The Monkees’ Peter Tork Still Baffled by ‘Head’: ‘When Do We Get Out of the Box?’
The group’s co-founder talks about the current tour and looks back at the swinging and psychedelic ’60s when a made-for-TV troupe took the world by storm.
Halfway through their U.S. summer tour, one of the revelations for founding Monkees member Peter Tork is that the group has “more male fans than ever before — guys are coming out of the Monkees fan closet!” Still, the bulk of the crowd at Monkees shows is female. “The idea was to make it a heartthrob group — that means women,” Tork tells The Hollywood Reporter. “At our first concerts, you wouldn’t see one man in a hundred.”
Indeed, times change. The venues the Monkees are playing on this tour, their second go-round minus ladies’ man Davy Jones, who died in 2012 of a heart attack, include rooms like the 1,835-capacity Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. The shows “don’t sell out every night, but we’re doing very well nevertheless,” Tork adds. “We were at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville the other day and I thought we scorched.”
Today’s Monkees — composed of original members Tork, Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz — evoke a more carefree and fun era with their 30-song revue. Clips from the band’s TV series open the show and serve as a visual backdrop throughout. They smartly space out the biggest hits — “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Daydream Believer,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “I’m a Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” — filling in the set with lesser known numbers.
“The Monkees, my goodness, look at the songbook!” Tork praises after their New York bow. “I am amazed at the quality of it. Since I had almost nothing to do with the songbook, I can look at it and say, you know, it’s right behind The Stones and The Beatles. It’s very close. We had Neil Diamond and those great Boyce & Hart hits, wow.”
One of Tork’s songs, “Can You Dig It?” is part of the show’s lengthy psychedelic section, which features six tracks from Head, the Monkees movie written by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafaelson, and directed by Rafaelson in 1968. It’s one of the weirdest, stoniest films you’ll ever see.
“Peter Fonda came up to me one day and said, ‘I know that it was Monkees money that paid for Easy Rider, so I’m grateful to you guys,’ ” Tork recalls. The backstory is that Head was produced by Bert Schneider for Raybert Productions, who followed the next year with Easy Rider. Columbia Pictures released both films. Forty-five years later, Tork says he has “a very serious problem with the movie in that it seemed to indicate you can’t get out of the box. That was, I think, the message of the movie, which I think is a poor message. I’ve seen the movie several scores of times and over and over I go, ‘When do we get out of the box?’ And the answer is, you don’t.”
Tork did his share of drugs during those heady times — about LSD he says, “I liked my acid; I enjoyed it” — but today he’s clean and sober. “I have not taken a mind-altering substance for 30-odd years,” Tork boasts. “I was a partier back then, and I’m a clean liver now. It suits me just as much now as it did back then. All of us are more sedate. We are more appreciative of the joys of company and chatting and laughter, and not drinking and screaming and yelling. We all are calmer. It’s not a good or bad thing. It’s who we are now versus then.” ‘We’ includes the band’s longtime malcontent Nesmith, who resigned in 1970 (a year after Tork did the same). For years, he wouldn’t participate in reunion tours (Tork did). It took Jones’ death to bring Nesmith back into the fold.
“He’s always been the question mark,” Tork acknowledges. “Mike has, and had, other ambitions. He’s giving what he’s got to this. He’s here and he’s committed, and you can see it. He’s not holding anything back on this tour, nor [did he on] the last one. He has other things he wants to do. But he’s not going, ‘I can’t stand this; I’ve got other things to do.’ Michael isn’t doing that. The result is I sense a lot of commitment from him on this. We’re getting along brilliantly.”
The Monkees’ summer tour continues through Aug. 18. See dates below:
8/1 – Arena Theatre, Houston, TX
8/2 – Verizon Theatre, Grand Prairie, TX
8/3 – Brady Theater, Tulsa, OK
8/5 – Paramount Theatre, Denver, CO
8/9 – Mesa Arts Center, Mesa, AZ
8/10 – Green Valley Events Center, Henderson, NV
8/11 – Humphreys, San Diego, CA
8/12 – Terrace Theatre, Long Beach, CA
8/14 – Mountain Winery, Saratoga, CA
8/15 – Uptown Theatre, Napa, CA
8/17 – Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA
8/18 – Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, OR