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Here they come…

June 27, 2011 by  
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As Eric Lefcowitz points out in “The Monkees Tale,” there have always been two entities known as The Monkees.

And they haven’t always existed in harmony with each other.

One was the television series “The Monkees” that aired from September 1966 to September 1968, and the other was the real-life band made up of the actors from that show, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork.

“The Monkees” was a ratings hit, but The Monkees came under increasing and unfair scrutiny because the band’s first two albums employed session musicians and outside writers — common practices at the time, even after The Beatles led the move toward self-contained bands.

Today, Dolenz has a short response about how he felt in the ’60s about such criticism: “Back then, when you’re that successful,” he says by telephone from Hershey, Pa., “quite honestly, you don’t give a (damn) about what anyone says.”

More importantly, The Monkees won creative control of their music beginning with the band’s third album, 1967’s “Headquarters,” and toured as a self-contained band beginning in December 1966.

For The Monkees’ current tour, however, reunited members Dolenz, Jones and Tork have synthesized both sides of the band’s personality into a multimedia show that includes 40 of The Monkees’ songs coupled with video projections from the television series and the movie “Head.”

“It’s always a combination of things,” Dolenz says about why the television series holds up 45 years later. “It was the writing, directing, of course. … Some of the best Hollywood comedy writers were involved. The casting, of course, I would like to think was important. But it was all important.”

Created by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider and inspired by The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” “The Monkees” was marketed as a children’s show, but its humor and visual techniques often broke ground for the medium.

“The Monkees” broke the fourth wall, for instance, and dispensed with the canned laugh track in the second season after lobbying by the four stars, and the show’s weekly musical romps — short films set to a Monkees song — later served as the template for music videos.

“The other element that was unique at the time on a sitcom was the improvisational element,” Dolenz says. “Right from the beginning, we were getting improvisational training. … When we were cast, we had screenings of all kinds of movies — Laurel & Hardy, The Beatles, the Marx Brothers. The only thing we didn’t watch was The Three Stooges because it was decided early on that we wouldn’t be hitting each other over the heads with baseball bats.”

The music, Dolenz says, also played a substantial role in the popularity of and artistic success of the show, particularly for its use of some of the best songwriters in the business, including Carole King and Gerry Goffin (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”), Neil Diamond (“I’m a Believer”), and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (“Theme From ‘The Monkees,'” “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone”).

As musical innovators, The Monkees made two important contributions to popular music: Nesmith’s “Daily Nightly” and Goffin and King’s “Star Collector” are the first two pop songs to use a Moog synthesizer, and although Gram Parsons receives most of the credit for inventing country-rock, Nesmith’s original songs and productions for The Monkees demonstrate the Texan Monkee was working in a similar vein, something he would perfect with his 1970s outfit, the First National Band.

“We’ve always tried to dig deeper into the catalog,” Dolenz says about the current tour, which includes Tuesday’s show at the Morris Performing Arts Center. “The management came up with an idea to do a poll of the fans. They came up with some great choices.”

That includes all of the songs from the soundtrack to 1968’s “Head” and a montage of scenes from the abstract film written by Jack Nicholson and Rafelson that starred The Monkees in a series of vignettes that become increasingly connected as the film progresses. Among other scenes, the film shows the band as flecks of dandruff in actor Victor Mature’s hair, as soldiers in a foxhole and as actors who walk off the set of a Western film.

“Head,” Dolenz says, arrived at the beginning of the ’70s auteur movement in American filmmaking as new and independent filmmakers broke into Hollywood with new visual and narrative styles, including Rafelson and his production partners in their independent company, BBS Productions, which also released “Easy Rider” and “Five Easy Pieces.”

” ‘Head,’ to some degree, is sort of a deconstruction of not just The Monkees but also a deconstruction of the Hollywood studio system,” Dolenz says. “The perfect example is the Western set and Terri Garr is there, and Mike and I are in the cavalry and I pull the two fake arrows off my chest. … I walk through the backdrop, and that, to me, is what they were trying to say about the Hollywood studio system.”

Such direct commentary had made subtle and occasionally direct appearances in the television series, where many of the episodes’ plots put The Monkees in the position of defending what was right, which usually pitted them against authority.

This youth-based, subversive perspective also carried over into The Monkees’ music and was present from the beginning: On “(Theme From) The Monkees,” Boyce and Hart write, “We’re the young generation, and we’ve got something to say.”

And with such songs as Boyce and Hart’s “Last Train to Clarksville,” Goffin and King’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Star Collector,” Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “Shades of Gray,” Tork’s “For Pete’s Sake,” and Dolenz’s “Mommy and Daddy,” The Monkees commented upon the Vietnam War, suburbia, celebrity worship and the general confusion of the times.

Dolenz, however, downplays such commentary and says The Monkees weren’t allowed to make political comments initially and what message got through before the series was canceled had to be veiled.

“Even from the get-go, that’s not what ‘The Monkees’ was all about,” he says. ” ‘The Monkees’ wasn’t about being controversial. Again, why the show stood up, the comedy was not topical, nor was it satirical, so it stands up. ‘Laugh-In,’ which is a great show, if you look at it today, a lot of the references you would miss because they were topical. It’s the reason the Marx Brothers stand up.”

In the years since The Monkees broke up in 1970, Dolenz created a long résumé as television director in England, continued to perform as a singer and, in the last decade, starred in productions of “Hairspray,” “Pippin” and, on Broadway, “Aida.”

His return to acting brought him back to his pre-“Monkees” career. When he was 10, he won the starring role in the three-season series “Circus Boy.”

Dolenz says his experience as a child actor with appearances in parades and meeting fans prepared him — on a smaller level — for the reaction The Monkees generated in 1966 and ’67.

“Having been in business, I made the distinction between me and the character,” he says. “I knew they weren’t screaming at me. They were screaming at the character they saw on the television. If you start believing you’re that person, that image, that’s when you start to get in trouble. … I’ve always made the distinction between Micky Dolenz and Micky the wacky drummer, which is a character I played and still do when I’m onstage.”

via Here they come… –

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