Mourning a Monkee

Ever since Davy Jones passed away on February 29, I’ve been thinking about the Monkees and the part they played in my life. It’s not so much how they shaped me but how they wove in and out of my life over the decades.

I have to admit Davy wasn’t my favorite, at least not from a romantic viewpoint. I thought he was adorable, but it was Peter Tork who stole my heart. And I thought it might be Peter who would die first because of his bout with cancer; or even Michael Nesmith, another of the older Monkees. Even in middle age, Davy seemed to represent the youth and vigor of the group, forever young. Hearing of his sudden passing was a jolt.

Naturally, I dove deep into nostalgia, remembering September, 1966, when I was 12 years old and saw a brief last-page piece in 16 Magazine about a new television show about a music group. I also caught snatches on the radio of this new single they’d released, “Last Train to Clarksville,” but it wasn’t until I saw the first episode of “The Monkees” that my life really changed.

It wasn’t just my life that had altered in 30 minutes; next day the playground at St. Cecilia School buzzed as girls talked about the show they’d seen the night before and laid claim to their favorite Monkee. I don’t think anyone else in my seventh-grade class had the hots for Peter; it was all Davy and Micky. That’s the way it stayed throughout the rest of the school year: girls bringing fan magazines to share at lunchtime, clusters of us sneaking up to the bakery on the corner to buy packs of Monkees trading cards, some of us getting into spats about lyrics.

On New Year’s Eve I had the thrill of attending the Monkees’ concert at Cincinnati Gardens. It wasn’t my first rock conert; I’d already attended one of the Beatles’ last concerts in August, and then went alone to Music Hall to see Paul Revere & the Raiders in October. (Can you imagine a 12-year-old going alone to a concert now, or her parents not only allowing it but driving her there and dropping her off?) That Monkees concert had something different: photos projected on a screen above the band. It seemed so new, at least to my inexperienced eyes.

The following July I got to see the second Monkees concert, but things were changing. “Sgt. Pepper” had come out the previous spring; the hippies were happening out in California. That autumn I still watched “The Monkees,” but nobody was talking about them in our eighth-grade class. The following spring we had two political assassinations, and a contentious presidential race was under way, including all the violence at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. By the time I started high school, it was considered pretty lame to admit you still listened to the Monkees (by that time the show had been cancelled). My own enthusiasm faded, and I even gave away all my back issues of 16 Magazine and my old albums.

**Fast forward to the ’80s. Diamondqueen was a teenager, and like so many of her generation she watched the Monkees’ revival on MTV. It felt surreal: Here was my sister, just short of 16 years my junior and not even born when the show was originally broadcast, all excited about the Monkees. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. I was in my thirties but felt older; for the first time, some part of my life seemed like ancient history. In early August, 1986, we went to Riverbend Music Center together to see the Monkees’ 25th 20th anniversary tour; a year later we saw them again. Both concerts left me feeling introspective, just as Davy’s death has, gazing in amazement as time came full circle.

Little was I to know that my niece, Vicki, born the same year as that second reunion concert, would herself become a rabid Monkees fan. I’ve been following various developments of the Davy Jones story through Vicki’s continual posts on Facebook. I thought I’d gotten used to that strange sensation of younger generations claiming something I had loved first, long ago, but the response to Davy’s passing opened my eyes again.

Fans in their 30s and 40s seemed more broken up than devotees my age who’d been in on it all in the beginning. Last week, my mouth hung open as I watched Rachel Maddow gush about “The Monkees,” then interview Peter Tork about the series. (You can watch the video here. Yes, Peter’s old now, but he still makes my heart flutter.) And so many males came forward as Monkee fans. In seventh grade class one afternoon, Sister Mary Emily indulged a heated debate between class members about which band was better—the Monkees or the Beatles. The boys almost to a man argued in favor of the Beatles, but maybe that was partly adolescent sexual jealousy.

I don’t know if it’s that the Monkees were considered a pre-fab band, or that they suffered such a lack of respect through the rest of the ’60s and into the ’70s, or that all that stuff seemed totally ephemeral even at 12 years old. I’m sure I never thought that in my late fifties the Monkees would mean anything to anyone except some of us old farts, and then only as mock-worthy memories of younger days, just as we laughed at the time about flapper fashions.

I’m so sorry Davy Jones died, and at what I consider to be a relatively young age. It did make me feel better, though, to realize so many people over so many generations treasured the experience of “The Monkees” as much as I did.

Nudge: Write about some figure of pop culture who has meant more to you over time than you ever thought he or she would. It can be a rock star, television or movie star, politician, or even a literary figure. Describe how that figure impacted the world at large and your personal world within it. How did your feelings about the figure change as you grew older? If the person is deceased, comment on his or her death, how it affected you, and whether the figure was widely mourned or passed from the earth almost unnoticed.

**UPDATE: Diamondqueen corrected me on a few facts in this post. For one thing, we saw the Monkees on their 20th Anniversary Celebration tour, not the 25th. That’s me and numbers—I see 20th and remember it as 25th.

Also, Diamondqueen was outraged that I made it seem she hadn’t heard of the Monkees until she was a teenager. She points out that their show was broadcast in late afternoon repeats when she was in grade school in the ’70s; every day she went to Grandma’s until Mom came home from work and watched “The Monkees.” She says she was in love with Davy and used to have fights with her best friend over which of them would get him. She also says she ruined the cover of her “Best of The Monkees” album by taking it into the bathtub with her.

So, my apologies to Diamondqueen for short-changing her Monkee Mania. She started even younger than I did.

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