This is odd. To get to the Beatles, my subject, I have to go through the Monkees. This is because as I start this I learn that Mike Nesmith died December 10. He was 78. According to an obit in The Washington Post, “Nesmith just performed less than a month ago, concluding a Monkees farewell tour in Los Angeles with singer and drummer Micky Dolenz, who is now the band’s sole surviving member.” No, he’s the sole surviving member of what was once the band.
Davy Jones died in 2012. Peter Tork in 2019. Wouldn’t that “farewell tour” have really occurred in 2011?
Harrison Smith notes in the WaPo obit, “for a time, the ‘Prefab Four were said to have outsold the Beatles.”
And here we go.
The Beatles were referred to as the “Fab Four.” In this case, “Fab” was short for “Fabulous.”
The Monkees “Prefab Four” moniker doesn’t mean “Prefabulous” but “Prefabricated.” The combination of the four was a result of a casting call, as two TV producers in 1965 had the idea for a situation comedy about a band. This resulted in a TV series, The Monkees, which ran on NBC from September 1966 to March 1968, 58 episodes. The storylines were based on the concept of a band in LA trying to make it.
Nesmith showed up at the audition having seen an ad in a trade mag. Tork was recommended by Stephen Stills. Davy Jones was a musical stage performer (who was in the cast of Oliver! that did a performance on The Ed Sullivan Show the night the Beatles performed on the show). Micky Dolenz was a TV actor, having performed as the star of Circus Boy, where he was the orphan of trapeze artists who was adopted by a clown and his extended family and had a baby elephant as a pet—and people think that some of the bits in The Monkees were surreal.
Deep Sea Diver - Impossible Weight featuring Sharon Van Etten (Official Video)
Directed by Jessica Dobson, Peter Mansen, Tyler Kalberg. From Impossible Weight, out October 16th on ATO.
I saw Deep Sea Diver open up for Wilco back in November, which was the last concert I went to before covid, unless I’m forgetting something, which I totally could be, because this fucking pandemic has obliterated any real sense of time or memory. I would’ve sworn that show was at least three years ago but nope.
And you can hear that maybe a little bit of the headliner rubbed off onto this new song with its swirling chimes and its verses that assassin down the avenue.
But that was then and this is now
I tried so hard not to let you all down
It’s an impossible weight
So I’ll just let you down now
When I was 14 I got into the Monkees when MTV started showing the reruns. Riding the success of that revival, Clive Davis of Arista Records convinced Micky and Peter to a record a few songs for a new hits compilation. “That Was Then, This Is Now” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on July 5, 1986, peaked at No. 20, and stayed on the chart for 14 weeks. I turned 15 during its reign and I loved it. The album, Then & Now…The Best of the Monkees, stayed on the Billboard 200 for 34 weeks. I played the cassette nonstop.
In not too long I would start to pick up the original albums at garage sales and the Rhino reissues at record stores. My copy of Headquarters had a crack (not a scratch, a crack) that went all the way through, but if I lined it up just right it would still play.
None of that really has anything to do with Deep Sea Diver, but if you’re going to have a chorus that says “that was then and this is now” then you’re going to get a Monkees story out of me and that’s just the way it is.
“Propinquity” means being close to someone, and as is typical, Nez never says the title in his song. This was written before he joined the Monkees and he recorded a demo in 1966 and then a full band version during the famous 1968 Nashville sessions. That version remained unreleased until The Monkees Missing Links, Volume 3 came out in the 1996.
The first officially released version of “Propinquity” was by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their 1970 album Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy. Nez finally released his own version a year later with his First National Band on their third album, Nevada Fighter. That album flopped despite Mike promoting it with this solo television performance. The First National Band disbanded shortly thereafter.
The Monkees - Unwrap You At Christmas (Official Lyric Video)
Directed by John Hughes. [Oh really? -ed.] From Christmas Party, out now on Rhino.
Ho ho ho, everybody!
“Unwrap You At Christmas” was written by Andy Partridge and it’s weird that Micky sounds like he’s trying to sound like XTC. Probably imitating the demo a little too closely. Still, it’s a good pop song as if you’d expect anything less from then pen of Andy Partridge. I’m not complaining. So hey hey, new Monkees!
Christmas Party follows 2016’s Good Times and carries on several of its ideas: produced by Adam Schlesinger featuring new songs written by Partridge, Rivers Cuomo, and some vintage stuff so Davy Jones can be included. This one also features a new song written by Peter Buck And Scott McCaughey.
Too bad this time they couldn’t convince Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller to collaborate on a Christmas song; their “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” was a highlight of Good Times.
But if you’ve ever wanted to hear Micky Dolenz cover Big Star’s “Jesus Christ,” Christmas Party‘s got you covered.
Of course, my favorite Monkees holiday song has always been and always will be “Riu Chiu.” (It’s included as a bonus track on the Target exclusive edition.)
I was 15 years old and MTV had been broadcasting “The Monkees” TV show. I was a burgeoning sixties buff, already into the Beatles and Donovan. This was 1986, and I got into the TV series. I had seen A Hard Day’s Night and Help, but the slapstick goofiness of “The Monkees” was more accessible to me.
