompted by my sister (who, as I've previously noted, sold it to me by describing the show's scene-to-scene transitions as "like Batman, but with a guitar instead of a bat"). I became a bigger fan via subsequent reruns in the early '70s, and via listening to my brother's copies of the first two Monkees LPs, The Monkees and More Of The Monkees. In high school, I would catch reruns of The Monkees on those sporadic occasions when our local cable provider would deign to allow us access to WNEW in New York. And I noticed that some of the TV episodes contained songs that weren't on those two Monkees albums; plainly, there was some serious catching-up to be done!
So I found copies of two more Monkees albums at the flea market: Headquarters and The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees. Still missing vital Monkees music, I acquired Arista's perfunctory Greatest Hits album--the only Monkees album in print in 1976--just to get "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and an unfamiliar song called "Listen To The Band." But the true missing link (har!) was a Monkees album called Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. I didn't even know it existed. But one of my friends knew; I will always love her for that.
Linda McLaren was one of my best pals in high school. I have no recollection whatsoever of how we became friends. I think we met in math class, and we somehow wound up occasionally hanging with each other, particularly after she joined me on the staff of my first regular writing gig, our high school newspaper, The NorthCaster.
It's worth noting that there was never any hint of romance between Linda and me. Which is kinda strange in retrospect; as a teenager, I fell for nearly every pretty girl I ever saw, though only one or two of these attractions were ever reciprocated in high school. And I thought Linda was very pretty; looking back, it seems odd that I was good, dear friends with this pretty girl, and it never even occurred to me to seek a different kind of relationship with her. She did say she had an older boyfriend, in the service. Maybe that was enough to prevent thoughts of maybe-more-than-friends from ever invading my head. Linda was one of a few female cohorts I had in high school, and (with few exceptions) I regarded them the same way I regarded Linda: as friends.
NorthCaster staff members often brought in records to play on the office's industrial-strength turntable. In addition to my Beatles albums, my favorite LPs to bring in were Raspberries' Best and The Sweet's Desolation Boulevard, plus a really weird two-record compilation called Heavy Metal. (Heavy Metal, a Warner Special Products cheapie, certainly presented the broadest parameters for its titular genre I ever did see, including tracks from Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, and--awright!--The MC5, but also Yes, War, Dr. John, The J. Geils Band, The Eagles, The Allman Brothers, and The Grateful Dead. Rock, dude!)
And Linda brought in some terrific stuff, largely based on conversations we'd had about the prime 1960s rock 'n' roll that I was in the process of rediscovering and revering. Linda had a double-album British Invasion collection. Linda had The Kinks' "Lola" 45, which I played non-stop (to the consternation of the rest of the NorthCaster staff). And Linda had not one, not two, but three Monkees albums I'd never seen nor heard.
The Monkees Present was just an oddity to me, and none of its tracks engaged me in 1977. But the other two albums were nothing short of revelatory: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., and the companion album to The Monkees' movie, Head.
In '70s speak: Whoa!
Pisces contained all the Monkees tracks I'd been trying to find from the TV show: "Love Is Only Sleeping,""The Door Into Summer,""Star Collector,""Cuddly Toy,""Daily Nightly," and "Words." And the Head album was simply uncharted territory, with the absolutely mind-blowing "Porpoise Song."
It was not at all fashionable to like The Monkees in 1977, and being a Monkees fan would remain an uncool thing for many more years to come. I sure as hell didn't care about that. I used the Pisces and Head albums as evidence on The Monkees' behalf, and damned if I didn't even find a couple of erstwhile Monkees skeptics willing to revise their preconceived notions after listening to these wonderful records.
I bought my own used copy of Pisces for 50 cents at Mike's Sound Center in North Syracuse that spring; much later on, another friend found a copy of Head for me in college. I never owned an original Colgems label copy of The Monkees Present, so I wound up getting both that one and the Instant Replay LP via Rhino reissues during resurgent Monkeemania in the mid-'80s. I also acquired a battered original copy of The Monkees' final album, Changes, while in college.
