Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Virtual Ticket Stub Gallery: THE MONKEES

This post was originally published privately, for Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) subscribers only, on February 2nd, 2017. This is its first public appearance. For as little as $2 a month, supporters of Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) on Patreon receive one exclusive bonus post each month: Fund me, baby! 

I believe in daydreams.

Why wouldn't I? When you're a kid, the inspiration for flights of fancy is all around you, the stuff dreams are made of, the fodder for imagination, the spark of what may be, at least in your own evolving mind. You can be Batman; you can be Flash Gordon; you can be The Easter Bunny, traveling in his Bunnymobile (the subject of my first published writing, when I was seven). You can be a fireman, an astronaut, a sheriff, a general, a vampire, a giant, an eagle, a secret agent, a pirate, Santa Claus. You can be the president. You can be Popeye. You can dream it, and you can be it.

You can even dream of being The Beatles.

As we grow into adults, we're encouraged to put aside the foolish dreams of youth. But we don't, and we shouldn't. Granted, we probably oughtta refrain from running around the neighborhood in a cape and cowl looking to punch The Joker, but daydreams aren't a bad thing. And sometimes, on odd and infrequent, unlikely occasions, a dream can somehow slip into the realm of real life.

The Monkees dreamed of being The Beatles, at least in a sense. Micky DolenzDavy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith were cast in a TV show about a struggling band trying to be the next Fab Four, or to at least score a gig that would pay enough to keep their landlord, Mr. Babbitt, at bay. That dream came true. The Monkees became a bona fide group: puppets at first, real live boys before long, singing and playing, recording, touring, and gathering believers. 

I was a first-generation Monkees fan, since I did see and enjoy the TV show (and its music) when it was still in prime time. Reruns of the show in the '70s solidified my interest in The Monkees, and digging into the delight and wonder of The Monkees' albums made me an even bigger fan. By the time I was informed by scornful proto-hipsters that The Monkees were fake, prefab, didn't play their own instruments, yadda und yadda, I was already discovering Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., albums where The Monkees themselves did indeed strum guitars, shake tambourines, pound on drums, tickle keyboards, and noodle Moogs. Dream, meet reality. Hey, Reality--how ya doin'? Doin' well, Dream, thanks for askin'.

And I dreamed of seeing The Monkees in concert.

It was perhaps not far-fetched, but still so far away. Peter Tork had left The Monkees in 1968, Nesmith ditched around '69, and Dolenz and Jones finally ceased Monkeeshines in 1970. But I read in Phonograph Record Magazine about Peter joining Micky and Davy on stage during their show at The Starwood in L.A. in '76 or '77, and I dreamed. I mean, c'mon--Simon & Garfunkel had a hit reunion single in 1975, The Beatles had almost reunited for Saturday Night Live in '76, and The Animals did a reunion album in 1977. In this generation, in this loving time, why couldn't The Monkees make the world shine one more time?

By the early '80s, as I'd grown into a (slightly) more eloquent and vociferous advocate for The Monkees, I saw The Peter Tork Project play at a nightclub in Buffalo. Even before that, I'd worn my Monkees t-shirt to a bar when a cool young band called The Insiders were playing; near the end of The Insiders' show, one of 'em said, "I hear there's a guy walkin' around in a Monkees t-shirt. Well, this is the song he's been waitin' for." It was the first time I'd ever heard any band play "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" live. Oh, what a great song, and a great song meant to be played at live rock 'n' roll shows. I dreamt of seeing The Monkees play live in a nightclub, specifically at The Rooftop on Seneca Street in South Buffalo, a rough but ready venue where I saw The Ramones, The Bangles, and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. My mind could see The Monkees on stage at The Rooftop, just the four of 'em, singin' and playin' "Steppin' Stone" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and "Porpoise Song" and "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?"

Micky, Davy, and Peter did reunite in 1986, and I saw them on that tour, and again in 1987. A dream come true? Yes and no. They were both fantastic shows; I wished Michael Nesmith were there, but it was still a thrill to finally see The Monkees live. Both of these shows were at outdoor venues, so I didn't expect the intimacy of a club show, and that was fine. And both seemed more...I dunno, show biz? More show biz presentation than rock 'n' roll show, I guess. They weren't exactly the Monkees live shows I'd dreamed about, but I can't say I wasn't satisfied.

Decades pass. Dreams grow older, rarely wiser, sometimes frailer, often more remote. Belief, like kicks, just keeps getting harder to find. 2011 was a bad year for me. At the age of 51, I suffered a midlife crisis that threatened to suffocate my dreams permanently. I sought counseling, and my social worker helped me a lot. As 2012 took over, I was starting to crawl tentatively forward, trying to dream again. When my Dad got sick, I could no longer find time for my therapy sessions. Dad died that April. I tried to keep standing. I tried to keep dreaming. I did both. Somehow, I did both.

Davy Jones also died in 2012. The news was a shock: the youngest of The Monkees, taken by a fatal heart attack at just 66 years old. No one saw that coming. Aside from the personal tragedy felt by Jones' family and friends, there was one mundane fact depressingly clear: there could never be another Monkees reunion.

