Davy Jones: The Life of a Monkee
March 29, 2012
In September 1965, a small ad appeared in L.A.’s Daily Variety: “MADNESS!! Auditions. Folk & Roll Musician-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running parts for 4 insane boys.” Longhaired kids showed up by the hundreds at a studio lot just off Sunset Boulevard, ready and willing to sell out – among the aspiring TV stars were Stephen Stills, Harry Nilsson and Van Dyke Parks, all pre-fame. But one tiny, chipmunk-cheeked performer walked right past the other guys, straight into the producers’ office. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute! Who was that?'” says Peter Tork, who would become the Monkees’ bassist. “I was extremely jealous.”
As Tork and the rest of the world would soon discover, that was 19-year-old Davy Jones, a seasoned professional who’d already been working on TV and Broadway and London stages for half a decade. In a screen test with producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, he comes across as sheltered and naive – a precocious kid who couldn’t imagine the hall of mirrors he was about to enter: He was auditioning to play a prefab Paul McCartney in the Monkees, a fake band that would soon fill real stadiums and outsell the Beatles themselves.
“I’m really a clean-cut kid,” Jones chirps in his Manchester accent, standing in the producers’ office wearing a newsboy hat and turtleneck. Jones struggles to answer questions from Schneider and Rafelson (they would go on to produce Easy Rider and the Rafelsondirected Five Easy Pieces) – but does better when the producers ask him to dance: He does so on command, breaking into a cheerful little jig.
At that moment, Jones – who died of a heart attack at age 66 on February 29th – won what would be the last major role of his life. In just a year, he’d become one of the biggest pop stars of his time – and lose his chance at what had been a promising acting career. The Monkees’ commercial heyday lasted a mere two years, faltering soon after they tried to take control of their own music and TV show. When the bubblegum burst, they were left nearly broke. But Davy Jones would be a Monkee for as long as he lived.
Jones was more than willing to play the showbiz game, to sing the songs he was given. He always hit his mark with a smile. Even in the beginning, however, he was more than an empty vessel: Though studio musicians played all the instruments on the Monkees’ biggest hits, it was his own yearning, delicate voice that broke hearts by the millions on “Daydream Believer” and “I Wanna Be Free.” To the end, he was eager to defend his status as an artist: “Here comes Davy Jones, here comes the emotion, the drama, the real,” he said in 2000. “Underneath the tinsel and fabric is real tinsel and fabric.”