Thursday, March 1, 2012

Feting Davy in Paradise

                                                                                                                              By Peter Rodman

It didn't matter at all that Micky, not Davy, sang Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer."
The hand-claps and Davy Jones's tambourine part cut through the night air like a magnet on Wednesday, pulling in passersby from Japan, Australia, California, and who-knows-where-else, until they had formed a huge impromptu circle, right there on the sidewalk.

Oh sure, it was a cheap ploy--this airbrush artist, wearing a triple gas mask, was clapping, dancing and spray-painting his way through a huge mural of Diamond Head, creating kitsch-art that had nothing whatsoever to do with The Monkees, except that they too once embodied all things kitsch. 
People hurried over across the street as if summoned by a dog whistle, from down (and completely around) the block, suddenly happy to let whatever else they were doing simply wait, while they figured out what sort of tribute was going on tonight.
And after a short while, when the Monkees' music finally ended, a truly remarkable thing happened.

The crowd--which had been silently tapping their feet, smiling, nodding toward each other, and bouncing babies on their shoulders--broke into spontaneous, robust applause. Not for the spray-paint guy at all...but for the music and memories they had just shared. 
It was as if they'd each been specially selected as a representative sampling of humanity, to send their earthly thanks to the diminutive Mr. Jones, wherever he might be in spirit. 
And they weren't just  applauding for what was shared on this street corner tonight. No, this was about what was shared in every corner of the world--wherever they'd all grown up, beginning over 40 years ago.

Nobody here had ever heard of Don Kirschner, who assembled the Monkees from a series of TV auditions, resulting in their cynical nickname, 'The Pre-Fab Four.' (A take-off on the Beatles having been called 'The Fab Four.')
Nobody here could name Mike Nesmith or Peter Tork anymore, either.  
Micky they kinda knew, but Davy Jones...?
They'd never forgotten; that's what drew this mish-mash of the species toward the music that wafted among the palms and honking cars, on this Waikiki evening.

All the news stories said he'd suffered a sudden, massive heart attack, and some newscasters shook their heads and said, "He was only 66."  
But the shock wasn't even so much his death, for some of us.  
It was that....wait a second...Davy Jones was 66??

Many of us remember the mock 'studio chatter' at the top of Davy's signature single, "Daydream Believer." 

Chip (a recording engineer): "7 A."
Davy: "What number is this, Chip?"
The Rest of Them: "SEV-EN A!"
Davy (sounding stoned): "Okay I don't mean it...don't get excited, man...just 'cause I'm short,  I know..."

It was a perfect pop confection, and even this bit of obviously contrived banter--grafted onto the beginning of the 45 after the fact--added another dimension still: 
You could actually fake 'credibility!' 
If Herman's Hermits could exploit Peter Noone's British accent ("Mrs. Brown," "Henry the Eighth"), so could the Monkees showcase Davy's. 
If the Beatles could use an alarm clock sound-effect in a song ("A Day in the Life"), so could The Monkees!
"Don't believe everything you hear," it seemed to say, or maybe it was just the opposite:
DO believe everything you hear! --and that message suited the 'AM' (read: Republican) crowd just fine, as they were already tiring of the so-called 'Generation Gap.' 
Just give us the music, and keep your 'credibility' to yourself.

The social and cultural divisions have always been that way.  Today, we actually call them what they are:  Culture Wars.
Hawks and Doves.  Left and Right.  Stoners and straights. Greasers and collegiates. AM and FM.

The Fox News gab fest Red Eye giddily riffed on it late Wednesday night, with host Greg Gutfeld snarkily observing that the Beatles had been copying the Monkees all along. In a strange way, he's right about it not mattering anymore, because none of it does.
Who sang what, who came first, what was 'real', what wasn't...
John Mellencamp came up with one of the great album titles, back in the '80s: Nothin' Matters...And What if It Did?

Time has a way of blurring the lines anyway, softening all the edges and schmooshing everything together into a highlight reel, so that it hardly matters whom you liked or didn't like, way back when.  It only matters that this music always reminds you of...well...way back when.

We give special credence to those who've taken care of themselves over time, and aged gracefully before us. For every Davy Jones, there's another rock hero somewhere who hasn't fared so well in keeping our dreams intact. There's nothing worse than a pot-bellied, balding rock star, insulting all that is pure about memory.
Davy took care of himself, and aged exactly as we would have wanted him to.

So here's to you, Davy.
Ever harmless, ever charming, and ever content to entertain without ever challenging us at all. 
Me, I preferred the Beatles.
But I've gotta hand it to ya, you never put us through any of the crap they did, in the name of 'art'! 
Nobody cared less about your personal life. 
There were no Yokos, no drug busts, no primal screams, and no albums full of electronic noises. In fact there was nothing weird--not even a beard.
Quite frankly, we knew very little about you.
Your story could have ended in 1967 and the obituaries would have been nearly identical to how they are 45 years later.
You gave us no angst at all; just a three-minute escape from the roiling, dyspeptic waters of life.  In fact, it could almost be said that you were the musical equivalent of Pepto-Bismol.