Never. See, dreams don't recognize that word.

Michael Nesmith, often considered (for right or wrong) The Reluctant Monkee, had participated in a reunion album and UK tour in the late '90s; that ended acrimoniously, and seemed unlikely to ever recur. Peter Tork also had a public, bitter falling out with Dolenz and Jones in 2001, and Davy said in 2009 that he would never work with Micky Dolenz again. But those three eventually patched up their differences sufficiently for a well-received 45th anniversary tour in 2011. I wish I could have seen a show on that tour, but, y'know, I was too busy being kicked in the teeth by 2011. And now, in 2012, Davy's passing signified the permanent end of The Monkees. Presumably. Definitely. One would think.

In August of 2012, a new Monkees tour was announced. Dolenz, Tork, and Nesmith would be hitting the road in the fall. Davy Jones' memorial service had prompted those three to be in the same room again for the first time in years. Discussion of doing a memorial show in Davy's honor blossomed into plans for a tour. Cheer up, sleepy Jean--oh, what can it mean?

Many were immediately critical of Nesmith only agreeing to re-Monkee after Jones was gone. With all due respect to naysayers, none of us have any real idea or appreciation of the interpersonal dynamics of those four guys, of what they went through together, what battles they fought, what hurricanes they weathered. We. Don't. Know. We never will. I don't doubt that the relationships were complicated; hell, some of my relationships with peers are complicated, and none of us ever sold a zillion records. 

And I didn't care anyway. After the year and a half I had, I was gonna make a dream come true. I was going to see The Monkees, with Michael Nesmith.

The show was in Buffalo, on a Sunday night: November 18th, 2012. I called for tickets as soon as they were on sale, and scored a pair of decent seats in the center section, not far from the front. It was a no-brainer to cancel that week's edition of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. When 11/18/12 rolled around, Dana and I shuffled off to Buffalo, ready to finally listen to the band.

Listen to the band. If the Micky, Davy & Peter shows had been more Broadway than Budokan, this Micky, Peter & Michael show was going to be a straight-up rock concert. There would be banter, there would be schtick, and there would be a large video screen above and behind the group, with vintage Monkees clips accompanying the live performance; but the focus was going to be on the music. Listen to the band. The Monkees had assembled a crack group to help fill in their sound, a band including Nesmith's son Christian on guitar, and Micky's sister Coco on backing vocals. The three Monkees themselves would also be playin' their own instruments throughout most of the show; there would even be a few fleeting instances when those three were the only players on stage. Listen to the band. Listen to the freakin' band!

The show was either a sell-out, or damned close to it. We left Syracuse with plenty of time to get to Buffalo, grab dinner at Mighty Taco (Dana's first-ever visit there), and get to the University Of Buffalo Center For The Arts before showtime. Dana took his seat while I stood in the long concessions queue to buy a Monkees tour t-shirt. And then, the lights dimmed, and the record played:

Here we come, walkin' down the street....

As the PA serenaded us with that familiar TV theme song, dark silhouettes took their places on stage. The three silhouettes at the front of the stage merited immediate applause, squeals of delight, a giddy, growing sense of excitement and anticipation. This group began on TV. So the ensuing sequence was appropriate:




Photo by Dana Bonn
The live sound of "Last Train To Clarksville" filled the immediate universe. Three older men stood in the space where some teen idols used to be. But time had stood still, even reversed its fatal crawl. If we closed our eyes, it was 1967. If we closed our eyes, Davy Jones was still on stage with his mates. Like lightning. Like magic. A mystic, transcendent jolt carried through the entire audience. We opened our eyes. It was The Monkees. And god damn it, we believed.

Micky Dolenz sang "Last Train To Clarksville." Michael Nesmith--Michael friggin' Nesmith!--sang "Papa Gene's Blues." Peter Tork, a cancer survivor, sang "Your Auntie Grizelda." From the crowd, a woman shouted I love you, Micky! Later, I'd discover the woman was Tina Peel, a former WBNY-FM DJ whom I'd followed faithfully when I lived in Buffalo in the '80s. And the hits just kept on comin'.

"She.""Sweet Young Thing.""I'm A Believer.""(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." For all the stupid crap The Monkees received for being a manufactured group, they nonetheless generated a stellar catalog of tunes that can stand against just about any other motherlover. Seven songs in, and this was already one of the best concerts I'd ever been privileged to witness. Then, as the screen showed footage of our departed Davy, and his recorded vocal of "I Wanna Be Free" wafted through this electric air, the band transitioned into Headquarters.

The 1967 Headquarters album was The Monkees' bid for credibility, an attempt to prove they could be a real band, playing and singing in the studio like they were The Rolling Stones or The Kinks or that band they dreamed of being, The Beatles. It's a wonderful, still-underrated record. Its tracks would provide the centerpiece of this live show.