Davy was my favorite Monkee. No surprise since Paul was my favorite Beatle. I went for the cute ones, apparently. I coveted Davy’s perfect hair, which--alas--I could never have since mine had the texture of Mickey’s. Davy was funny, great-looking, cool, and short (like me!). It’s not much of an exaggeration to say I idolized him.
Future GLONO-founder Derek Phillips and I discussed the reunion tour in sophomore art class, where we had become friends. Another friend had seen them in Grand Haven that summer and we found out they would be playing Wings Stadium in November. We got tickets and spent our remaining art project time making a giant Monkees banner on a bed sheet.
But then MTV showed a special where they revealed what the Monkees looked like “now,” twenty years after the episodes I had been devouring.
And it freaked me out. Very, very badly.
Davy was no longer the cherubic young guy. He was an old man! Hell, he was 40 years old. Ancient. A grandpa in a terrible Miami Vice sport coat with awful, awful hair. His face was tanned and wrinkled. And I was shocked.
I realized at that moment that getting old sucks. You get ugly. You are no longer cool at all. And this idea made me miserable. For years and years, I dreaded getting older and lamented my lost youth. I would get nostalgic about how simple things were just a few years before. I took John Cougar’s advice to “hold on to 16 as long as you can” very seriously. And when I turned 17 I felt old.
I spent a good portion of my late teens and all my twenties feeling old. And I blame this on Davy Jones. It didn’t help that shortly after my initial Monkees obsession I started getting into the Smiths and reading Oscar Wilde. But it all started with Davy.
And it took me a long time to get over this. As the years passed I realized how silly it was for a 19 year old to think he was an old man. Because, you know, I was really old now that I was 30! A few years later, I would realize how silly it was for a 30 year old to feel old.
Only very recently have I finally come to terms with the idea that you just need to enjoy where you are in the world and not worry about how old you are now and how young you used to be. It’s liberating. And although it’s kind of a bummer that I wasted all that time worrying about it back then, I don’t beat myself up about it. That’s a waste of time too.
Of course, it took me a long time to figure this out. I’m 40 years old now, the same age Davy Jones was when he showed up on MTV and rocked my world. And now he’s dead.
* * *
I still love the Monkees music. I recently picked up a box of the (out of print) 1994/95 Rhino remasters, and it’s been great to listen to the album tracks again. I had all those albums on vinyl, but I had mostly been listening to the stellar Listen to the Band box which features songs remixed from the original multi-track tapes. The original album mixes are good, too, and it’s been fun discovering the minute differences.
I spent a lot of years defending the Monkees against people who couldn’t see past their manufactured origins. It’s been nice to see the need for that line of defense becoming obsolete as more people appreciate the perfectly crafted songwriting and performance on the first two albums as well as the strive for autonomy and integrity on the later albums while maintaining pure pop brilliance.
These days, it’s only grouchy old Baby Boomers like Jann Wenner who still seem to hold a grudge against the Monkees. And their time is running out.
Life is short. But we’re alive right now. So enjoy the time you have.
There’s an underrated late-era Monkees song called “You and I” that Davy co-wrote (and to which Neil Young contributes lead guitar) that sums up what I’ve been struggling to articulate here, and I think he’s actually singing to me right now.
You and I have seen what time does, haven’t we?
We both had time to grow, you know,
We’ve got more growing to do, me and you,
And the rest of them, too.
You can see the changes we’ve been going through,
Such a pity, what a shame. Who can we blame?
You and me, me and you,
And the rest of them, too.
In a year or maybe two,
We’ll be gone and someone new will take our place.
There’ll be another song,
Another voice, another pretty face.
I’ll wrap this up on a lighter note. Here’s a photo of me and Phil in high school in 1987 or maybe 1988. Notice my shirt has two columns of buttons, which was as close as I could find to an authentic Monkees shirt at the time.
Jake Brown and Derek Phillips, Northview High School, ~1987
This is one of the best psychedelic pop songs of all time, and I want it played at my funeral. I’m not planning on dying anytime soon. But when I do, I want this song played at my funeral. Loud. Through good speakers. And it’s got to be the four-minute single version, not the soundtrack version (as heard above) that chops off the awesome instrumental coda. An overdub has no choice and it cannot rejoice. You better believe it, brother.
These have been up for a while, but the official Monkees site has three great podcasts featuring Mike Nesmith being interviewed by Rhino’s Chief Monkees Officer, Andrew Sandoval. The best one is Part 2, wherein Nez talks about the band’s insane 1969 tour with a funk group (Sam & The Goodtimers) as their backing band. There are even a couple of lo-fi audio clips from bootlegs: almost unlistenably poor quality, but still, it’s the Holy Grail for Monkees freaks.
“The only person … holding a grudge is Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone,” says the former Monkee. The magazine editor “has never written a gracious word. He personally has the veto power to keep us out.”
Ho ho! Stirring up shit to promote his new album, Cambria Hotel, perhaps? Ha. All I know is personally I’d rather listen to the Monkees than the Four Seasons, Van Morrison, The Band, The Allman Brothers Band, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, The Bee Gees, The Rascals, and at least half of the other Rock Hall inductees. I mean, hey, if Gene fucking Pitney is in, why not the Monkees?