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Wed, Nov. 19th, 2008, 08:23 am
Hard to Believe

If you had asked me as a child, “Russ, what would you like to do when you grow up?” I undoubtedly would’ve answered, “Meet the Monkees.” Then, you’d probably right your question by clarifying, “I meant what do you want to be when you grow up?” Then I would’ve answered, “I want to be the guy that has lunch with the Monkees!” As a kid watching reruns on Nick at Nite, I was under the impression that the Monkees were still together, and the best of friends. My family and I went to one of their 1986 reunion shows, which affirmed my hopes, but as I grew up and information about the group’s history became more available on this dang-blasted Internet, I learned otherwise. Tethered to their Monkees image but wanting to broaden their horizons, the guys quickly grew apart, and though they’ve toured and collaborated many times over the years, my childhood dreams of having lunch with all of them has very much faded.

 

(And incidentally I think having lunch with them distinguishes me from any Teen Beat readers’ fantasies of something more intimate, okay? It’s a hero worship thing, much like but slightly different from a man-crush thing -- and I’ve already established my man-crushes here . . . and here.)

 

So, what’s the next best thing? Meeting the Monkees one-on-one works for me, and, when I had the opportunity to meet Micky a few years ago, I trumped the concept by buying an original ’66 Headquarters, the first album on which they played their own instruments, for them to sign. I’ve briefly chronicled that Micky meet, and then some months later my trek to Tork. Consider this my penultimate Monkees post: the day I met Davy Jones!

 

This story began forty years ago, when the Monkees wrote and starred in a feature length film called Head. It failed miserably and essentially ended their two-year stint as the first full fledged American idols. Simply put, the flick is too psychedelic! When I was a kid, I had the film’s soundtrack, featuring some of the group’s best songs, but I had no idea how the soundbytes came together to form a linear plot. When my buddy Wade and I found Head on cable one night, I realized those soundbytes . . . didn’t. Now, I understand that the hodgepodge of mildly amusing skits that make up the whole movie are really pieces of an allegorical puzzle about celebrity; in fact, I dare say that despite its artsy-fartsy vanity Head is one of the most humble movies ever made, and in its rich symbolism one of my favorites with or without the Monkees. That I recognize the four goofballs going from war trenches to dandruff shampoo spokesmen just helps the pill go down -- which, in the ‘60s, probably wasn’t a problem.

 

So, the nonprofit group American Cinematique showed the film at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater last week to celebrate the forty year anniversary, with a full program that included rare Monkees episodes, a Q & A with music producers Chip Douglas and Bobby Hart, and most importantly, appearances by Peter Tork and (gasp) Davy Jones. I was excited for the whole thing, dubbing it the definitive Monkees event of my generation and all that, but my singular goal was for the Davy autograph and picture, as I’d acquired from Micky and Peter. Now, Davy has a reputation for being more . . . difficult than the others, which makes sense considering how he was the diva of the group. During the Q & A, he was very dismissive of some of the questions, explaining that he doesn’t remember or understand much of the Monkees phenomenon. (I know, it was forty years ago, but for me, it was just twenty!) Davy and Peter’s rapport seemed strained at first, but the more they talked, the more their on-screen chemistry overcame them, and I was pleased to see half of my favorite team working together, albeit briefly, yet completely for my benefit as a fan. Peter even claimed that Davy was one of the most talented musicians he’d ever met, remembering the time Jones picked up the bass for “I’m A Believer” and took to it so naturally. I hoped he would take to my album and camera as easily!

 

As an aside, Pete seems like the most approachable of the gang, and his tone completely suited fans anxious to hear stories about the old days. When asked if the Monkees experience had in any way marred his overall career, he said no, explaining that exposure to television, film, music, and concert production was priceless. Amen!

 

So, the Q & A ended, and the mob began. When I met Micky and Peter, the signing and photo session was very organized, following respective concerts, but I’d already warned my girlfriend that this one might be require more . . . aggression . . . in a good way -- more tenacity in the midst of a crowd all intent on the same goal . . . you know. Anyway, we made our way into the orbit of fans around them, and as Davy and Peter parted, we stuck with Jones, patiently waiting as he entertained stories from folks trying to connect with him in some way or another. “My dad drove your limo from the airport to the hotel in the summer of ’67 . . .” or “Isn’t it weird that Peter and I have the same birthday?” In spite my inner child’s persistence, I was more realistic than these fans, completely happy with the ten seconds I needed for the autograph and picture. Sure enough, mission accomplished, thanks to my girlfriend’s height and photographic eye and my seizing the right moment to step into Davy’s personal space. 

 

“Hey, Davy, could you sign my album, please? And a picture, right there?” Sign. Snap. Done.

 

 

“Thank you, Davy.”

 

I think I enjoyed calling him “Davy” the most, as if we got it like that. I mean, who goes by “Davy” anymore? “Dave” is really more like it. That’s the thing that has assured their fame and corresponding frustration, though: for so many people, the Monkees will forever be the Monkees, trapped in those two years of stardom and seemingly eternal youth. Everyone that cares looks at my pictures with a small glimmer of memory, either from watching the television show or from hearing those old songs, and it cracks a smile, every time. With a legacy like that, it’s no wonder these guys keep showing up to events like this, baggage and all.

 

Now, Michael Nesmith. Good luck with that one, Little Russ. Papa Nez, as his hardcore fans call him, is a recluse, still producing entertainment but at a long arm’s length from anything Monkees -- at least as far as I see it. At this point, though? Three out of four Monkees in just the past few years, at definitively separate occasions? It’s hard to believe, if you’re not a believer. A kid can daydream, right?