The countoff led into "You Told Me," which lead into "Sunny Girlfriend," which lead into "You Just May Be The One," a Michael Nesmith trifecta. The Monkees then reached back to the previous album, More Of The Monkees, for the Nesmith-written/Dolenz-sung "Mary, Mary," stopped at the non-LP B-side "The Girl I Knew Somewhere," and returned to Headquarters for Tork's shoulda-been-a-single "For Pete's Sake," followed by the exquisite "Early Morning Blues And Greens." The Headquarters set concluded with Micky Dolenz donning psychedelic kaftan and wailin' on timpani for a showstopping "Randy Scouse Git."

My favorite Monkees album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., and its follow-up The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, were both kinda given short shrift in the set list, represented by only three album tracks combined, plus the big hit single from each. But no matter. Some scripted schtick about Michael buying Micky a new Moog synthesizer led into a rendition of the PAC&J track "Daily Nightly," complete with Nesmith channeling his inner Yoko Ono to imitate the bleeps and blorps of the absent Moog. This was followed by "Tapioca Tundra" from The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, and the non-album "Goin' Down." This set the stage for selections from The Monkees' sole feature film, Head.

Head is a dark, bitter, mesmerizing film. The Monkees' 2012 live set included all of the musical selections from the Head album, beginning with Carole King and Gerry Goffin's brilliant, majestic "Porpoise Song." If The Monkees had never done anything else before or after "Porpoise Song," they would still be one of my favorite groups just on the evidence of that one song. Micky Dolenz is rarely given the credit he deserves as one of the best pop vocalists of the '60s. When one considers that Dolenz was supposed to be an actor hired to play a singin' drummer on TV, his vocal chops and accomplishment seem all the more amazing. Nowhere is that skill more evident than on "Porpoise Song," and the live rendition lived up to the promise of the record.

For Harry Nilsson's "Daddy's Song," the band played live to Davy Jones' original vocal, as the video screen showed the corresponding scene from Head, Davy dancing with a cute young Toni Basil. Peter Tork followed with his own "Can You Dig It" (originally sung by Micky), and Micky returned to sing "As We Go Along."

I've been blessed with opportunities to see many of my musical heroes live. I never did get to see The Beatles, but I saw The Ramones nine times, and I saw The Flashcubes countless times. I saw The Kinks perform "Waterloo Sunset." I saw David Bowie sing "Life On Mars?" I saw Carl Wilson sing "God Only Knows" with The Beach Boys. I saw Prince, The Animals, The Searchers, and so many others, each a cherished memory that is not up for sale or trade.

I never saw a greater performance than Micky Dolenz singing "As We Go Along."

Photo by Dana Bonn
I mean it. Never. It was on a par with the above-mentioned "Waterloo Sunset" and "God Only Knows," and I might even give the edge to the Mick on this one. As he sang, my skin chilled, my jaw dropped, and my eyes just stared in...awe.

Open your eyes
Get up off your chair
There's so much to do in the sunlight
Give up your secrets
And let down your hair
And sit with me here by the fire light

The song concluded. Dana, stunned, turned to me and just said, Wow.

The Head set ended with Nesmith's raucous "Circle Sky" and Tork's "Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again." If anyone there had ever doubted The Monkees, doubt had been firmly and finally replaced by belief.

Since The Monkees felt that none of them should take over Davy Jones' lead on "Daydream Believer," Micky told the audience that the song didn't belong to the group anymore; he looked at us all, and said It belongs to you. An audience member was brought on stage to sing lead, accompanied by a concert hall full of misty-eyed, knot-throated believers. The Monkees closed the show with the great Pisces track "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?" With that, The Monkees left the stage. They didn't go far, mind you; they knew they were getting an encore. Hell, if it were up to us, they'd be playing still!

Photo by Dana Bonn
But we could only get one encore, and I think we all knew what it would be. The Monkees returned to the stage for Nesmith's "Listen To The Band," allowing individual recognition of each of the amazing players plying their craft as Deputy Monkees. And then Nesmith played the riff, that approximation of George Harrison's "I Want To Tell You" made even more pop, more immediate, and yet truly immortal. And Micky sang:

The local rock group down the street is trying hard to learn their song
They serenade the weekend squire who just came out to mow his lawn
Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care

We cared, and we showed it. The Monkees acknowledged our accolades, and waived goodbye. The show was over, but the enchantment endured. Another band would have said it was a splendid time guaranteed for all. We knew it was a daydream. And we believed.

In 2011, I hit a skid, and it seemed like it might do me in. In 2012, I lost my dad. But I fought back. I sought help. I tried to become better. And I survived, with my mind, my heart, and my family intact. I built no walls, and burned no bridges. I delivered a eulogy for Dad. I told my wife and daughter how much I loved them. I told my family how much they meant to me. I visited Brockport. I visited Spain. I saw some old friends. I saw some basketball. I saw The Flashcubes. I saw a path forward.

And I saw The Monkees. I dreamed. I believed. And I kept walking down the street. Funny looks? I'm too busy dreaming to put anybody down.

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