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Still monkeying around

May 4, 2011 by  
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I don’t know how these things pass me by. How could I have been blind to such moments of great social and cultural significance? I have missed each and every one of them. I speak of The Monkees reunion tours.

Apparently, they have been occurring, off and on, for years. There’s a new one beginning next month in Liverpool, England. Only it’s just three-quarters a box of Monkees. Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones have agreed to it, but Mike Nesmith has declined. Perhaps he couldn’t find his knitted cap. Perhaps, rather, he was being sensible.

The trio begin their reunion in Liverpool, England. Then it’s off for another 42 gigs in Britain and the US over three months. To start off in Liverpool, with its echo of that other fab group, The Beatles, is either a well-meaning homage or gross hubris. It’s true that in their very, very short heyday, The Monkees conquered the pop world. The mania that carried them along was Beatlesque in its scale. For instance, even in Australia, a 10-year-old boy could wear, slightly self-consciously, but with a sneaking pride, a double-breasted shirt (like the lads) and a ridiculously wide white belt with an even more ridiculously wide buckle of The Monkees logo. This boy could also have had a Monkees mobile — a car that is, with a button you pressed and hey presto ”Hey hey, we’re the Monkees” came crackling through the tiny tinny speaker. I still have that car, though in the interests of scientific curiosity, I took out the speaker to see how it worked. I’ve still no idea.

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The family also had the album More of the Monkees, and though it had some cracking good pop tunes on it such as She, (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone, Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) and I’m a Believer, it also summed up the internal contradictions of their fame, I was to realise later. They were puppets.

The Monkees brand came into being as a television show in 1966. Get four zany, good-looking guys who can hold a tune, (let’s forget about holding an instrument at this stage — except for Nesmith), give them bubblegum music and watch the kids go wild. And they did. The show only ran for two years but it was phenomenally successful.

There was a monster in a Monkee suit, however, and his name was Don Kirshner. The puppetmaster controlled song selection, playing and production. They were his creation and, for Kirshner, all the four men had to do was turn up, sing vocals and not complain. Four band members not complaining? Good grief. It all ended in tears, of course, as it was always going to do. The four learnt to play enough to go on tour, and as hilarious as it seems now to have Jimi Hendrix, while an unknown, open for them — and they met the Beatles. Kirshner couldn’t tolerate this loss of control and moved to the ultimate arena of control — animation — with the cartoon group The Archies (and have a hit with Sugar, Sugar).

The Monkees’ third album, Headquarters, proved to the world they could play and compose their own material. But the writing was on the wall; the TV show was cancelled, and despite a couple more albums being released, without that primary cause for their existence gone, they fell apart and went their separate ways.

Except, they didn’t. They’ve teamed up for a few years in nearly every decade since — still monkeying around, even recording the odd new album, the three of them that is. Nesmith, whose mother invented Liquid Paper, probably has no need to go on the road, instead concentrating on solo projects, such as video work, solving the world’s problems in privately sponsored conferences and writing novels.

There’s a picture on the group’s tour website of the three smiling Monkees. Age seems not to have wearied them overly much. Well, Peter Tork seems to have just woken up from a 20-year sleep, but that’s all. Looking at the picture how can one begrudge these senior citizens (all born in the early 1940s) their fun? Sure they might have hitched a ride on the nostalgia bandwagon — pretty much from the moment they first split — and made a spot of money for their elderly years, but you have to admire their bravado, if nothing else.

They came from nothing, were assembled on a TV set and in a recording studio, became the adored idols of millions for a fleeting moment, fell apart — and that should have been the end of it. Yet they keep coming back.

One shouldn’t be so churlish. Without them this once 10-year-old wouldn’t have had the ridiculously wide white belt with the ridiculously wide Monkees buckle, and a car that sang ”Hey, hey we’re the Monkees”.

I’d be a chump not to deny the smile that silly tune brought.

via Re-formed The Monkees Touring England And America.

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