While 'Eleanor Rigby' haunted the graveyards of Liverpool, and 'Ruby Tuesday' confounded Stones and men alike, 'Sleepy Jean' had no such complications.
As we scratch our heads and wonder where all the time went, nothing gains our respect on the 'back nine' of life, more than simplicity. 
Peter Tork and Peter Rodman backstage
at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, July, 1966.
My grandparents let me go, on the condition
that I wear a tie (like any member of 
The West Side Tennis Club would)
 and remain safely backstage at all times--far
away from the 15,000 screaming Monkees fans, out-front.
Jimi Hendrix opened the show...but that story,
and those pictures, I'm saving for my book.
The other Monkees have all attempted to grab more 'street cred' over the decades, from Micky's dinner theater forays to Peter's blues bands, to Nesmith's look-at-me-not-participating-in-mere-Monkee-reunions posturing. (Hey, he could afford it: Mike's Mom invented White-Out--the inheritance from which financed his multi-million dollar investment in early 'music video' technology.)

Simplicity was Davy's gift to humanity, and he seemed to like it that way.
John Stewart's lyric for "Daydream Believer' could not have fit Davy any better.
You once thought of me as a White Knight on a steed
Now you know how happy I can be;
Oh, and our good times start and end
Without 'dollar one' to spend;
But how much, baby, do we really need?

The promise of uncomplicated love set to a 'Penny Lane' like beat was a much easier pill to swallow than Paul McCartney's acid daydream about "nurses selling poppies from a tray" or "the fireman rushing in."
While we seemed to spend hours dissecting those trippy Beatle lyrics, here was Davy, taking his female friend aside, to calmly urge her not to worry her pretty little head about any of it:
Cheer up, Sleepy Jean
Oh, what can it mean,
to a daydream believer,
and a homecoming queen?

Translation: Who gives a crap about deeeper meanings!
What's any of that stuff mean to you, Regular Person? 

Back then, I'd have argued the point. 
I'd have insisted that life is complicated, and we'd all better dig deeper into the meanings and mysteries thereof. 
They used to call it "examining your navel," when such pretensions overtook your day-to-day life, and they were right. These days I'll take shallow, thankyouverymuch.

Mike Nesmith has always alternated between saying the Monkees were "not a real band at all" (whenever they got slammed by the critics) and that they were "truly innovative," as if somehow a sitcom of 'pretend Beatles' presaged MTV. 
He's right about one thing: It never takes long to hear the word 'Beatles,' once the word 'Monkees' is in the air.

Nesmith's convenient assessments surfaced again after Davy passed away this week, in his decidedly 'Beatley sounding' tribute on The Michael Nesmith Facebook Fan Page:
All the lovely people
Where do they all come from?
He continued:
But let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
While it is jarring, and sometimes seems unjust, or strange, this transition we call dying and death is a constant in the mortal experience that we know almost nothing about. I am of the mind that it is a transition and I carry with me a certainty of the continuity of existence.
John Lennon once famously described death as "getting out of one car, and stepping into another."
Apparently Mike remembered the quote.
That David has stepped beyond my view causes me the same sadness that it does many of you.
You might have guessed it would affect a band member even more than it has any mere fan, but in recent years things had seemed frosty between them, with Davy relegated to constant touring in oldies "package tours" (along with Peter Noone and others) as the 'Big Bucks Monkees Reunion Tour' eluded them all, without Mike onboard for the ultimate (financial) ride.
I will think of him as existing within the animating life that insures existence.
Note that he said "animating," not animated--even though the Monkees were widely viewed as a cartoon version of the Beatles back then. 
In newspaper parlance, Nesmith more or less 'buries the lead,' in his online tribute. After all the Lennonesque gobbledegook about death-as-transition, he finally offers up a half-hearted apology of sorts, either to Davy or his family, or both:  
I will think of him and his family with that gentle regard in spite of all the contrary appearances on the mortal plane.

Evidentally things were not so rosy on this mortal plane, when it came to interMonkee relations.  And gee, Mike...we'd never even have known that, except for your own words and actions--'cause we'd certainly never got so much as a whiff of negativity out of Davy.
I was kinda sorry I couldn't White-Out Nesmith's aloof punchline, too:
I have fond memories. I wish him safe travels.


So back to Wednesday night in Honolulu, where the throng who'd never even met Davy Jones seemed far less aloof than his wooly-capped 'bandmate.'
Their spontaneous, heartfelt applause for Davy took place over 6,000 miles away from where he'd been found by his driver, just after arriving at the ranch where he boarded his horses in Florida. It came from a group of complete strangers of all ages and backgrounds--none of whom had any idea he'd once been a professional jockey, and essentially ended up where he began.
But they had all somehow converged on this sidewalk in 'paradise,' just one day after he stopped breathing--and halfway around the world tonight, they gave Davy Jones a darn good send-off, right outside the Princess Kaiulani Burger King.

Copyright 2012 by Peter Rodman.  All Rights Reserved.

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