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Why the Monkees Still Matter

June 20, 2011 by  
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From: Bil Newcott

The Monkees Then

I’ve just gotten in from the Wolf Trap amphitheater where, for all I know, a couple of thousand middle-age women, their daughters, and their granddaughters are still standing, screaming, and begging for Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones to return to the big stage for just one more rendition of Pleasant Valley Sunday. Or maybe Last Train to Clarksville. Or just perhaps for one of the three to come back to the edge of the stage, lean gingerly forward, and let someone plant a delirious kiss on his sweat-glistened cheek.

I went to see The Monkees tonight because I was a kid in the 60s, and because in those days there were no bigger stars on TV than The Monkees. Even then, we all knew the rap on them: They were the “Pre-fab Four,” a packaged product from a Hollywood studio, singing songs written by the denizens of a latter-day Tin Pan Alley, pretending to play instruments to a soundtrack created by real musicians, toiling in anonymity  on some Hollywood soundstage.

And it was all true. But Tork, Dolenz, Jones, and Mike Nesmith (the missing link of Monkeedom, who almost never participates in reunions like the Monkees’ current 45th anniversary tour) soon seized control of their creative destiny–much to the chagrin of the studio suits who hired them. As musicians, they were of varying competence, but they all got better. As singers, The Boys (not to be confused with The Lads, those British fellows from across the Pond) were all solid talents right from the start.

Three Monkees (Tork, Jones, and Dolenz) Now

Tonight when I saw the Monkees’ eight-piece backup band gathering on Wolf Trap’s giant stage, my heart sank a little. Was this 1965 all over again? Had “real” musicians been enlisted to save the day for the headliners? When the stars showed up and the assemblage cranked into I’m A Believeras an opener, that seemed to be the case. In fact, in the early going Tork, Dolenz, and Jones seemed more like honored guests than featured performers. Dolenz was there at his drum set, all right–but next to him was another drummer with his own kit, feverishly pounding out the beat. Jones was smacking his tambourine gamely, but looking sadly like the guy who gets to be in the band only because he owns a van. Tork, certainly the most accomplished musician of the trio, stood at front with his electric keyboard., picking out tunes—but behind him, ensconced at a double-decked keyboard array the size of an aircraft carrier, the show’s musical director was clearly doing the heavy lifting.

My disappointment was shared, of course, not in the slightest by any the 4,000 others around me. When the three Monkees took the stage, beaming widely, waving like retired tourists disembarking from a world cruise, it seemed the wood timbers of the theater’s ceiling would tumble. Fans leapt to their feet, screamed out requests, and stretched their arms skyward before the guys had played or sung a single note.

I suppose The Monkees could have settled into their supporting roles, and the adoring audience would have forgiven them (or perhaps not even noticed). But somewhere along the way on this night, just as they did with their career 45 years ago, the three took command of the show. Standing up front, wielding instinctive showmanship as their instruments of choice , they rocketed from one song to another in a nonstop set that lasted, almost to the second, two hours—without an intermission. Dolenz, 65, and Tork, 69, left the stage frequently during numbers that didn’t feature them—but 65-year-old Jones, the lifelong theater veteran who started out onstage as the original Artful Dodger in Oliver!, was almost never out of sight. As far as I could tell, he disappeared just once–to don a white set of tails for a show-stopping dance routine.

“Hello,” said Jones spryly at the start. “I’m Davy Jones’ father. Davy will be out here in a minute…”

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One Response to “Why the Monkees Still Matter”
  1. bnewcott says:

    Sorry, all–I’ve fixed it on the AARP Blogs page, but in my after-midnight haze of writing that Monkees Concert Blog, I called Peter Tork “Michael,” making him some sort of unholy Peter Tork/Michael Nesmith hybrid.
    If you get a chance, please re-input the opening graf here…
    Bill Newcott

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