Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Oh how I wish tomorrow would never come..."

I spent the majority of this past February 29th thinking about the untimely passing of Davy Jones at the age of 66, and today, on what should have been his 67th birthday (as well as the 70th birthday of his still-vigorous bandmate Michael Nesmith), I started thinking about it again. Like many of you, this took me by terrible sad surprise, because of the abruptly fast nature of the event: he had appeared just two weeks before at a Hollywood autograph collector's show in reportedly excellent spirits, and as late as that previous Tuesday night, right on my Facebook feed was a blurb promoting an upcoming solo performance in Southern California. On a psychological level, I don't think I'm the only person to have thought in the back of their mind that, just maybe, we'd have the Monkees for many more years to come. Like many a stand-up comic's jokes about Keith Richards or Motley Crue, it was almost as if nothing could kill the Monkees: consider that from their inception to that date, we had lost Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix, Redding, Presley, Curtis, Nilsson, Cobain, Garcia, Strummer, Brown, Barrett, Cash, Chilton, Jackson, Houston, two Beatles, two Beach Boys, and three Skynyrds...yet all four of our beloved 8-button-shirt beaus were safe and healthy. The bubble finally broke that day, when, to put it in mordant video terms below, Davy drew the short straw:

I once opined that I found the Monkees to be more interesting than the Beatles.

Before you get your Union Jack knickers in a twist, I did not say "better," I said "more interesting." Sure, the Fab Four in their remarkably short tenure of 8 years together left behind an amazing legacy of music and personality, but at the core they had a sensible, straightforward story: four fellows started a band, got popular beyond their wildest dreams, used their worldwide appeal as an opportunity for some experimentation, and then agreed to part ways when a group dynamic was no longer suitable for them. By comparison, the Monkees trajectory is a little more colorful: young producers decide to capitalize/spoof on Beatlemania by creating a fake band for a TV series, hire two legit musicians and two actors to essay the roles, but instead of just going through the motions dictated by their creative directors, the foursome decide to really hunker down and learn both how to coalesce and create music as a real band and how to hone their stage presence and delivery as comic actors, consequently creating a body of work that has stayed just as relevant and entertaining as the Beatles' for 40+ years. No one could have expected, or would even have had reason to expect, any of this when Screen Gems greenlighted this TV series in 1966; all the upper brass wanted was some decent ratings and some merch sales. Instead, a multi-pronged dynasty emerged, not just involving the band members, but the body of tremendous songwriters who provided them material (Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, Neil Diamond, John Stewart, Harry Nilsson), the pool of writers and directors who contributed to the show (notably Paul Mazursky and James Frawley), and quite significantly, the producers behind the show Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, whom together and apart made wide changes in popular American film. As film historian Christian Divine bluntly put it, "Without The Monkees, we might not have had EASY RIDER, FIVE EASY PIECES, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW or much of the 1970's New Cinema. Seriously."

And in 1966, when very few of the ways of seeing or hearing in our modern day could even be contemplated, nobody in that hypothetical smoke-filled boardroom would have anticipated the wide swath of loss, love, and gratitude that would emerge when all these years later, one of those boys left us. From a surprising spectrum of celebrities past and present, to a fan turned manager and exhaustive historian for the band, and a slew of bloggers that I personally either admire in awe or have downed multiple shots with, anyone who saw a television or listened to a radio had something to say. Even People magazine, normally focused on youthful celebrities and reality show scandals, and thus would have been expected to note his passing in a sidebar or in a round-up, devoted a full cover and center section to Jones, an honor normally only bestowed in cases of massive stardom or questionable circumstance. I can declare with full confidence you cannot find anyone beyond, say the trolls at a certain isolationist Baptist church, who didn't have a kind word to say. And weeks later, when most celebrity deaths quickly leave our minds and we go back to the business of the day, my friend and fellow critic Alonso Duralde summed up my feelings succinctly: "I'm finding myself more bummed about Davy Jones' death than I would have foreseen."

I wouldn't feel the need to shout it like number 7A, but there is a giant legacy this 5'3" showman left behind. It was readily apparent when the initial pilot for "THE MONKEES," which had tested poorly, scored enormously favorably when Davy's screen test was included. It was humorously apparent when, in the occasional rare episode where a girl was chasing Peter instead of him, it was put forward that "It can't be you every week, Davy." And as Michael Nesmith observed in a memorial interview for Rolling Stone, it was as if the show was built around him. I do feel that Papa Nez is selling his gifts a little short, but he is correct that in an already unlikely band environment where in one concert, you could be treated to Peter twanging folk on a banjo, Mike doing his prototypical country-rock, and Micky indulging his rhythm & blues wailing, Davy was the consummate pro that could tie all these disparate styles together, and looked right at home doing it. He was as interested in belting out Stephen Foster as he was in learning about "the key of soul" from THE WIZ composer Charlie Smalls, and if someone wanted to put grungy arena rock guitars behind him for cheap irony, he sold it cleanly and happily. I always wished he would try performing "Sheila Take a Bow" by his fellow Mancunian Morrissey, or my biggest dream cover, him and Micky trading verses and shout-outs on Outkast's "Hey Ya", since the song has the Neil Diamond-esque meter and Pentecostal flair of a classic Monkees song, the music video by director Bryan Barber has the cheeky humor of a typical Monkees episode, and, well, come on, you know how groovy it would have been to hear Davy tell the ladies, "Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor." Alas, those two cuts will only be heard on the jukebox of my mind now, probably right after the Whitney Houston/Serge Gainsbourg remake of "I Love You...Me Neither."

But see, that's just singing. Add in his ability to deliver a punch line, keep a straight face, do Broadway shows nightly, the occasional horse race...if he wanted to do something that would entertain the crowd or his own artistic appetite, he got it done. I may put "Renaissance Man" on my business cards, but he lived that title.

So while I can't mark this birthday as an ongoing concern, I will most certainly pass the bottle for Mister Jones. When everybody loves you, oh son, you're just about as funky as you can be.


  1. Wonderful tribute! I saw the Monkees in 1987 and then again just a few months ago, when they did a short tour in tribute of Davy. It was so sweet and sad. Also, the title of your article brings me to tears because this is the Monkees song that reminds me most of the sadness around Davy's passing. What a loss.

  2. Great article Mark! It was great speaking with you Monday at the poker game. Hope all is well and with you the best my friend!

  3. That was a real shock when I saw he had died. He died way too young and too soon!