But back to high school for now. The Spring of '77 also saw the release of The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl, the first time previously-unissued recordings by my all-time favorite band had ever been exhumed for anything other than bootlegs. I bought a copy at Gerber Music as fast as I could. When I brought it to school for NorthCaster office turntable time, Linda smacked me and said, "Carl, you idiot! I was going to get that for you as a graduation present!" Oops. And, by the way...ouch. I did okay, though; for Carl's Graduation Present Plan B, Linda solicited funds from a couple of other friends, Faith Berkheimer and Joan Davies, and got me The Beatles' White Album instead.
Although Linda and I were about the same age, I was a senior and she was a junior (because of that silly skippin'-fifth-grade nonsense I talked about way back HERE). She was a friend and confidante, and she allowed me to vent about girls, and school, and girls, and music, and girls. There were two girls at school that I was keenly interested in, so I gathered my courage to ask one of them to the Senior Ball. The first turned me down, politely; I barely knew her, and she wasn't interested in me at all. The second was also a close friend, and potentially more--she once wondered aloud if she and I would end up married one day--but she also opted out, for reasons too lengthy and complicated even for this long-winded blog to detail. So I decided to skip the Senior Ball.
Linda disagreed with that decision, and disagreed strongly. "Carl, you have to go to your Senior Ball!," she said. "I'll go with you!"
But I declined. I appreciated the gesture, but I didn't want a pity date. Linda would have looked stunning in a ball gown, but I knew it wasn't right. We were friends. Pals. We never kissed, never held hands. We may have hugged once or twice. We were not boyfriend and girlfriend, and could never be. We were meant to be friends, and she was a great, great friend.
And the only thing that has ever given me the merest pause to reconsider any of that was after graduation, at Faith Berkheimer's graduation party. We partied, drank beer, and listened to music. And Linda spent a short portion of the evening sitting in my lap. Someone--might have been Joan Davies--looked our way with a raised eyebrow, but I shrugged off the unspoken suggestion. Come on, I said silently. It's Linda! We're just friends. The night ended, and we all made plans to see that new science fiction movie that was just about to open.
When I went off to college at Brockport that fall, Linda and I kept up correspondence. She'd become co-editor of The NorthCaster, but it was an unhappy situation for her, so she quit the paper soon thereafter. She came to visit me on campus once that year, I think, though I couldn't swear to that.
In the summer of 1978, Linda accompanied my friend Jay and I to see Syracuse's own power pop powerhouse, The Flashcubes. Jay and I had become big fans of the 'Cubes, and we wanted to share our enthusiasm with Linda. But Linda detested The Flashcubes; she thought we were playing a joke on her, because how could anyone enjoy this, this...noise?! Crestfallen, we agreed to take Linda home.
At Thanksgiving break, Linda surprised me by dropping by my house one evening, along with mutual friend Bob Switzer. Linda had started college herself by this time, and was telling me about her life on campus. But I confess I was distracted that night; there was a Dick Clark American Bandstand anniversary special on TV, and I wanted to see the clip of The Kinks and the performance by a briefly-reunited Paul Revere and the Raiders. I figured I'd just talk to Linda another time.
But I never spoke with Linda, ever again. There's no tragedy, no blow-up; our paths just diverged, I guess. When some friends got together in the summer of '79, someone in the group tried to reach Linda to have her join us. I'm told she said--quite firmly--that she wasn't interested. And that was it.
I still think of Linda often. Not in the sense of some star-crossed missed opportunity--
we really were just friends, and I believe that's all either of us ever wanted--but I remember our friendship whenever I listen to The Monkees. That memory makes me smile. Maybe that's one reason I listen to The Monkees as often as I do.
It's funny how this process of writing works sometimes. I set out today to write something about The Monkees' terrific new single, "You Bring The Summer." But these thoughts of The Monkees--thoughts of good times, of friendship, of a door into summer, of daydreams to believe in, of phantasmagoric splendor, of riding the backs of giraffes for laughs, and thoughts of a girl I knew somewhere--well, that all cast me back instead to those days so long ago: days when I was a lonely teenager, and I listened to The Monkees with one of my best friends. Linda, I hope the world brings you summer every day. But the porpoise is laughing: goodbye, goodbye....