Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Mom, What's Your Favorite Monkees' Song?"

It's a simple enough question.

With a surprisingly complicated answer.

Not that I'm ever opposed to giving exceptionally long, drawn out answers to any given question - no, indeed.  It's just that THIS one has so many complexities, I had to laugh.

Crikey tilted his head and squinted his eyes. "What's so funny?"

"Babe, that answer would take so long, even I'M afraid to just jump in.  Let me get back to you."

I could actually see the whites of his eyes completely around the irises as he laughed and backed away slowly...

I've mentioned before that my love of Nikki Sixx seems to be quite obvious to even the most casual of observers.  What's surprising to those who meet me and amusing to those who know me is my deep love and  respect for the Monkees.  That's right, as in "Hey, hey, we're the"...and yes, I said "respect".

To keep this post from becoming either a love letter to those gentlemen, or a raging diatribe against the haters (or hecklers) - the myth debunking part shall be quick, though lacking in elegance:

Myth: four wannabe Beatles whose talents extended no further than lip sync-ing, maraca shaking and slapstick comedy.

Truth:  a Greenwich Village folk guitarist/bassist/banjo(ist?), an accomplished songwriter/guitarist, a veteran television actor (who later learned to play the drums) and a second television veteran turn Tony-nominee who performed on both Broadway and the London Stage.

Other than the drum lessons (which came when they decided to form into an actual band), those were their credentials going into the auditions for the "roles" of  Peter, Mike, Micky and Davy.

Now, Crikey and I had already gone down the "how come the stuff on the show sounds so different from the songs on your iPod" road, so he knew about how they fought for (and won) the right to creative control over their own music. 

To pick a favorite?  The first problem is the issue of two exceptionally different bands with, eh hem, remarkably similar sounding vocalists.  Seriously, "Last Train to Clarksville" was not made by the same band that brought us "Daily Nightly" (a song written by Mike Nesmith about the Sunset Strip curfew riots of late 1966).

Heck, that point was driven home to me rather comically the night I hastily popped in my Monkees mix tape (ahhh....back in the day) to shake the heebie-jeebies I was fighting off from watching Night of the Living Dead.  Surely, a Monkees song is a quick fix - they are nothing if not upbeat, right?  Go ahead and listen to the beginning of "Daily Nightly".  The (awesome, but forboding) bass riff and the Moog Synthesizer, to say nothing of the lyrics:

"Dark and rolling figures move through prisms of no color;
Hand in hand they walk the night, but never know each other..."

In a word: YAAAAAAAAA!!!!!! (flipped tape as quickly as possible and regained proper breathing with a little "She Hangs Out")

Seriously, what were the odds?  Tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor. 


"So Mom, what your saying is that you need two favorites, one for each Monkees?"

"Yes.  Exactly.  So, for TV Monkees, it's "Saturday's Child", all the way.  Or Maybe "Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow".  Or "Laugh".  Hmmm....  Hold"

Eyebrows raised, "Yeah?"

"Here's the thing - most bands are formed because they have similar interests, or backgrounds.  These guys were, I'd wager, selected for the differences from each others' styles.  So, really, once we start talking about (what I call "real" Monkees music), now we've even more distinct types of songs, so -"

"You need more favorites?  What, four now? Five?"

"Well, yeah.  I think that will do.  Except, well, Peter didn't really do a lot of lead vocal work, but is a major part of two of my favorite songs, and - Crikey?"

He was walking down the hall, calling over his shoulder "You gotta get back to me, right?"

It's like he knows me, or something.

This is the moment where the boy learned about just HOW much of a geek his mom is with music.

I've always loved Mike's music - country, twangy and very earthy.  It's almost as if you could reach out and grab the notes as they float around - that's just how solid he is.  If I really have to pick one of his, it's "Papa Gene's Blues".

Peter?  Well, as I mentioned, he didn't do much front vocal work, but he is ever-present as a warm, nourishing foundation.  It may sound like an odd way of putting it, but it's as if removing his vocals would leave a song hungry.  He does figure prominently in two of my favorites, the first being "Shades of Gray".

The second is one of the best songs Micky ever fronted for them - as earthy and solid as Mike's voice is, as dependable a foundation as Peter's is, Micky's voice is, in contrast, ethereal and flowy - reach out and try to grab those notes?  They'd slip like wisps of cloud and reform before you.  Absolutely perfect for the psychedelic sound so often featured in their later work.  However, for me, nothing touches how he sings "Words". 

In this telling, I leave Davy for last. 

There has been an "all-Monkees, all the time" atmosphere in our home these past few days. It's interesting to see how one's taste in music changes over the years - what stands the test of time, what doesn't.  It wasn't until this week that I fully appreciated that my two great musical loves in this world are the Monkees and Motley Crue (and a whole different level of appreciation when you consider the odds of how often those two bands are mentioned in the same sentence).  Two bands who fought for control over their musical destinies; two bands who won that battle, though in different ways. 

Motley stands the test of time by keeping itself new. They do reinvention quite well.

The Monkees are no longer creating music together, though they occasionally collaborate on projects and tours.  The longevity of their music is of a different nature.

I've always liked the name of their album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd., though at age 11, I gave little thought to the meaning.  I got into astrology about a decade ago, and the significance of the title now rings out each time I see it - Micky's a Pisces, Peter's an Aquarius, and Mike's a Capricorn...the sign that also claims Davy Jones as one of its own.

About a week ago I watched the rerun Biography special on Davy.  In it, he talks about how he was all over the covers of Tiger Beat, he was the "heartthrob" of the group, but that he was what girls wanted to have as a poster on the wall, rather than in their beds (I'm paraphrasing, but those are fairly his words).  I think that he must have been frustrated by that - to be perpetually cast and perceived as "the cute one" (since men in general just LOVE to be described as "cute").  Sure, there was that element (though I have to protest - the man was anything but cute.  "Safe" and "non threatening" indeed.  Good grief, the irony).

I think there was something more.

Cary Grant is another Capricorn man whose talent I cherish.  In The Bishop's Wife, he gives a beautiful speech about the two only things in this world that remain constant - youth and beauty.  When Loretta Young objects, pointing out that people grow old, he shakes his head.  He declares that the only people who grow old were those who were born old to begin with, and that she was born young.

Davy was born young, and he stayed young.  But not in the heartthrob, poster on the teen girls' walls way.

His voice has the directness of youth.  It's clean and clear like a bright, crisp spring morning.  Spring is youth and strength. Energy, verve and virility.  And it's as old as Time.

Davy was born young; he did stay young - but young like Spring.

So much for not making this a love letter.  Sheesh.

The longevity of the Monkees comes from a combination of (many) excellent writers, richly diverse music, nostalgia, the joy that comes with laughter - and from the ever present promise and exhilaration of Spring. 

Last night, there was an online candlelight vigil to honor Davy Jones.  At first I thought it was quaint.  Then I thought, "what the heck, I'm sure I've got a candle somewhere".  When I opened the closet and grabbed the first candle - I laughed when I read the name - "Early Sunrise".

My favorite song of Davy's, the one that I now realize epitomizes how I see him, is called "Early Morning Blues and Greens".

The following is a fan-made video for "Early Morning Blues and Greens" - it was never released as a single, so no official video.